Skiers chase bear

Kali Katerberg/ Daily Mining Gazette Racers among the field of a record 740 participants head up the first hill at the Great Bear Chase.

SWEDETOWN — The annual Great Bear Chase ski marathon drew a record 740 participants, but yet again no one managed to apprehend the bear in question.

The cross-country ski race draws racers from all around the Midwest and relies on around 200 volunteers to put on.

This year the 50km race victory went to former Michigan Tech skier Deedra Irwin of Pulaski, Wisconsin, and former U.S. ski team member Tad Elliott of Durango, Colorado.

The 50km race is half traditional diagonal stride and half freestyle or skating technique. There are also races with either technique at 50km, 25km and 10km distances.

“In the last three years it’s really ramped up,” said organizing committee member Dean Woodbeck.

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette At Saturday’s Great Bear Chase race on the Swedetown Trails near Calumet, racers cross the finish line.

He attributes the interest to the laid-back atmosphere of the race and the promise of snow.

“We have snow and (there are) so many places in the Midwest now that don’t,” Woodbeck said.

For many, this is the last race of the season and a favorite to participate in.

Jim Cihak from Amasa has been skiing the area since the ’80s.

‘I’ve done 23 Birkies (Birkebiners), but I’ll tell you what, this is a better course — more fun, fast, well marked, great aid stations (and) 8,000 less people too, which helps,” Cihak said. “They’re groomed so well they’re packed down, so all of us, whether you’re a skater or a classic skier, it’s just the ultimate experience.”

Therese White was another repeat racer, hailing from the Twin Cities.

“It’s the end of the ski season. The snow in Minnesota is pretty much done,” she said. “It’s beautiful. The people are great. The pasties are great.”

Deb Wall was there to cheer on her husband, Dave. Both of them are long-time skiers.

“There’s always plenty of snow, and it’s kind of the last race of the season. We both like this area, and it’s just a nice event. The trails are beautiful. Plenty, plenty of snow,” she said.