Jon Mommaerts, director of the Noquemanon Ski Marathon, received a healthy round of applause at the awards ceremony in Marquette on Saturday night, after he delivered a similarly hearty round of apologies.
The snow on the first half of the course was too deep and too soft. The snow on the last stretch was too thin and too dirty. The Snowbike racers caught some of the slower skiers and created too much congestion.
I was impressed that Mommaerts addressed the flaws in the 15th annual Noque, but he was too critical.
As someone pointed out during our post-race recap, the Noquemanon has always been something of a rugged race, a point-to-point journey that winds through the gorgeous pine stands between Ishpeming and Marquette. The drop in elevation down to the shore of Lake Superior, and the proximity to the lake, create significant variation in the snowfall on different parts of the trail; and with less-intense grooming, it’s a race that tests your ability to ski well over and around a bit of everything.
And I’ve learned that the forecast, even the one I checked just before dozing to sleep the night before the race, is probably a 50-50 shot, at best.
I wasn’t expecting to bash through five inches of fresh snow over the first 40 kilometers of my 50K classic race, and Mommaerts and his trail team weren’t expecting to groom it, either. They parked their equipment at 3 a.m., only to have a squall dump a fresh batch at 2-inches per hour in the next few hours.
If only it had spread some to the final 10K, which was a typical Noque exercise in dodging, weaving and searching for the skiable track.
The conditions led to slower race times, about 30 minutes for the top classic skiers, and the same for me. I’m not going to complain about an extra 30 minutes on snow, even if it is imperfect.
I agree with Jan Guenther’s assessment. “It was the prettiest course I’ve ever been on,” she told the Mining Journal. It is like you’re in Sweden and I love winding courses and I love the last 5K of it. It was so much fun.”
To his credit, Mommaerts took the blame for just about everything that may have challenged the skiers, and vowed to work toward improving the races next year. He can’t control the weather, but pledged to improve the distribution of snow near the finish, after the 30 to 40 truckloads failed to be sufficient last weekend.
He also plans to change the start time for the 50K SnowBike race, after the bikers caught and passed about 200 skiers slogging to the Superior Dome. Mommaerts said he badly miscalculated how long it would take the bikers to cover the 50K, expecting no one to beat four hours. Jorden Wakeley cruised to the finish line in 2:21:29 and more than half the field beat four hours.
I heard some grumbling among skiers about the intrusion of FatBikes on the Noquemanon Trail, but Mommaerts and the race organizers deserve credit for seeking new ways to bring silent sport enthusiasts to their event. The bike races, skijoring, snowshoe race and adaptive ski contest all improve the overall Noquemanon experience and create new advocates.
The Noque is a fantastic trail that should be shared.
More coverage: Check out the results and coverage of the Noque here.