After cancellation of 2024 races, Northern American Vasa organizers hope event returns in full for big celebration in 2025

Feb. 3—TRAVERSE CITY — Oh, how things can change in just a matter of weeks.

On Jan. 15, an update on the 48th annual North American Vasa was sent out with the headline — in all caps — "The Vasa is all systems go!" The press release even credited the optimism to "a lot of help from Mother Nature," making it seem like the bevy of freestyle and classic nordic ski races plus two fat bike races would go off without a hitch.

Skiers at the time reported "excellent early season ski conditions," and the TART grooming team was working overtime to keep up with all of the freshly fallen snow.

But by Thursday and as temperatures warmed and melted much of the snow, all of that excitement was replaced with resignation and disappointment as another email was sent out to volunteers and participants notifying them that the two-day event scheduled for Feb. 10-11 at Timber Ridge Resort was officially canceled.

Race organizers cited the "unfavorable weather forecast, concern for the safety of the competitors, the quality of the course and the long-term viability of the North American Vasa" as reasons why the race was canceled.

Brian Beauchamp, the Vasa board president, wasn't too far off when he compared the optimism surrounding the 2024 Vasa followed by the deep disappointment to the Detroit Lions' performance in the NFC Championship game when it looked as though a trip to the Super Bowl was wrapped up with a 24-7 lead over the San Francisco 49ers at halftime.

"Twenty-seven unanswered points later, we're wondering what the heck happened," Beauchamp said. "But in all seriousness, this was a very difficult decision to make.

"Nordic skiing, cross country skiing is a snow enthusiast's sport, and it really brings people together year after year," Beauchamp continued. "To know that was in jeopardy, it was surprisingly emotional to have to make this difficult decision."

Beauchamp said the bevy of volunteers were all in and ready to go because "they love the event and the community that surrounds the Vasa."

"The last time we met, which was in January, we were all excited because we saw the real return of winter after a long and slow start," Beauchamp said. "At that point, every indicator was that we were back in business."

Business then slowed down as the thaw commenced.

"That coupled with the extended forecast with 40-degree days and sunshine takes a real toll on the course and burns off a lot of the established snow and base of the trail," Beauchamp said. "Everybody who is a part of this, we felt like the writing was on the wall that we weren't going to be able to pull this off and that the best thing to do was to let people know sooner rather than later. We didn't want to delay the inevitable."

Beauchamp was encouraged by how understanding everyone involved was when the call was made to cancel this year's event.

"The decision was not made lightly. It was done with the best interests of everybody in mind," he said. "I'm encouraging folks to at least get out and enjoy some of the sunshine. If we don't have snow, we might as well take advantage of what we do have."

Janice Davidson, the Vasa race director, said it was a "heartbreaking" decision.

"Unfortunately, it's out of our control," Davidson said. "If we could fix it, we would fix it. But there's nothing we can do to fix it."

Both Beauchamp and Davidson said the safety of the participants, volunteers and attendees was of the utmost importance in the decision-making process. They also wanted to host a quality event, but they had to look at the expenses that would be incurred had they continued the process any further. Delaying the decision any longer would have cost more money, but those recouped costs can now be reinvested into the 2025 event and beyond.

"We want to come back next year just as strong and with stable footing to carry on the tradition," Beauchamp said.

Race organizers have chosen the second weekend in February because that has traditionally been the coldest week of the winter combined with the highest probability of good snow, Beauchamp said. He doesn't see the date changing, but Beauchamp said the board is having conversations about what to do if they again encounter a scenario without enough snow.

"We don't yet know what those alternatives might be, but we're at least exploring those ideas," he said.

"We are going to celebrate 49 and 50 years of a great event and look at what's next," Davidson said. "We definitely feel we need to sit down and evaluate the bigger picture and do what we can to host a successful event."

The 2023 event was in jeopardy as well, but about five inches of snow the night before the first day of races allowed the Vasa to run an abbreviated course and schedule. Beauchamp is excited for the potential celebration when the North American Vasa returns to normal.

"We are all looking forward to a full-scale event, and hopefully that's next year," Beauchamp said. "It could be a real celebration and quite a time for everybody. I'll liken it to when the Lions get to the Super Bowl. It's going to be one you're not going to want to miss."