Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 9, 2013

Vasa: It's cold, but not like 1995


TRAVERSE CITY — Temperatures in the single digits will greet skiers this morning for the start of the North American Vasa at Timber Ridge Resort.

The event kicks off with the 50K classic at 8 a.m.

The good news for skiers is that the temperature will rise steadily during the morning, reaching the mid-20s around noon.

"It's going to be a dry cold," skier Ken Dawson said. "I think it's going to be a great day. I'm looking forward to it."

Dawson, a 62-year-old from Farmington Hills, is competing in the 50K freestyle. He'll go off in the first wave at 9 o'clock.

Dawson said today's weather will seem tame compared to the 1995 Vasa when the wind chill was a minus 40.

"It was very cold and very windy that day," Dawson recalled. "I've skied on colder days and I've skied on windier days, but combined, that was brutal. The 50K race was shortened to 27. They (officials) even delayed it (an hour). That was the worst day ever.

"I skied the White Pine once when it was 35 degrees below zero. They waited, I think, an hour until it was 19 below, but the sun was shining and there was no wind. That was not nearly as bad as that Vasa."

Duane Amato of Suttons Bay skied in that 1995 race, too. What he remembers most is "being really, really cold."

On extremely cold days, skiers wear goggles, masks and smear Vasoline on exposed skin to prevent frostbite. That will probably not be an issue today, but picking the right ski wax could be a dilemma, especially for those in the 50K classic. Some of those skiers will be on the course more than five hours, experiencing about a 20-degree change in weather.

Amato said most skiers like to wax their skis the night before a race, although some do wait until just before race time.

"You don't want to go too cold, you don't want to go too warm," he said. "You have to make the call for what you think will be the best wax for most of your race."

Amato always double-checks the weather Friday night before making his call.

"I'll check the waxes I have, see what the ranges are, and then I'll try to pick the right range for the conditions that I think I'll spend most of my time in. It (picking the right wax) makes a big difference."

Veteran Traverse City skier George Lombard will not have to worry about the cold today. He's participating in the "Ski With John" 12K event, which is scheduled to depart around 1. By then, temperatures should be in the high 20s, close to ideal.

Like Dawson and Amato, Lombard has his memories of skiing in sub-zero weather.

"I skied the Birkie (in Wisconsin) about 10 years ago and it never got above zero," he said. "The girl who won, I saw a picture of her hands afterwards and they were black from frostbite. Black. I thought she was going to lose some fingers."