Slushy snow and warm weather are forcing the City of Lakes Loppet to confine its ski races to Theodore Wirth Park for the second time in three years.
The festival, which begins Friday and runs through Sunday in Minneapolis, will still offer speed skating at Lake Calhoun and a walking Luminary Loppet and luminary party on Lake of the Isles. But ski events will be held on loops in Wirth Park instead of winding from the park into Uptown.
Event organizers say they don’t expect the change to affect attendance, but acknowledge that they’ve received calls from participants questioning whether the festival will go on. John Munger, executive director of the Loppet Foundation, said the group will adjust this year, but has no plans to change the festival in the future.
“Our weather has become a little bit more unpredictable,” Munger said. “You just have to be a very flexible organization to deal with winters in Minnesota now.”
But the changes for this year’s Loppet prompted a flurry of activity. The foundation worked with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to build a trailhead and started making snow on a 3 kilometer loop. They shifted shuttle bus routes, rearranged 1,200 volunteers’ assignments and changed event information on the festival website.
Munger said he expects nearly 50,000 people to attend the festival — 12,000 of them to participate in the different events.
In 2015, the last time the foundation moved the festival to Wirth Park for lack of snow, about 7,000 people participated.
Attendance this year, even under less-than-ideal conditions, is expected to get a boost because the Loppet is hosting the American Cross Country Skiers 2017 National Masters Championships. The event has also partnered with the Great Northern Festival to draw more people to participate in winter activities.
Zach Handler, a longtime skier who was at the park practicing for Sunday’s race, said he’s a little disappointed about the melting snow, but excited that he will get a chance to watch his 6-year-old daughter participate in the Minne-Loppet, a noncompetitive race including more than 700 kids ages 12 and younger. Handler will be joined by his wife and their 3-year-old son who enjoys watching the skijoring event.
“Skiing is not as fun when there is not natural snow,” Handler said.
But the unpredictable nature of Minnesota winters makes it tough to be picky.
“If you demand perfect conditions, you’re not going to be a happy skier around here,” he said. “It’s a blessing to have artificial snow and the Loppet puts on a great party and it’s a tons of fun.”
Online registration for many events closed Tuesday, and people haven’t been deterred by the lack of wintry weather.
Captain Ken’s Kubb Tournament filled before the deadline, and the Luminary Loppet and the snow sculpture contest were also proving popular, said Amy Oberbroeckling, marketing and communications manager of the Loppet Foundation.
For more information about the festival schedule and events, visit loppet.org.