The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Mt. Zion to host snowmobile races Saturday


December 15, 2017

Submitted photo

RACERS ATTACK Mt. Zion in last year's Fire on the Hill races on the campus of Gogebic Community College. Race organizers are expecting more than 60 racers and their families to compete in this Saturday's race. Jim Vanderspoel submitted the photo.


Ironwood - Gogebic Community College Ski Area Management students have spent the last month preparing Mt. Zion for this weekend's Fire on the Hill Snocross races.

Two weeks ago, the race was postponed because of unusually warm weather and a lack of natural snow, which confounded snowmaking and track construction.

Jim Vanderspoel, director of ski area management, said Thursday the track is bigger, wider and faster this year because temperatures dropped, natural snow has fallen in bunches recently, and the snowmaking guns have placed tons of snow on the mountain for students to construct the track.

Todd Hamel was driving the Sno Cat on Mt. Zion Thursday, moving snow in preparation of practice rounds, which begin at 11 a.m. today.

Vanderspoel said the track is by far the biggest regional course and the racing will kick off Saturday morning at 9. With the weather shift, there is greater depth of snow on and around the track, allowing students to make the track wide enough for three snowmobiles to race side by side.

In addition to the greater width, the loop encompasses both "islands" on the mountain. The expectation with the track in its current configuration is there will be greater speeds, more passing, and simply better racing for all involved.

The Fire on the Hill is an independent race and not part of a circuit. By going independent, the race is more affordable for racers and spectators.

Entry to the race is only $5 for fans.

Entry fee for the pro-class racers is $35 and the top three share a guaranteed $2,000 purse across four classes.

Other class entry fees for racers are $20 and this year race organizers are offering a "Ditchbanger Trail" class for $5, where anyone with a sled that is safe and has the proper safety equipment can enter and give snocross racing a shot.

Race organizers are expecting more than 60 racers this weekend, maybe more. Vanderspoel and the other organizers have fielded calls from teams in Detroit, Indiana, neighboring states and one team from as far away as Pennsylvania, but they will not know the final numbers until Saturday morning.

One family from Marquette called and inquired about the Ditchbanger class because they have a 12-year-old son who desperately wants to race, but they have been unable to afford the $1,000 entry fee for other regional races.

When they heard the cost to enter their son and his 12-year-old sled would only be $5, they said they would be here.

Three local racers are putting their sleds to the test this weekend. Jake Tijan, of Hurley, is entered in the Pro-Light class and is number 623.

Number 857 is Jordan Wolfe in the Sport and Sport-Light classes, while 170 is Neil Dees, entering in the Transitional class. Those are the three local competitors the organizers know will be racing, but they expect other locals to enter the Ditchbanger Class to test their metal against the mountain and other riders.

According to Vanderspoel, the race is a real bonanza for the area. Racers and their families spend two days in local motels and eat meals in town, while the students are able to gain the experience of putting on a large event with all the behind-the- scenes preparations necessary, just like a ski resort would do.

GCC keeps the proceeds from food sales and Norrie Club keeps the proceeds from alcohol sales.

Vanderspoel said ski resorts regularly host large spectacles, so getting this kind of experience and being part of all the work it takes to make snow, prepare the field, set up the beer tents, and organize the event is a great resume bullet for the students when they prepare for their internships and look for jobs on the open market.

Vanderspoel said GCC was the first school in the country to set up a Ski Area Management program.

Selkirk College and Colorado Mountain College now offer similar programs.

The last two directors of CMC's program are both GCC SAM graduates.

There are currently graduates of the GCC SAM program managing ski resorts in Iceland, Australia and New Zealand, and another graduate is building the half pipe for the Winter Olympics.


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