Excitement builds for Sisu


January 11, 2020

Tom LaVenture/Daily Globe

Rolf Hendrickson gives Peter Kester, seated, a congratulatory fist bump as Sisu the Ski Fest volunteers complete the final touches to the "Finnish Line" Friday afternoon in downtown Ironwood. Sisu volunteers Joe Krvetz and Bethany Thomas watch from left.



Ironwood - The downtown was buzzing with excitement Friday as organizers expected to have the maximum number of skiers registered for the 11th Sisu Ski Fest today.

Volunteers had the registration numbers within 10 of the 750 maximum by 5 p.m. Friday. Hundreds of people converged on the Ironwood Memorial Building for the registration and Expo with several skiing related companies present.

"We are having our biggest race field ever this year," said Rick Semo, an Ironwood city commissioner and Sisu volunteer. "It's a good problem to have when you're starting to fill up.

Semo said the snow conditions were excellent after helping prepare the downtown "Finnish Line," and from reports he received from the grooming teams.

"It looks to me like it's going to be the best-ever," Semo said. "It's the cleanest snow we've ever had at the finish area and it's really thick because there is so much snow. I think the rest of the course is in excellent shape also."

The anticipated 10-degree race-time temperature won't bother hard moving skiers who generate a lot of internal heat, he said. It's on the low end of what skiers like but it's doable if there isn't a strong wind, he said.

As for the race itself, Semo said it's about community building. There are the couple hundred volunteers but there is also the city that has built a reputation among the skiers as being the friendliest race around, he said.

"We hear that over and over again from our racers in our surveys," Semo said. "Being part of something that gives our area such good publicity is just all good."

People who enjoy winter enjoy Ironwood's entire winter scene, he said. From the downhill and cross-country skiing to snowmobiling and snowshoeing - it's all part of what makes this area unique and special, he said.

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Brynne Pederson, of Milwaukee, said she is racing in her first Sisu. She and her husband have skied the American Birkebeiner in Hayward, Wis., each February, and took the opportunity to try the Sisu when friends said they be coming.

"I usually come up for the 'Birke' but I hadn't done any other events," Pederson said.

Raised in La Crosse and now living in Milwaukee, Pederson said she'd live permanently in the northwoods if she could. The snow has been so lacking in recent years where she lives that her training has all been on small loops of manufactured snow.

"I really enjoy seeing the real snow," Pederson said.

Ironwood City Commissioner Jim Mildren said the excitement is unbelievable with something going on for everyone downtown starting with the Depot Dash at no cost for the kids to ski. The skiers marvel at the city Memorial building, the Historic Ironwood Theater, and with Gogebic County Transit and Ironwood Public Schools shuttling people back and forth every 10 minutes from the race starting point at Active Backwoods Retreat (ABR).

"We've got the snow, we've got the lodging, we've got the best restaurants you've ever eaten at, so why not bring 750 racers and their families here?" said Mildren, who will be skiing the 15K.

At the registration area Friday there were 50 student members of the University of Minnesota-Duluth cross-country ski club. The team comes every year but it was the first time for Michael Stansberry, an environmental science student, and LeEtta McDowell, an engineering student.

"Michigan is beautiful," Stansberry said.

McDowell agreed.

"It's beautiful up here," she said. "There is a lot of snow. It's awesome."

Dominic Beckman, who was born and raised in the Ironwood area and now living in Duluth, said he is also coming back to take part in his first cross-country ski race. He has skied with friends and family and thought it was time to ski the Sisu.

As a novice skier Beckman said he chose the more difficult 30K race because he is up for the challenge. He is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys rock climbing, running and mountain biking.

"I just started skiing but I've been skiing a lot," Beckman said. "I'm a novice skier but I think I'm in good shape."

Depot Dash, Book Walk

The events got started Friday with the Depot Dash and Snowshoe Book Walk.

Sisu volunteer Hannah Panci organized the cross-country ski portion and Crystal Suzik organized the snowshoe and reading portion.

"Once we get enough kids we gather them up and say '1, 2, 3 go!'" Panci said. "They go around the little course and everybody get's a medal to know they succeeded and hopefully they will try skiing again."

Cross-country skiing is about the best thing to do in Ironwood during the winter, she said. Some of these kids have never tried skiing before, she said.

"So it's great to get them out and trying it in really fun ways," Panci said.

Dennis Elam Jr, of Ironwood, said he moved here from Bridgeport, Texas, and hadn't had a chance to cross-country ski before. He said the Depot Dash was a great experience and he wants to continue.

"It's my first time and I wanted to try," Elam said.

Kierstin Andresen, of Ironwood, is an avid skier and brought son, Sten, 13 months, to the Depot Dash.

"I think he's excited," she said. "He likes the downhills."

Liam Schoeller, Wakefield, said he skis an average of once a week,

"It's fun and it's challenging," he said.

Liam was with his grandfather, Tom Schoeller, who he skis with regularly. The two break new trails and then go back over the same trail to make it easier, he said.

"Liam's made a pledge that he wants to do the Sisu when he get's older," Schoeller said.

Suzik, who is also the parent liaison for Gogebic County Great Start Collaborative, said that another goal is to introduce kids to reading while participating in an outdoor sport in the winter time. It's a way to get kids and families used to doing things together, she said.

"So it's kind of an encouragement to get them out and enjoying the outdoors but then also incorporating something that we really want to enhance in our communities," Suzik said. "So, of course, literacy is one of those things."

Josh Lehrkamp, of Gurney, brought his son, Will, 6, to try the Depot Dash. He is also a volunteer with the Sisu Endurance Team that organizes youth skiing on Sundays at the ABR.

"It's a great event for the kids," he said.


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