Hundreds of Skiers Gather for Feb. 8-9 North American Vasa in Traverse City

Saturday’s race, with cofigurations for both freestyle and classic skiers, is one of 16 U.S. events listed in the prestigious American Ski Marathon Series, where most of the nation's elite and professional ski racers compete. Sunday’s Gran Travers Classic, for traditional old-school Nordic skiers, is part of the Michigan Cup classic race series.

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Competitors in the North American Vasa Festival of Races

Competitors in the North American Vasa Festival of Races

The dense forests, towering hills and stunning shoreline views that make this a favorite summer resort area also lure thousands of visitors here each winter for skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and other cold-weather sports.

Traverse City, MI (PRWEB) January 07, 2014

Nearly 800 Nordic skiers from around the world are expected to gather in this Michigan resort community in early February for two days of cross-country skiing and cycling during the 38th annual North American Vasa Festival of Races.

The race traces its origins back to 1518, when a young Swedish nobelman, Gustav Eriksson Vasa, skied his way to freedom in Norway after his country was invaded by a Danish army. Vasa rallied a resistance movement, ejected the Danes and eventually became King of Sweden.

Today his feat is celebrated by Sweden's huge Vasaloppet, where 12,000 skiers retrace Vasa's original 85-kilometer route, and the North American Vasa Festival of races in the pinewoods of northern Michigan.

Saturday’s race, with 6K, 12K, 27K and 50K loops for freestyle skiers, and 12K and 27K for classic styles, is one of 16 U.S. events listed in the prestigious American Ski Marathon Series, where most of the nation's elite and professional ski racers compete. Sunday’s 6K/16K Gran Travers Classic, for traditional old-school Nordic skiers, is part of the Michigan Cup classic race series.

Even casual weekend skiers can enjoy themselves during the two-day Festival of Races. Over the years, organizers have added a wide range of races and events for skiers of all shapes, ages and skill levels – 1K sprints for preschoolers, 3K freestyle and classic events for older youths, and even a noncompetitive “Human Inspiration” tour for athletes who just want to get out and enjoy the trail on Race Day.

“When we did this tour last year, we had 70-75 people show up,” says Vasa president Pete LaPlaca. “There’s a lot of people out there with new hips and knees and pacemakers who ski every day, and they love to get out on the course.”

Another new wrinkle in the 2014 Vasa is the addition of a new race for cyclists, the 27K King Vasa Fat Bike Race. And since many Fat Bikers are also skiers, there’s a combined “SkiFatalon” for competitors who earn the best combined time skiing and cycling the 27K course.

Founded in 1976, the Vasa is held on a beautifully crafted trail that winds through Michigan’s Pere Marquette State Forest, just east of Traverse City, and only two races in its 30-year history have been canceled for lack of snow. The 2005 race almost met a similar fate, but was rescued at the last minute when a local campground and ski outfitter, Timber Ridge, offered its higher, snowier location as an alternative headquarters for the Vasa. The move was so popular with skiers that the race has used Timber Ridge as its base of operations ever since.

The Vasa may be Traverse City’s best-known winter event, but it is by no means the only one. The dense forests, towering hills and stunning shoreline views that make this a favorite summer resort area also lure thousands of visitors here each winter for skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and other cold-weather sports.

On Feb. 1, for instance, yet another Michigan Cup Series race is held a few miles to the north in the village of Mancelona. Known as the White Pine Stampede, it began in 1977 and has been held on the first Saturday in February ever since (Except for the “snow-challenged” winter of 2012.)

Unlike the Vasa, where skiers race on looping trails, the Stampede is a “point to point race” that starts in Mancelona and finishes 50 kilometers later at Shanty Creek Resorts. (There’s also a shorter 20K route, as well as a noncompetitive10K event for skiers who prefer a more leisurely trip.)

Best known as a summer vacation destination, the Traverse City region is now winning accolades as a magnet for skiers, snowmobilers and snowshoe hikers who consider Traverse City one of the country’s most beautiful winter destinations. Budget Travel calls it one of the 11 “Coolest Winter Places in America” and Livability.com has it on its list of the nation’s best winter vacation destinations.

Organized in 1981 as the Traverse City Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Traverse City Tourism (TCT) is a nonprofit corporation that serves as the area’s official destination marketing organization. Its focused mission is to stimulate economic growth by attracting convention business and developing leisure tourism