BY DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY — Eli Brown took a slight detour as he neared the end of Saturday's Vasa 50-kilometer freestyle race.
Brown veered to his left, scooped up his 9-year-old daughter Sage and then skied across the finish line for his second consecutive win.
This one, drama free.
Brown, who just turned 40, finished in 2 hours, 26 minutes and 3 seconds. White Pine 40K winner Alex Vanias was second in 2:29:20.
The three-minute spread was in stark contrast to a year ago when Brown opened a big lead, then held off late charges by Michael Brothers and Matt Zak.
"Last year I got a big gap early and then it got real ugly at the end," Brown said. "But I've skied a bunch more this year. I'm in good shape."
Brown took charge in the final 15K.
"I was testing the waters," he said. "We had a big pack early. Those guys were pretty tough.
"No one pulled away for awhile. Finally, I just had to put the hammer down and drop some space between us and then try to build on it."
Vanias, meanwhile, had trouble with his skis early on.
"I didn't start off as well as I would have liked," he said. "My skis were a little sticky.
"I stayed with the lead group. About halfway through Riley's Loop, Eli went for it. I knew he was going to go with 10 to 15K, he's good at that distance. I waited a little bit (too long). He was already out of sight by the time I started chasing.
"But I left it all out there. I couldn't do any more."
Brown was second in the Noquemanon 50K classic two weeks ago. He was 15th in the Boulder Mountain Tour 30K in Idaho last weekend.
On Saturday, he had a chance to celebrate with his daughter, who was waiting for him near the finish.
"That was cool," he said. "I thought I could ski in with her if I worked hard enough. Just to carry her across the line was pretty special."
Special is how Brown describes the Vasa. After all, it was at the 2000 Vasa awards ceremony where he met his wife Joann. A long-time ski coach at the University of Utah, Brown and his family returned to the area a couple years ago. They ski the Vasa trail regularly.
"This is one of my most favorite places in the world to ski," he said. "It's a winter wonderland out here today. Absolutely perfect."
It might have been perfect for Vanias, too, with the right wax.
"I wasn't as fast as last week compared to everyone else," he said.
Women's winner Angela Palomaki didn't have a problem with her wax. She finished in 2:54:14.
"It was really fast conditions today," the Marquette skier said. "It started off cold and I think everybody was having a harder time breathing, but the weather got better as we went. My skis were really fast."
Palomaki's husband, Matt, waxes her skis. He was in the 50K freestyle, too, and his skis were not as fast.
"My skis weren't so good at the beginning," he admitted. "She had different wax on than I did. I was wishing I had what she had on.
"It was way colder than I was expecting. There was a low pressure system that came through and that cold air sucked all the moisture out of the snow. The snow was extremely dry and sharp. It makes for tough waxing conditions when it changes that much from the start of the race to the finish. You have to pick. Either you ski fast at the start or fast at the finish."
Palomaki won the 50K in 2010, too. She did not ski last winter, giving birth to a baby boy in February.
"I don't get out as much now," she said. "I only ski a couple times a week. I'm with him (son) most of the time. Taking a year off, though, didn't hurt. I feel like I still have endurance."
Her son's name? Fisher.
"Just like the skis," she said.
Cadillac's Kaitlyn Patterson was second in 3:13:25.