GeneralNewsRacingUS NationalsU.S. Nationals Taking on El Niño: Races to Be Held as Planned in Houghton

Avatar Kaitlyn PattersonDecember 23, 2015
Last year on the Michigan Tech Trails during the 2015 U.S. Cross Country Championships in Houghton, Mich. While the lake-effect snow made for a grooming headache back then, organizers are dealing with a different issue of low snow this year.
Last year on the Michigan Tech Trails during the 2015 U.S. Cross Country Championships in Houghton, Mich. While the lake-effect snow made for a grooming headache for the last year’s classic sprint, organizers are dealing with a different issue of low snow this year.

Although it continues to feel like fall across much of the Midwest, race organizers and USSA officials have announced that the 2016 U.S. Cross Country Championships will be held as scheduled in Houghton on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Racing will include four days of competition beginning Jan. 3 and concluding Jan. 9 on the Michigan Tech trails. Head nordic coach of Michigan Tech University and co-chair of the race organizing committee Joe Haggenmiller recently outlined important information about the upcoming championships.

Despite unseasonably warm weather and low snow accumulations, the skiing in Houghton is currently quite good, he explained. This past weekend brought 12-14 inches of new snow on top of an icy base. After grooming, the trails have 2-4 inches of packed powder.

Although the situation is currently much better than it was a week ago, the forecast leading up to the race still may pose challenges. Rain is predicted on Wednesday and the trails will be closed to skiing in the effort to preserve the course. Clean snow is being gathered from the airport and other areas of town to patch the course if necessary.

With a priority of maintaining the course, the race course may be closed on non-official training days before and during race week.  Alternate trail systems including Swedetown or Chassell trails will be options for training on these days. Course condition information on these trail systems can be found here.

Depending on the conditions, the courses might be changed. Snow-cover efforts will be focused on a 2.5-kilometer “low snow” course in case it needs to be utilized for the distance races.  These decisions will be announced after the technical delegates review the course conditions and options on Dec. 31.

Early Season Challenges

Leading up to these races, in Houghton’s second-straight year of hosting U.S. nationals, it has been a frustrating season so far for skiers and coaches alike in the Midwest. Haggenmiller was one of them, with a responsibility made more stressful when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Houghton race organizers for 2016 U.S. nationals posted this weather forecast on Facebook last Thursday, Dec. 17.
Houghton race organizers for 2016 U.S. nationals posted this forecast on Facebook last Thursday, Dec. 17.

But nearly a week ago on Dec. 17, the Michigan Tech trails received 6-8 inches of now overnight and it continued to snow the next day.

“The snow that came down last night is decently dense stuff,” Haggenmiller said last Friday. He spoke to FasterSkier on the phone during a ski on the Michigan Tech trails, and noted he was using his good skis (as opposed to rock skis). “As they are rolling it, it’s probably giving us 2+ inches of base.”

Usually having adequate snow in January is not a problem for Houghton, which receives an average annual snowfall in excess of 200 inches and over 50 inches in December.  However, weeks of unseasonably warm weather and little snowfall in Houghton and much of the Midwest brought concern about the feasibility of hosting a national championship in early January.

On Dec. 15, Haggenmiller released a statement outlining the viable options if the weather continued to be unfavorable, including farming snow to cover the sprint and 2.5 k courses, moving the races to the Michigan Tech’s alpine area, Mont. Ripley, with snowmaking capabilities, or moving the race venue to somewhere else in the Central region with better snow.

Mont Ripley, an alpine area owned by Michigan Tech University, as seen last year during 2015 U.S. Cross Country Championships in Houghton, Mich.
Mont Ripley, an alpine area owned by Michigan Tech University, as seen last year during 2015 U.S. Cross Country Championships in Houghton, Mich.

However, with more snow in the time since and an updated weather forecast, the nationals organizers are confident they’ll be able to stay put and stick to the trails used last year.

On Wednesday morning, a five-day forecast predicted temperatures dropping from above freezing on Wednesday down to the mid-20s by Sunday. Beyond that, temperatures are expected to stay well below freezing, with daily highs in the mid-20s and snow off and on throughout next week.

For updates, follow the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships website or Facebook page.

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Kaitlyn Patterson

New to the FasterSkier team, Kaitlyn is a silent sports all-arounder, competing in cross-country skiing, cycling and triathlon since graduating from the University of Michigan, where she ran cross country and track. Kaitlyn is intrigued by the complexities of cross-country ski racing and is excited to start in the elite women’s field at the 2016 Birkie.

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