2024: Noquemanon Ski Marathon

To say that the 2023-24 Winter has been subpar (a result of El NiƱo) and has negatively impacted snow-dependent communities in the upper midwest is an understatement. SISU Ski Fest (scheduled for the first weekend of January) and Wolf Tracks Rendezvous (scheduled for the first weekend of February) had already been cancelled. A blizzard and accompanying treacherous driving conditions had ensured I stayed home to skip the Seeley Hills Classic in mid January. With mercury in retrograde (not the planet but the regional temperatures) in the days leading up to this event, I was (and still am, and pretty sure a vast majority of the participants were/are too) very grateful to have had it go off without a hitch!

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2023: American Birkebeiner

The 2022 edition involved skiing both the 29 km Kortelopet and the 55 km Birkie on back to back days with correct form, terrain-appropriate technique, situation-appropriate strategy, ease and peace (and not necessarily racing) as a tangible metric of improved fitness derived from a healthy lifestyle. The primary goal for the 2023 edition was to implement what I learned from additional lessons – skiing with better form, terrain-appropriate technique, situation-appropriate strategy, ease and peace – and race the 53 km Classic to earn my wave placement for 2024 edition.

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2023: Pre-Birkie and North End Classic

Last weekend’s racing opportunity shed light on things I hadn’t done well: paying careful attention to the wax recommendation (I had missed a glide wax layer) and nutrition before/during the race (I had forgotten the race day breakfast and had not carried my own gels). While they didn’t alter my result or experience in that shorter distance event, they had the potential to create a painful experience for longer distance events. I got a pair of opportunities to rehearse the pre-race and race day routine before those longer races come calling, and as my good fortune would have it, the two events (Pre-Birkie  and North End Classic) were a stone’s throw from each other – making it the travel once and race twice weekend.

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2023: Wolf Tracks Rendezvous

For a variety of self-imposed and healthy reasons, racing opportunities have been limited during 2022-23 winter. This event – Wolf Tracks Rendezvous (WTR) – and I have had a love at first ski kinda relationship since 2020, and over the past few winters, I have grown my love for it for a plethora of reasons: well run by a caring community of organizers and volunteers, well groomed trails at the Minocqua Winter Park that transports skiers to an entirely different world and the drive to (and from) Minocqua lends itself for a day trip with friends. The 2023 edition provided another opportunity to live through those reasons while doubling up as the second racing experience on classic skis (and first one on waxables) of this ongoing winter season.

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2022: American Birkebeiner

My primary goal for the 2021 edition involved skiing both the 29 km Kortelopet and the 55 km Birkie on back to back days – as a tangible metric of improved fitness derived from a healthy lifestyle. I got to check that off but owing to the pandemic as well as communal commitments, I had completed the Kortelopet virtually at Swedetown on Thursday and then traveled to complete my maiden Birkie along the official – albeit modified to be an out and back – course in the ABSF trail system on Friday. The primary goal for the 2022 edition remained almost the same as 2021: ski the Korte and the Birkie on back to back days with correct form, terrain-appropriate technique, situation-appropriate strategy, ease and peace. The result would be a tangible metric of regained fitness derived from a healthy-ish lifestyle after a rolled ankle injury in 2021 June significantly impacted how I trained and raced rest of the 2021 Summer and 2021 Fall. It’d also be an opportunity to put the lessons learned over 2021 Fall and 2021-22 Winter thus far into practice on what is unequivocally the grandest stage for cross country skiing in our country.

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2022: Pre-Birkie and Vasaloppet USA

Having skied the lovely trails in and around Mora, MN, three times so far and having experienced the hospitality of the organizers, volunteers and spectators (don’t let me forget to tell you about the soul warming blueberry soup they serve at aid stations), I didn’t need any convincing to sign up for the golden edition of Vasaloppet in 2022. For the past 2-3 years, several experienced members of my nordic skiing family had been encouraging me to do Seeley Hills Classic (SHC) and/or Pre-Birkie (PB) to better handle the Birkie Fever. After checking the schedule of events, SHC was a no go this year (we were hosting the 2022 CCSA Invitational and Great Lakes Division CXC Cup at Michigan Tech Trails on that day). But PB was scheduled for the day before the Vasaloppet. Google Maps again showed that doing both events would amount to approximately the same driving time/distance as doing just the Vasaloppet. So, I made some changes and opted to go for one more of  get two for the price of one deals!

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2022: Wolf Tracks Rendezvous and North End Classic

The Wolf Tracks Rendezvous (WTR) had gone virtual and the North End Classic (NEC) had indeed taken place in a real format in 2021. I had been a 3-time participant of the NEC by 2021 while 2020 was the first time I had even heard about WTR. Both are well-organized events that I have grown to love – because of the caring community of organizers and volunteers, compassionate fellow participants and well-groomed trails in picturesque settings. As my good fortune (or lining up of Nordic Stars) would have it, these two lovely events took place on back to back days in 2022. A bit of Google mapping helped me realize that I could do both events for about the same amount of driving time it’d have taken to do just NEC. And who doesn’t love a get two for the price of one deals?

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2022: SISU Ski Fest

After having skied the virtual edition of this event in 2021 (attempts #1 and #2), I signed up for this year’s edition as soon as the organizers opened up registration. Each winter, this event serves as the first of many mini reunions of my nordic skiing family and provides the first real race atmosphere to put to test newly acquired skills. While this year was no different in those aspects, it had a significantly higher value in light of the pandemic-forced separation and limited opportunities to see my family and hang out with them – on and/or off the race course.

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2021: Great Bear Chase

Being a hometown event and the last officially timed nordic skiing race for each winter, this was an event that I wouldn’t miss – pandemic or not. The organizing committee did an excellent job of staying ahead of the game as well as being open, honest and frequent in their communication leading up to the event. They even included a free virtual option – do your chosen distance from anywhere and consider making a donation to the trail system. Mother Nature threw a curve ball or two as we got closer to the event. But the Swedetown Trail System groomers rose to the occasion, worked their tails off with what Mothership provided and produced the best course they could!

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