MARQUETTE - The 50-kilometer freestyle and classic races with their elite racers from all around the country might grab the most attention at the 15th annual Noquemanon Ski Marathon, but they are only the tip of a snowy iceberg when it comes to all the events that are being offered.
In fact, organizers have competitive - and a few non-competitive - events scheduled over three days, starting Friday afternoon with Junior Noque races, continuing all day Saturday and wrapping up at around noon on Sunday.
All this might not have happened - or at least would be more difficult to do - if it wasn't for some recent cooperation from Mother Nature.
Santiago Ocariz of Spooner, Wis., comes to the finish line at the Superior Dome ending up with the top time of 2 hours, 31 minutes and 20.9 seconds in the 2012 Noquemanon 50K Classic race on January 28, 2012. Ocariz is one of the top returning racers in the 2013 Noquemanon, which runs Friday through Sunday. (Journal file photo by Matt Keiser)
Fresh snow, measuring 6 to 24 inches in most spots, kept race director Jon Mommaerts from opening an industrial-sized bottle of pain reliever, and the cold of the past few days has only preserved this new snow pack.
"We have coverage the whole way," he said in a Monday news release. "We just want to make it thicker in some areas. It will all be ready come race day."
That's perfect news as organizers reported about a hundred people signed up during a 24-hour period from Sunday to Monday, bringing registration up to about 1,300 and on track to beat the 1,500 who registered last year.
While online registration has now closed, in-person registration will be available Friday evening at the Superior Dome in Marquette.
A race of this size also couldn't happen without around 500 volunteers who work along the course and at the finish line.
"Without the volunteers, we wouldn't be able to put on this wonderful race," said Noquemanon chief of administration Nicole Dewald, who also serves as the event's publicity chair. "So we put out a big thank-you to the Marquette, Negaunee and Ishpeming communities.
"This is such an economic generator, health generator and is a great way to spur volunteerism and community service."
Cold weather-related events around the Midwest have taken a beating so far this season, according to Mommaerts.
"This is the first marathon in the Midwest that's been able to happen this year," he said.
Not surprisingly, when no one else has the white stuff, the Lake Superior snowbelt will once winter has taken full grip. Various parts of the course have averaged 150 to 200 inches of snow a year for the past few decades.
Led by the 50K classic and freestyle races on Saturday morning, cross-country skiing in a number of forms is still the Noquemanon bread and butter. But as the saying goes, man does not live by bread alone.
New this year is adaptive skiing, commonly known as sit ski, and the return of snowshoeing, snow biking and skijoring - skiing with dogs. Bikes and dogs joined the Noquemanon last year, and because they were so popular, have joined the annual lineup.
It all begins, though, with the kids on Friday. Following a related Great Lakes Division J1/OJ 10K freestyle race at 3 p.m., the Junior Noque's four events for youths up to age 19 run from 4 p.m. to about 6 p.m. at the Forestville trailhead.
That evening, participants of all ages will converge on the Superior Dome, the finish line for most races, for the Ski Expo, registration and packet pickup along with the annual Friday Night Pasta Feed.
Before the sun even rises Saturday morning, buses begin taking participants from the Dome to various starting lines, including the Al Quaal Recreation Area in Ishpeming for 50K races, County Road 510 north of U.S. 41 and between Negaunee and Marquette for 24K and 15-mile events, and the Forestville trails for 12K and 10K races.
An intricate schedule has been developed over the years with racers starting anywhere from 8:10 a.m. to 1 p.m., working down in elevation into the city of Marquette almost to Lake Superior.
In the 50K Classic that includes several thousand dollars in prize money, defending men's champion Santiago Ocariz of the XC Oregon team will be back, along with other notable racers who include Minnesota's Kim Rudd of Rossignol Racing, Traverse City's Ben Lannin of Solomon and New York state's Maria Stuber of Craftsbury Green Racing Project.
The first of two days for snow bikers and snowshoers take off after all skiers have cleared the course Saturday afternoon. Adaptive skiing also takes place in the afternoon.
The dog-oriented skijoring race opens Sunday's schedule at 9:30 a.m., followed by two snow bike races and another snowshoe event.
For more information about the races, visit the website www.noquemanon.com or call the Noque toll-free hotline at 1-866-370-7223.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.