Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 25, 2012

Top 10: Warm winter plays havoc with skiers


TRAVERSE CITY — Last week's heavy snowfall was a start.

But Jack McKaig is taking nothing for granted.

McKaig is the race director for the White Pine Stampede, a cross country ski race that starts in Mancelona and ends at Shanty Creek near Bellaire.

In February, after unseasonably warm weather moved in and wiped out the snow pack, McKaig had to cancel the event for the first time since starting it in 1977.

A month later, summer-like temperatures in the 70s and 80s spread across the region for several days, causing havoc for the downhill ski resorts. Most closed down weeks earlier than normal. The snowmobile season also had an abrupt ending.

The weather, and its impact, is our No. 8 story of the year.

McKaig waited as long as he could, finally pulling the plug on the White Pine the Tuesday before the Saturday race date.

He had hoped to keep the 20K and 10K and scrap the 40K. But that Tuesday turned into a sunny 51-degree day and what snow there was about vanished.

"We had a glimmer of hope," McKaig said. "But when it went up to 50-something, whatever (snow) was there left."

Those skiers who had already registered will receive a $10 refund for the 2013 race.

McKaig said not many skiers registered in advance for last February's race given the weather.

"Cross country skiers are notoriously intelligent," he said. "They saw (weather) what was coming."

Given how the weather can change — and change quickly — McKaig is not getting too excited about last week's snowfall.

"It's something to work with," he said. "But we have to hope that in the next five weeks we can build on this and have a nice trail."

The Vasa, held a week later, was able to go off as planned in 2012, although the longer 50K race was shortened to 48K. Unlike the White Pine, a lot of the Vasa trail system is in the woods, which offers some protection from the elements.

Even at that, Vasa officials waited until four days prior to the race before making a final call.

In making the announcement last February, Vasa president Pete LaPlaca said, "I was checking the Record-Eagle and we've had 33.4 inches of snow all winter — and we're skiing on it. That's phenomenal. It's really a miracle."

McKaig, meanwhile, was in Arizona last March when the temperatures here soared into the 70s and 80s.

And in Tucson?

"We had snow," he said. "Then we come back home and we get the blizzard."