Setting up for the World Cup

Southwest residents help Loppet prepare for major event

tests out the World Cup course
Minnesota native Benjamin Saxton (right) of the U.S. Ski Team tests out the World Cup course at Theodore Wirth Park alongside Team Canada skier Bob Thompson. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

Update, March 12: The 2020 Coop FIS Cross Country World Cup has been canceled due to ongoing concerns of the coronavirus (COVID-19).  

Thousands of spectators will descend on Theodore Wirth Park March 14-17 for the Cross Country Ski World Cup, an event that will feature the sports’ top athletes and be put on with the help of several Southwest Minneapolis volunteers.

“It’s got something for everybody,” said Mark Raderstorf, a Lynnhurst resident serving as the event’s community engagement coordinator.

The 2020 Coop FIS Cross Country Ski World Cup Sprint Finals will bring the world’s best cross country skiers to the Trailhead for fast-paced action and unpredictable results.

“It’s going to be really fast and really fun,” said Alayna Sonnesyn, a Minnesota native and professional Nordic skier who races for the U.S. Ski Team.

Sonneysn, a Plymouth native who skied for the University of Vermont before joining the professional circuit, spent a lot of time skiing at Theodore Wirth when she was young. She said she’s very impressed with the improvements made to the area, including The Trailhead, in the past few years.

For Sonneysn and U.S. Ski teammate Benjamin Saxton, who grew up in Lakeville, the World Cup being hosted in Minneapolis is a huge opportunity to grow the sport and put Minnesota on the map as a destination to host premier competitions. It has been 20 years since the U.S. last hosted the World Cup. 

“We’re primed to become the North American stop of the World Cup if it goes well,” Saxton said.

Vermont is a historic home for U.S. Skiing, but Minnesota is home to the sport’s largest community in the U.S.

“None of those places have the volume of skiers the Twin Cities has,” Sonnesyn said.

The course for the World Cup has a design that reflects the style of Olympic Gold Medalist Jessie Diggins, a Minnesota native and the country’s most famous Nordic skier, who will be racing in the World Cup. Diggins is known for her ability to pass racers on inclines, and the course features two sizable hills that suit her strengths.

Sonnesyn said fans should try to get spots along those hills to cheer on the racers to see the most intense action.

“Things can get heated on the course and you never know what you’re going to see there,” she said.

Fans will be spread among new stadium-style seating being installed near The Trailhead and through the grounds, known as the infield.

“The day of the race, the infield is the place to be,” Raderstorf said. “Think of the Indianapolis 500 and the Kentucky Derby. It’s going to be a big party.”

Racers compete in heats of six athletes that will winnow down competitors to a final heat for male and female races. Constant heats mean constant action and the athletes hope spectators will be loud.

“Make it a party because the really great races that Nordic racers remember are really loud,” Saxton said.

Volunteer-fueled event 

Raderstorf has been volunteering up to 20 hours each week for the past year to support the event. As community engagement coordinator, the former Loppet Foundation board member recruited 35 community ambassadors to reach various groups of potential fans in the area. That work includes reaching out to neighborhoods in nearby North Minneapolis, groups of athletes in other racing sports and community groups representing countries of other nationalities that feature prominently in Nordic ski racing, such as Norway, Sweden and Russia.

“What we want to do is bring out new people,” he said.

The four-day event at Theodore Wirth Park will include beer gardens, live music from artists like Brother Ali and Bad Bad Hats and a wide range of fun and competitive races before the World Cup race on March 17.

The celebration is expected to draw thousands of people each day to the park and up to 20,000 on race day. That many people normally create lots of waste, but Kenwood resident Tricia Conroy is working to make the World Cup as clean as possible. Conroy is a longtime Loppet Foundation volunteer who works in environmental policy. For the World Cup she’s combining her passions as the sustainability coordinator.

To make the gathering eco-friendly, the Loppet is encouraging attendees to take mass transit, carpool, walk or bike to the World Cup. Massive bike corrals will be installed near The Trailhead and prizes will be awarded to the first 1,000 attendees who walk or bike to the event.

All food and drink sold at the event will come in recyclable or compostable containers. It’s too early for outdoor water fountains or the Tap Minneapolis system, and the event will not be selling bottled water. Instead, organizers will place several large water jugs throughout the grounds, and they are encouraging people to bring their own bottles.

“We’re working towards a zero-waste event and people are pretty serious about it,” Conroy said.