A record 866 skiers enjoyed a perfect day for cross country skiing Saturday for the 40th annual UP Health System Great Bear Chase Ski Marathon at the Swedetown Trails in Calumet.
Two former Olympians, Brian and Caitlin Gregg, took the men’s and women’s titles in the 50km skiathlon. Brian is also a six-time national champion, while Caitlin is a former All-American at Northern Michigan University and the only five-time winner in the history of the American Birkebeiner, the biggest ski race in North America. The skiathlon incorporates the two different styles of cross country skiing – 25 kilometers using the traditional classic diagonal stride technique and then 25 kilometers of the freestyle or skating technique.
“Conditions were excellent, with moderate temperatures, no wind, and a great snow base,” said race director Angela Luskin, Health and Fitness Manager at UP Health System Portage. “About 80 percent of our participants come from outside of our immediate area, which means almost 700 skiers and their families are renting hotel rooms, eating at restaurants, and supporting our local economy,” said Luskin. “Cross country skiing is a silent sport, but has a large impact for local businesses not only on Bear Chase weekend but throughout the winter.”
The Great Bear Chase also includes competition in each technique at distances of 50km, 25km, and 10km.
The 50km freestyle titles were claimed by Anna Engle (Rhinelander, WI) and Zach Nelson (St. Paul, MN). Elspeth Ronnander (St. Paul, MN) won her second consecutive 50km classic title, while Eric Patterson (Dulth, MN) took the men’s crown.
Two Minneapolitans won the 25km freestyle: Inga Wing and Charlie Grabow. In the classic 25km, Jane Straka (Nashotah, WI) earned her second consecutive victory, while Cedric Keller of Houghton took the men’s title.
In the 10km distance, Anne Straka (Nashotah, WI) and Noah Erickson (Wyoming, MN) took freestyle wins, while Leandra Bruggink (Marquette, MI) and Andrew Pillifant (Ishpeming, MI) won the classic event.
More than 100 volunteers are needed to plan the event, set up the course and start and finish areas, provide several aid stations for skiers, and prepare a huge pasty luncheon at Calumet High School for racers.
The Great Bear Chase is also the concluding race in the CXC Ski Marathon Cup, which includes six of the biggest cross country ski events in the Midwest.
Results are at www.greatbearchase.com.