Scamper, Glide and Leap through a Traverse City Winter!

Lisa Taylor loves the active life — and in Traverse City that’s a year-round love affair. Here are her recommendations for three fun events this winter: a snowshoe scamper, a ski race and a 5K run that you’ll enjoy no matter what your age or skill level is.

As an outdoor enthusiast up here in Traverse City, I’m always excited to be a part of the area’s many events — whether as a volunteer, an organizer or just participating with the rest of the crowd. Since snow has been falling in the area since mid-December, three great winter events are already on my to-do list .

First, on Feb. 2, there’s the Runaway Hen Snowshoe Scamper, a fun race through the  45-acre Brengman Brothers Crain Hill Vineyard, located just north of town. It’s a lot like the chardonnay-riesling blend for which it was named — “crisp with a good finish.” 

I’m not sure why, but snowshoe events have become increasingly popular in the Traverse City area. There are several competitive events now – including the Bigfoot in January — as well as the guided tours through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and the Grand Traverse County Natural Education Reserve. But the scamper at Brengman Brothers is in a class all its own.

As any wine enthusiast knows, vineyards tend to be situated in hilly areas, and this one has views of the vast rolling hills of the southeastern Leelanau Peninsula. What I particularly enjoy is the luxurious pre- and post-event gatherings in the winery’s sprawling tasting room.

Last year’s inaugural event included all kinds of people, from a pair of diehard snowshoe racers battling for the lead to a family on shoes who towed their little ones behind on a sled.  (By the way, if you don’t own snowshoes, you can rent them at many places in Traverse City, including McLain Cycle, Brick Wheels, and the Timber Ridge Resort. Even if you’ve never tried them, they’re easy!)

Just a week later, on Feb. 9-10, it’s off with the snowshoes and on with the cross-country skis for the 37th North American Vasa in the heart of the Pere Marquette State Forest, just east of Traverse City. The Vasa is a true community event, with a 1:2 ratio of volunteers to skiers.  In fact, it’s a tossup as to who has more fun — the skiers, or the volunteers along the trail serving up treats like grilled bananas and hot soup!

Although the Vasa is one of Midwest’s most competitive ski events it has always been a race for all people, with distances ranging from 6 and 12K to 27K and 50k in both classic and skate style competition. Over the course of race weekend, over 700 skiers will cross the line and grab a bowl of hot soup in the nearby lodge at Timber Ridge. 

One thing that makes this race so rewarding is the beautiful Vasa Trail itself, lovingly groomed by volunteers from Traverse City’s Tart Trails organization. On race weekend, the groomers stay up around the clock to guarantee the best conditions possible for both skate and classic enthusiasts.

Every winter, those of us involved in the race — skiers, volunteers, and townsfolk – find ourselves wondering about the weather.  Will we have enough snow — or will there be too much? Will the trail be icy? Will there be a thaw, or will it be too cold? The list goes on.  In the end, I think the best plan is just to be “at one with the elements.” Even when conditions are challenging, they can provide material for the skier’s version of a good “fish story”.

Skiers aren’t the only people who enjoy the Vasa. Spectators love to cluster at the final straightaway finish to enjoy the excitement of watching the competitors arrive, their colorful form-fitting technical outfits making a bright contrast with the snowy pinewoods, and there’s usually a raucous spectator competition for the loudest cowbell!

In March, Traverse City’s ski trails are usually in good shape — but local runners are itching to get back together for a little springtime race of their own.  Luckily, on March 16 they can join the Leapin’ Leprechaun 5K produced by the National Cherry Festival. This little race makes the return to running season much easier, especially when a foamy pint of Guinness awaits each runner at the finish line beer tent.

The Leapin’ Leprechaun route covers Traverse City’s historic downtown and many of its picturesque residential streets (including a block-long stretch of original red cobblestones on Sixth Street, fronted by the stately mansions of former lumber barons.) The race ends at a giant Irish style beer tent, complete with a live band, lots of great conversation, and beer – even if it is before noon! 

Nearly 1,000 runners enjoy the relaxed reunion-like atmosphere, and many dress up in classic St. Patrick’s Day garb — heavy on the green!  I often think of this run as a kickoff to another active summer in Traverse City, with lots of creative new opportunities for aerobic fun, from paddling, to swimming, and more.

But that’s another blog entirely!

An avid runner and participant in other active events, Lisa Taylor directs the North American Vasa ski races and the National Cherry Festival’s Meijer Festival of Races 15K and 5K, and coaches cross country and track and field at Traverse City Central High School.  Her newest venture was last December’s Farmland 5K European Style XC Challenge.