Midwest Racing Season PreviewDecember 3, 2023
It’s been a particularly warm November for many of us in the Midwest, but with temperatures finally falling below freezing and a sprinkling of snow in some places it’s time to face the facts: a new ski season is upon us. Across the country event coordinators are gearing up for what should be another busy racing season, and overseas the action is already underway with the US Ski Team making splashes through the first two weekends of the World Cup.
To get us ready for the winter weeks ahead we’re taking a look at racing changes heading into this season, major and minor, including additions and subtractions of distances, techniques, and a general shifting around of race dates. So without further ado…
For national events, it’ll be a relatively quiet winter in the Midwest this season outside of a couple of SuperTour stops in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, including one for the American Birkebeiner on Feb 24, and another at Spirit Mountain for the SuperTour finals, Mar 21-26.
After being held in Houghton, MI last season at the Michigan Tech trails, US Nationals are heading back to Soldier Hollow outside Midway, UT. And just a bit to northeast, the NCAA Skiing Championships are set to make their first trip to Steamboat Springs, CO.
Meanwhile, the U16 Junior championships will move down the East Coast from Fort Kent, ME to North Creek, NY, with Junior Nationals also being held in the Empire State at Mt Van Hoevenberg near Lake Placid. Last but not least, Canadian Nationals are in Quebec this season, hosted by Nakkertok Nordic which is based out of Gatineau.
Additionally, while only accessible to the very elite, February's World Cup races at Theodore Wirth Park, the first stateside in over two decades, should be a huge spectacle and will undoubtedly draw some of the largest crowds we've ever had for a cross-country ski event in the Midwest.
While most races won’t change much from year to year, a few events made some adjustments heading into the new season. Those changes include:
The Great Bear Chase will be adding a 20K pursuit race (10K classic, 10K freestyle) to their lineup, although availability will be limited to 50 slots for its debut.
After the overwhelming interest shown in the all-women’s event last season, the Ski de She is expanding with 5K classic and freestyle races which will be a nice option for skiers just getting into racing.
In the same sphere of influence, the American Birkebeiner, which will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this season, is also expanding to feature 10 waves for the freestyle competition.
For any high school or collegiate competitors out there, JNQ and CCSA events this season will move to match the FIS policy of equal distance racing across genders.
Something potentially in the works for the Pre-Loppet, organizers are exploring moving the start to the Trailhead and possibly adding waves to alleviate congestion concerns.
The Mt. Ashwabay Summit Ski Race will be undergoing a series of distance changes and technique additions which include increasing the skiathlon race from 25K to 30K, and the 10K classic and freestyle races to 15K, while also adding a classic division to the 30K race.
Last but not least, the North American Vasa will not be holding a 6K high school race this year due to conflicts with the Wisconsin State Distance Championships.
In addition the the changes above, a handful of races also adjusted their dates heading into the season which are as follows:
The Ski de She and MECCA Trails Winterfest will both be moving up a week to now be held on Jan 20th. Conversely, the Birkie Tour Night Race will be moving back a week to Jan 27th.
On the Canadian side of the border, the Founders Classic and Lappe Invitational will both be shifting ahead several weeks to Jan 27th and Feb 10-11th respectively, while the Boxing Day Classic will be held before Boxing Day this year, on Dec 23rd.
Most seasons we’re lucky to see one or two new events pop up throughout the Midwest, but this season there will be something new for just about everyone:
Calumet, MI will be hosting one of the first races of the season at the Swedetown Chalet with the new Season Opener, a low-key 7.5K freestyle race. A little further to the east, racing will return to the Valley Spur trails outside Munising on Jan 14th for the Valley Spur Classic, a 10K classic race as a fundraiser for their Groomer Capital Campaign.
Minnesota will also be picking up a handful of races, including several at Battle Creek in St. Paul which is coming off of its inaugural season of snowmaking. For the first time in a decade there will be a JNQ race held there on Jan 13-14th. The high school Holiday Relays races will be making a return there as well, on Dec 20th, this time bearing the name of the Ahvo Taipale Holiday Relays as a nod to one of the chief architects of the snowmaking operation at Battle Creek.
As if that’s not enough, Finn Sisu (the business founded and associated with Taipale for much of the past fifty years) will also be reviving a race at Battle Creek, the Hiihto on New Year’s Day, but in a new two-person relay format. Plus Finn Sisu will be sponsoring a new citizen race series, the Tour de Finn, which incorporates many of the popular events around the region with individual and team competition categories available.
Finally, Wisconsin will add the Ironbull Ring of Snow Challenge, a solo or team relay challenge hosted by the Wausau Nordic Ski Club, which will replace the races previously held during the Badger State Winter Games.
Of course, as the season progresses there is always a chance that short-notice events will get added to the calendar, so be sure to keep a lookout for any updates there.
Like last season, to the best of our knowledge only a single event will be taking some time off this season: the Elm Creek Tuesday Night Race Series. However, there are still some events that are still awaiting confirmation at the time of writing, so check the calendar from time to time to see if any of those eventually materialize.
With many events just on the horizon, it only makes sense to point out the plethora of weekly race series that take place throughout the Midwest. From the Twin Cities to Madison, Duluth to Houghton, these typically mid-week events offer an excellent opportunity to dial in the racing strategy, general fitness, and, seeing as most series races are shorter affairs, exercise those fast twitch muscles.
Check out the full race calendar and start penciling in your own racing schedule. And remember to check our Racing Outlook for updates on upcoming events, as well as the Race Calendar for changes, cancellations, as short-notice additions.
Get those skis out of storage and start waxing, people!
Note: Remember to change the category in the Race Calendar header if you’d like to view high school or collegiate race schedules.