Snowblowers may save city ski race

The snow blower you might have seen on Lake Calhoun Jan. 16 was not an effort to create a giant skating oval -- it was an effort to keep plans alive for a major urban cross country ski race in Minneapolis.

The organizers of the City of Lakes Loppet are forging ahead with their inaugural event -- in spite of this winter's dismal snow covering.

"It is definitely going forward," said John Munger, a chief organizer for the event.

Contingency plans are underway, including paying the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to blow snow into a ring around the lakes, to get enough accumulation at the edges to groom a ski trail.

Mike Schmidt, the Park Board's assistant superintendent of operations, said his staff did a trial run on Lake Calhoun Jan. 16, and would charge Loppet organizers $600.

Workers made several laps around the lake, each time blowing more and more snow to the edge.

Under the initial plan for the Saturday, Feb. 1 35-kilometer race, skiers would start at Theodore Wirth chalet and ski through Wirth Park, Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles, ending at the Lake Calhoun refectory.

If a last-minute snow doesn't bail them out, Munger said they would reroute the race to the lakes only. The race would be two 15-kilometer loops, starting and ending on the north end of Lake Calhoun, across from the Calhoun Beach Club.

A cross-country ski race in Mora suffered from a snow shortage last year, Munger said. "One of their people put together this machine that makes snow out of ice. If necessary we will bring that down," he said.

To use the original race layout, Munger said the trail would need 6 to 8 inches of snow, depending on how wet it is. The organizers plan to put off a final decision as long as possible to give Mother Nature a chance to help.

"By Monday or Tuesday before the event, we would have to decide," Munger said.

More than 100 people had already registered for the 35K race, Munger said. He encouraged families to sign up for the shorter 10K race. "This is an event designed for people who have never put on skis before. Don't feel bashful," he said.

For more information on the race, go to www.cityoflakesloppet.com or call 715-1479.