SISU Dream Fragments

SISU Ski Fest 2022 was pretty close to being perfect. The event filled to capacity. We were backed by generous sponsorships and supportive community partners. We had some good luck and an absence of bad luck. The day ended with lots of happy racers and proud volunteers. Just as we had dreamed it.

This year felt very organized and as though we were “ready.” Most of our teams are composed of volunteers with experience, and ownership of their part in the event. Our new chiefs were all up to the task and did fantastic work. Rookie volunteers were mixed with veterans, creating energetic and competent teams: aid stations, road crossings, expo, food service, start line, finish line, bag drop, first aid, registration, cookie bakers, bus drivers – specialized cogs within the SISU machine.

Two weeks to go, time to start fretting in earnest. After a good snow base was established, warm temps melted it away. Bare spots were beginning to show on the trails. A couple days of nail biting, and then Heikki Lunta came through for us with over 20’’ of snow from Tuesday to Thursday of race week. During and after the snow storm, groomers put in a ton of work molding a solid race course. The finish line and road crossing crews sculpted vital final components. The race course would be excellent! We were so excited to finish in the new Downtown City Square. We created a photogenic backdrop and anticipated attracting more spectators. One day to go: Hey, who is going to shovel all this snow for victory photos and spectators? An impromptu snow shovel brigade, that’s who!

Meanwhile, 800 racers were planning, training, packing, waxing, converging on Ironwood. Many fell to the virus and injuries, hopes and dreams dashed, postponed yet another year. 635 picked up packets, 613 raced.

Race day: nothing to do but to do it. Sandwiched between the big snow and the big chill, temps hovered in the teens. The sun even shone that afternoon.

At 9:28 Miles Mykkanen sang the National Anthem and at 9:30 the gun fired and SISU ’22 had begun. All hands on deck! Five hours later and we were clearing the road crossings, giving away extra pasties, and telling our stories from the day. Racers said the volunteers were exceptionally friendly; volunteers said the racers were exceptionally appreciative. Everyone just happy to be part of something good, happening the way we had dreamed it.

How to manage 800 people at the peak of a COVID-19 surge? That was a challenge! Would we have trouble? Would we all end up with COVID? But our participants respected our masking protocols, avoided crowding, and two weeks later, no COVID outbreak. We had a safe in-person ski race! This feels huge!

Without the Volunteer Appreciation Banquet, which we canceled on account of COVID, we missed out on the retelling of the day from all the angles, the post-race camaraderie, the catharsis of laughter. Facebook posts and pics filled in some of the gaps. Really sincere emails. Summaries from the chiefs. Our big Zoom followup meeting. Every day it’s less of a dream and more of a memory. A shared collective memory.

By Jackie Powers, Race Director