VASA: U of M skiers show out in 12K freestyle

Record-Eagle/Jan-Michael Stump43rd annual North American Vasa Festival of Races 12k women's winner Elizabeth Collison skies to the finish line on Saturday at Timber Ridge Resort in Traverse City. The freestyle skiing events, fat bike races and junior vasa races were held on Saturday, while the classical skiing races were held on Sunday.

TRAVERSE CITY – The University of Michigan Nordic Skiing Club was well represented at the 43rd North American VASA this weekend.

A large group of skiers made the trip to northern Michigan, some veterans and some rookies, to tackle the 12K freestyle race Saturday.

Two Wolverines took home top honors in the short race and have helped each other train for in-state events like this.

Ellie Callison grabbed the top spot on the podium in 45 minutes, 27 seconds, earning her first win at VASA in five attempts.

"It feels great," the 24-year-old said of her win. "This was fun."

Callison helped start the nordic skiing club at U-M five years ago and always pushes her teammates to make it to this traditional event.

"Building that endurance is what you have to do to be able to do these kind of courses, especially with the hills," Callison said of her and her team's preparation. "Cycling and triathlons really helps with that, but being able to ski would do more benefit for us."

Her teammate and Michigan sophomore Gabriella Armstrong followed close behind to take second place in 46 minutes, 23 seconds. This was Armstrong's first appearance at the Festival of Races and she noticed what it means to be a part of something so special to the skiing community.

"I see a lot of generations of racers up here," Armstrong said. "It is good to see everyone from young kids to older people. There is great snow when we come up here, nothing like Ann Arbor. We have been lucky to ski here.

"I think it is really important to keep the traditions going. You don't see as many kids connecting with winter sports as much now-a-days. I think it is important that you have a culture like this where kids can ski and they can see their parents and older kids racing. It is important to keep a fun atmosphere. It is competitive but most importantly everyone is here because they love skiing."

Armstrong, who hails from Lake Placid, New York, said she was proud to get her first VASA pin and knows this race is one that will keep her, and her teammates, coming back for more.

"I needed to make sure that I came this year," she said. "I always hear that Traverse City is a great place to ski in Michigan, so I knew I had to come."

Emma Schwab (Williamsburg) placed third in 47:40, Anneka Hallstrom (Brighton) took fourth in 49:53 and Kirsten Hallstrom (Brighton) placed fifth in 53:37.

Sports Writer