Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Commentary: New Loppet Structure Is Off Course

Loppet2This season’s Lake Placid Loppet Cross Country Ski Race has been scheduled for March 1, 2015. This year the Loppet is being relaunched by ORDA as the marquee event of The Lake Placid Nordic Festival (February 27 – March 1).

Entry fees have skyrocketed. Early registration, (and you better sit down for this) is $99! After Jan 1st it increases to $125. There are discounts for season pass holders, local clubs, and junior entries. And there is a added slate of events, parties, free clinics, discounts on rentals, etc. You can read about it here on the Loppet Page. Last year’s entry fees started at $60. So the $99 fee is an increase of 65%! Why the huge increase?

My own experience with the Loppet started in 1994. The cross country ski skating revolution had a lot of us trying skate skiing and starting to get more fit. I looked for races to enter and the Loppet was the logical choice. Back then the race was just one event with classic and freestyle racers skiing together. At my first Loppet (of course I chose the 50km event) I lined up near the front – yeah, big mistake! I was fairly well trampled at the start by the elite skiers, but I eventually skied through a total bonk and finished. It became a yearly ritual for myself and anyone else I could cajole into entering. Lots of friends tried it and I would hope to say I converted some of them to lifelong fitness skiers. None of us are any richer 20 years later and there’s not much cajoling going on at $99!

jfnxvtcd64xludppLoppet is from the Norwegian løpet and means any long distance event over rolling terrain. Lake Placid Loppet racers can tackle 25km, The Kort (means short) Loppet and the full Loppet at 50km. Both races can be skied either with classic technique or freestyle (skate skiing). The Lake Placid Loppet has a 30+ year history beginning in 1982 soon after the 1980 Olympic Games were held in Lake Placid. One of the original organizers was Dr. Francis B. Trudeau, a Saranac Lake native and founding president of the Trudeau Institute. The race was organized to spotlight the Olympic Trails at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, utilizing almost the same course as the olympic skiers raced on 2 years earlier. Dr. Trudeau was an accomplished athlete having competed for Yale as a ski jumper and in later years as a cross country ski racer. He saw the Loppet as a goal to get people exercising, to train for the event: “to get the full optimum of life there is only one medicine to prescribe — exercise”.

Every year at the Loppet the Founder’s Trophy is awarded to the oldest finisher in the 50km Loppet in memory of Dr. Trudeau. He succeeded, and I’m sure was influenced by the infamous Herman “Jack Rabbit” Smith-Johannsen (1875-1987). An avid skier and racer, Jack Rabbit helped lay out trails around Lake Placid in the 1920’s. Today’s great Lake Placid – Saranac Lake – Keene community trail system bears his name. His death at 111 can only reflect on the health benefits of cross country skiing.

I remember one especially cold year, 1996. For the ’96 Loppet it was -30F at 9 am. They delayed the start ’till 10 am at -20 and the high for the day was -5! Cold snow is slow snow and it was like skating in sand, but we all toughed it out on a shortened 40 km course. At the post race banquet one first time racer anxiously scanned the results, finding his name he said “geeze, I came in last.” I had to pipe in that he beat all the people that didn’t bother to enter! His frown evaporated. He was elated. I often quote the Teddy Roosevelt excerpt from a speech he gave at the Sorbonne, in Paris in 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

The triumph of high achievement – indeed! The Lake Placid Loppet is hilly. The 50km course (that’s about 30 miles) has a vertical climb of 3,300 feet, just short of the vertical rise of Whiteface Mountain at 3,600 feet. Many entrants at the Loppet, myself included, use the race as a fitness challenge. There’s not much hope of winning, but lots of opportunity to advance in your age group year to year. It is no different than other regional races including the Tupper Lake Tin Man (triathlon), The Adirondack Marathon, The Black Fly Challenge (bike race), and others. Pick your sport, train through out the year and race; advancing in age groups as we get older and most importantly staying fit for all the challenges in life. Cross country ski racing has the added challenges of waxing, weather and snow conditions, and mastering all the techniques of the sport.

The Lake Placid Loppet is part of the American Ski Marathon Series. This is a series of 15 races across the United States, and some of these races are part of the World Loppet series of races. For information on some of the really big races read my post “Biggest Ski Day Ever”. A quick search of events and entry fees for the American Ski Marathon Series puts the Loppet near the top of a list for entry fees for events this season. The only race more expensive than the Loppet is the American Birkebeiner in Hayward, WI. The Birkie is part of the world Loppet series and is the premier North American cross country ski race and festival event with over 13,000 racers and huge logistic issues. All the other races offer a very reasonable early entry fee, and they continue to be what all these races should be – a regional Citizen’s Cross Country Ski Race. Here’s the list and you can find out more information at the American Ski Marathon Series website. These are the early entry fee rates and some rates may have expired.


