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This has been a terrible winter for skiing in much of North America, particularly in the midwest. With temperatures consistently above freezing and little snowfall, most races in the region have either been cancelled or significantly shortened. Minneapolis —which hosts World Cup events on February 17th and 18th—has also suffered from this weather. Minneapolis’ temperatures this week have been in the mid-fifties with similar temperatures mixed with rain expected for the next couple of days. This has raised an obvious and legitimate question—will the races in Minneapolis happen as scheduled? “Absolutely,” says Loppet Director, Claire Wilson. “I am 100 percent confident that we will hold the event which meets FIS (International Ski Federation) standards. I feel 100 percent confident in our ability to pull it off, barring a catastrophic rain. Obviously, it is not going to be ideal, but FIS has seen where we are, we passed snow control. We are 100 percent on. At this point the only thing that would derail that would be if that rain predicted for Thursday was an all-day deluge. We have done everything we can do in the warmest winter on record. I feel 100 percent confident in my staff and the volunteers that we can do this. I would tell everybody, pack your bags.”
The Loppet Foundation is the entity responsible for organizing the World Cup event in Minneapolis. In an interview with FasterSkier Tuesday evening, Wilson said that, “This second, conditions are good on the course.” She continued that “The course this morning was excellent.”
While the weather has presented incredibly trying circumstances, there have been some fortunate twists. The course was always designed to be on the snowmaking loop. “There was never another option,” Wilson told FasterSkier. When the bid was requested for 2024 Wilson specifically asked for the event to be held in February instead of March—as had been the case when the race was cancelled due to Covid in 2020. “Of course, we thought that in February we would not encounter any challenge making snow.”
The race venue, Theodore Wirth Park, has seven kilometers of trails with snow making. For Saturday’s Sprints the course will be held on a loop a little over two kilometers. Sunday’s 10-kilometer race will be laps on a 3.3-kilometer loop. On Monday, the average snow depth on those loops was two feet.
“We have significant snow guns, which is a very mobile system. We (make snow in) concentrated efforts then go and pick up and make snow in another area.” But even with snow making facilities, it still has to be cold enough to make snow, and that has simply not been the case. “If we had not had that polar vortex in January, I can say with almost 100 percent certainty that we wouldn’t be holding this race. We made the majority of our snow in January. That period in January saved us. We lost a significant amount of trail at Christmas with the warmup and the rain; we were able to rebuild in January but haven’t had any significant snow making since that cool down.”
Unfortunately, even with colder temperatures predicted following this week’s warm up, it will not present a green light to make more snow. “We’re challenged because the load-in (placing television facilities, advertising banners, stanchions and other structures) for the entire event has had to be quite condensed. There are literally pages of things which are being loaded in.” So even with some windows of colder temperatures, organizers won’t be fully able to take advantage of the conditions because of cameras and other structures placed near the course. “We’ll be able to make some snow, but the trail itself will be difficult to make snow on. There will not be a lot of opportunity to make more snow. It is truly a Herculean effort to save the trail that we have.” Wilson told FasterSkier that 28 truckloads of snow were hauled in Tuesday from a nearby site.
Volunteers will be laying down blankets Wednesday to cover vulnerable areas. The blankets are loaners from a nearby construction firm (Mortenson Company) which reached out to the Loppet Foundation to help. The blankets are normally used to keep drying concrete warm.
Things are definitely not winter-like in Minneapolis right now. “I’m looking at green grass and people golfing across from our trail right now,” observed Wilson.
Minneapolis has been a bit snakebitten trying to host a World Cup. The 2020 event was cancelled due to Covid; the disappointment truly stung. Wilson expressed the frustration her team has experienced with their bad luck. “We are a small non-profit putting on a major international event, with majority volunteers. A lot of people experienced that trauma from the last cancellation … it took a lot of convincing to get everyone back enthusiastic about hosting again; to get hit with this, it’s hard to put into words how extraordinarily difficult it’s been and what an ask it has been of volunteers and staff. It’s been a remarkable effort for the last several months.”
Not only has the Loppet foundation had to work to get ready for the World Cup, but they still have their regular obligations. “We also work to provide Minneapolis all of the other recreational opportunities that we would in a typical winter.”
The stress level surrounding the weather has been high. “We’ve never had a January or February where we couldn’t make snow, Wilson said. “There were many things I was concerned about (hosting the event) but looking out on green grass and blooming tulips wasn’t something which we had anticipated.”
To help preserve conditions, there is a complete shutdown of the system beginning tonight, which includes grooming.
“There’s a special amount of gratitude which needs to go out from the national and international community to this local community,” Wilson said. “It was always going to be an act of heart and soul to put this together, but it is not an overstatement to say that this has been a Herculean effort. It’s a true act of love by the Minnesota Nordic community. The Loppet community is providing a very big gift of bringing this World Cup to the U.S. We’re excited to welcome everyone here.”
Hopefully, organizers’ preparations and volunteers’ diligence will be rewarded, and they’ll get a break with the weather. Either way, the final countdown has begun, and everyone is confident about having a great event.