BY DENNIS CHASE
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Barring a “calamity,” Vasa ski officials should enjoy a more stress free run-up to next month’s annual Festival of Races.
All thanks to Mother Nature.
More than 40 inches of snow has already fallen in the Grand Traverse area — compared to just 12.3 inches at this date a year ago.
“Obviously, we’re having a fantastic winter,” Vasa director Doug Dowdy said. “We couldn’t be anymore excited. It’s so beautiful on the trail right now. TART has done a great job of grooming it. Everyone is enjoying it.”
Everyone was enjoying it Saturday when temperatures soared into the 30s.
“I was at Timber Ridge for a meeting (early Saturday) and the parking lot was full,” Vasa board president Pete LaPlaca said. “Then, I went to the trailhead (off Bunker Hill) and that parking lot was full. The skiing is the best I’ve seen in years.
“Unless we have some incredible meltdown, some type of calamity, we should be golden for the Vasa races. With the base we have now, we should be skiing until April 1st.”
That’s welcome news since it took a late January snowfall last year to save the White Pine Stampede and Vasa.
The Vasa will be held Feb. 8-9. In addition to 6K, 12K, 27K and 50K ski races, a fat tire bike race will be included for the first time. LaPlaca said fat bike races are already part of two of the biggest cross country ski races in the Midwest — the Birkebeiner in Wisconsin and the Noquemanon in Marquette.
“Fat bikes are really growing in popularity,” LaPlaca said. “They’re selling like hotcakes. Einstein Cycles (in Traverse City) is the number two outlet for fat bikes in the country, from what I’ve been told.”
Allowing fat bikes on the Vasa Pathway, though, has brought about some consternation from skiers. Some are so upset, LaPlaca said, they have talked about boycotting the race this year.
“We knew it was going to be testy, but we wanted to be proactive,” LaPlaca said.
The Michigan DNR owns the Vasa Pathway and allows for fat bikes on the trail.
“They said legally they can’t keep them off unless it’s safety issue,” LaPlaca said.
In an effort to alleviate safety concerns and provide an enjoyable experience for all users, the DNR, the VASA, the Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association and TART, which grooms the trails, came up with a temporary solution by instituting “Fatbike Fridays” — the one day when bikers are encouraged to ride the Pathway, other than the 3K Meadows Loop which can be ridden every day.
“That’s (Fridays) been circumvented,” LaPlaca said. “The long term solution is that they have their own trail system. We have been developing Riley’s Loop with equipment we purchased last year and we’ve been packing it so it can be accessible for skiers and bikers. It’s about 27K out and back from Timber Ridge. They could use that every day of the week as part of our interim plan. That should be ready in a couple days.”
LaPlaca said problems occur in warmer weather. When the snow is soft, he said, the bikes leave behind wide tire tracks.
There should not be conflict on race day, LaPlaca said, since the bike race will be held in the afternoon and only a few 50K racers will still be on the course.
“We’re just hoping everybody can be respectful of one another on the trail,” Dowdy added.