Chasing the Bear: Ski race of ‘positive energy,’ ‘crazy costumes’

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Some of the record 811 skiers in Saturday's Great Bear Chase make their way up the hill shortly after the starting gun.

CALUMET — A record 811 racers came from throughout the Upper Midwest for Saturday’s Great Bear Chase in Calumet.

About 80 percent of the skiers come from out of the area, said race director Angela Luskin. She credited the race’s constant efforts at improvement, such as the skiathlon, now in its fifth year. They lifted the cap on participants for the skiathlon — 25 km of classic, 25 km of freestyle — after it maxed out for the first time.

This was the fourth record turnout in a row for the event hosted by UP Health System.

About 80 percent of the skiers come from out of town, Luskin said.

“Year after year, our racers keep coming back and tell their friends, and more and more keep coming,” she said.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette This racer caught the bear at the finish line Saturday as the bear applauds the effort.

In addition to the skiathlon, skiers compete in classic and freestyle in 10, 25 or 50 kilometers.

The 10km classic skiers were the first to cross the finish line, earning a high-five from the bear.

Stephen Eles finished first in his division. Eles coaches the Ski Tigers development team, all of whom were racing Saturday.

The first three years he did the skiathlon. To carve out more time in the weekend to prepare for national and world duathlons, he scaled back to 10k.

After finishing second last year, it was nice to finish first.

“I’m just trying to support this event,” he said. “It’s a great event that helps out the Swedetown Trails and the club.”

After years of doing the junior races, 14-year-old Bennie Anderson moved up to the 10k freestyle this year.

“I’m getting a little older now, and I know I can do it, because I’ve done a 10k before,” he said. “So I figured, why not?”

It was a festive atmosphere, with some racers donning costumes. Genevieve Connell of Madison, participating in her first Great Bear Chase, wore a tutu for a “nice splash of color.”

Other racers had told her how much fun the race is.

“There’s so much positive energy and crazy costumes, and people just love it up here,” she said. “There’s always so much more snow.”

Cameron Wilcox, a 50km freestyle skier, has been coming for the past 13 or 14 years. Almost — he skipped 2013 when he heard it was raining. This year’s course presented no such problems.

“I just did a 4k warmup, and I’ve never seen a course like this,” he said. “The best ever.”

The post-race pasty dinner at Calumet high School is the best post-race setup of any of his races, Wilcox said.

“We’ve got the gym, we’ve got the incredible meals, a lot of volunteers,” he said. “I love it.”

For a full list of winners, visit greatbearchase.com/results.

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