Early entry is aimed at helping race organizers assess the number of participants expected and it is attractive to racers because it now makes a racer committed to training. But many skiers still wait to see what kind of snow year it is shaping up to be, or look ahead to the weather in the week prior to the race. The Loppet has had some of it’s largest fields when there was consistent snow for training especially downstate.

Make no mistake about it The Loppet has always been a first class event. Grooming is impeccable, scenery is spectacular, the organization is fantastic, and the volunteers are a great cheering squad at every food station.   The post race banquet has always been a great event in itself. Overall I feel like an Olympic ski racer at the Loppet.

So, why the huge price increase? Mostly someone is trying to mimic the successful festival races like the Birkie or the Boulder Mountain Tour. Or maybe the bean counters are demanding accountability for expenses. But this new Lake Placid Nordic Festival is just putting the cart before the horse. The Loppet is the horse pulling all the rest of the Nordic Festival events. Read more about the Lake Placid Nordic Festival here.

Alas, no post race banquet this year, replaced by a carbo-loading dinner the night before this year’s race and by a cocktail party the night before that. All these “New this Year” festival additions are aimed at out of town skiers that might use the Loppet as a vacation to Lake Placid. And laudably also aimed at introducing new skiers to cross country skiing. It’s nice to have a cross country ski festival for the folks not racing. But really, most of these additions seem to be on the backs of Loppet racers. Regional racers simply want to race. Regional racers leave their own home the morning of the race or beg a couch at a friend’s house close to Lake Placid or even sleep in the car the night before (I’ve seen that). Throw us a bone with an early entry fee Aug. 1 – Dec. 1 for $60.

LoppetPinMaybe it’s time for the Loppet to leave the hands of ORDA and enter into the very capable organization of the Adirondack Ski Touring Council and get re-purposed as what it really should be and always was – a great regional Citizen’s Cross Country Ski Race. All I know is that it is way to expensive for me and other long-time Loppet racers. And waiting until Jan 1, still two months from the event at $125 goes into the bizarre category.

For additional regional Citizen’s Cross Country Ski Races the Craftsbury Marathon, Craftsbury, VT is on Jan. 31 ($60 ’till Dec. 1) and this year it is also the 2015 National Masters Championship Race. Another perennial classic is the Tug Hill Tourathon (now called the Winnona Forest Tourathon), near Pulaski, NY is being held on Feb. 28, 2015, the day before the Loppet ($55 for the 50km event). For more NY Cross Country Ski Racing information visit New York Ski Racing Federation NYSRA-Nordic.

I certainly wish the Loppet well and will continue to publicize the race on the Cross Country Ski Areas of New York website and on ski report websites. Maybe these changes will indeed revitalize the event. And while they’re at it – bring back the original elegant finishers pin (pictured here), gold for 50km finishers, silver for the 25km finishers. Citizen racing and the Loppet are indeed metaphors for life. In the end the Loppet needs to ask the same question any good athlete and racer asks, how good can I be and not just how little can I get away with.

Photos: Above, the author and fellow 1996 Loppet finishers; middle, Dr. Francis B. Trudeaul; and below, a finishers pin.


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5 Responses

  1. Tony Goodwin says:

    Thanks for the tribute to Dr. Francis Trudeau. It was really his initiative and his standing within the community that convinced ORDA to give this event a try.

    While at one point the Adirondack Ski Touring Council did suggest to ORDA that we would be willing to continue the event if they didn’t want to, for the record we have not made any similar proposal nor even discussed such a proposal.

  2. Jim H. says:

    Wow, the main winter event that I look forward to every year. Always a great, low key event with a real local flavor. Always register this time of year and would have been shocked at several of those significant changes. Thanks for the heads up!

  3. While I applaud the idea of bringing more skiers to the Loppet, I am disappointed with some of these changes. Notably the stiff price increase and changing the race day to Sunday. BTW, I am an out of town skier, I’ve skied the Lake Placid Loppet probably 25 times. Driving 300 miles home after skiing 50 km is not a good combination.

    Hopefully the organizers will make some adjustments in their program for following years.

  4. […] Carlson has decried the changes more eloquently than I could, with a caustic commentary on the Adirondack Almanac.  The president of Cross Country Ski Areas of New York, Carlson ran […]

  5. I’ve raced in the Loppet (though nothing as impressive as Dick’s and Peter’s streaks) and agree that it’s a great event. While some of the format changes seem like a good idea to broaden the race’s appeal (like adding a 12.5K event), I hope organizers will re-examine the $99/$125 race fee and consider moving the 50K/25K events back to Saturday in future years, as Dick and Peter have suggested. By comparison, race fees for the 2015 Lake Placid Marathon are $90/$100 – it seems a stretch that the Loppet would be more expensive.