MARQUETTE - People getting ready for what's been called a "ski epic" spend the Friday before The Big Race - in this case the famous Noquemanon Ski Marathon - a little differently from other folks.
"They're thinking of their skis and what kind of wax they want to use," said Nicole Dewald, director of operations for the Noquemanon Trail Network.
Dewald and participants in the event, with races held Friday through today in various disciplines, were on hand Friday night at the Superior Dome for the Ski Expo and Pasta Feed.
Above, Noquemanon participants pick up their pre-race materials Friday at the Superior Dome, where a Ski Expo and Pasta Feed also took place. Below right, Northern Michigan University student Eliza Groll hands out a hat to a Noquemanon skier Friday at the Superior dome. (Journal photos by Christie Bleck)
The meal allowed racers to load up on high-energy food, and the Ski Expo gave vendors a chance to talk up their niche products.
Jenny Beckman was one of those vendors. She was selling Start wax and Bliz eyewear, two products uniquely essential to cross-country skiers.
"We love the U.P.," Beckman said. "We love coming up here."
That's easy to understand once you learn Start, based in Sun Valley, Idaho, developed its wax in Finland. And Yoopers know a thing or two about Finland, what with its impact on the local cultural heritage and similar weather conditions.
"That's the nice thing about our product," Beckman said.
And as any local resident can tell you about Marquette-area weather the last month or so, the weather certainly has been Nordic-like.
"So, we're happy it's really, really cold," Beckman said.
Racers, she noted, ask for wax recommendations. The warmer it gets, she explained, the softer the wax. Lower temperatures call for harder wax.
"And when it comes to high-level racing, what we're known for is our cold-weather, brittle wax," Beckman said.
Bliz, she said, focuses on high-end sunglasses with a pad that ventilates so glasses don't fog up.
They certainly could come in handy during cold weather.
"Basically, you just want something covering your eyes like a shield," Beckman said.
The pad, she noted, is removable, so a cyclist in the summer can make good use of the glasses.
"They're very versatile," Beckman said.
Melanie Stasser was working the booth of Marquette's Down Wind Sports, selling, she said, mostly wax and energy supplements. Kyla Anderson had a more specialized booth at the Ski Expo, displaying Podiumwear, based in St. Paul, Minn.
The company, she said, offers a Nordic-line of clothing with three levels: gold, silver and bronze.
Anderson said the clothes are made in St. Paul, but the fabrics are imported from Germany and Italy. Olympic cross-country skier Jessie Diggins, she pointed out, helped develop the women's line - unique in the world of Nordic ski wear.
"Usually, it's unisex, so we're able to offer this fantastic line," Anderson said.
The women's line, she explained, is bigger in the chest area and shorter in the torso, for example, making for a better fit for the female athlete, who often had a less-comfortable option.
"You're trying to fit yourself into something that's not designed for you specifically," Anderson said.
The Marquette sporting goods store, Sports Rack, also was on hand, offering wax, hats and other items such as fat bike parts. Jim Bedore, who was working the shop's vendor booth, said, "We definitely get a lot of racers who come by and buy last-minute nutrition and Dermatone." (Dermatone is a balm-type product for the eyes and face.)
For an event like the "Noque," it pays to be prepared.
"People always second guess and triple check to see if they have everything," Bedore said.
Adequate nutrition and dressing layers is important, Bedore said.
"And most important, an adventurous attitude," he added.
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.