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Roll with the changes

Polar Roll coming up

Glen Shaw rides past Suicide Hill ski jump in a past Polar Roll race. This year’s event is set for Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Stephens)

MARQUETTE — It’s time to get rolling again.

The sixth annual Polar Roll is scheduled for Saturday, and this year will involve snowshoers now as well as fat tire bike racers.

Todd Poquette, director of adventure for the 906 Adventure Team, is spearheading the annual event.

Entries are closed for the Polar Roll, he said, although approximately 600 people are set to take part — a record.

When the race began, its purpose was to feature the Noquemanon Trail Network and the Range Area Mountain Bike Association and their grooming efforts to help solidify Marquette County as the premier place to ride fat bikes in the winter, Poquette said.

“As we’ve evolved, I guess you could say, the event is becoming also something that helps keep people focused on a winter goal, which equates to them having to stay physically active to be prepared for the goal in February,” Poquette said. “So, I think just in in general it’s become a personal goal/personal challenge that keeps people moving at a time of the year where they’re normally stuck in the house.”

The short fat tire bike, short snowshoe and long snowshoe races will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday at Ishpeming High School, where they also will end. The racers, Poquette said, will travel a 15-mile loop, with participants in the long race making two loops.

The long fat tire bike race will start at 8 a.m. on Washington Street in front of Donckers and The Delft Bistro in Marquette.

“That race is point-to-point,” Poquette said, with the race going from downtown Marquette to downtown Ishpeming — a 40-mile trek.

Part of the reason this event returned to a point-to-point format is that the route features some of the NTN South Trails, a bit of snowmobile trail and the RAMBA trails.

“So, we’re showing the trail efforts of both organizations,” Poquette said.

Bicycling for 40 miles certainly is a way to keep active during the harsh climate in the Upper Peninsula.

“By keeping them moving all winter, it helps maintain the habit of health,” Poquette said.

Whereas if people face the winter and think they’re going to “shut her down for three, four or five months” because of the U.P. snow, restarting in the spring could be difficult, he said.

“We operate on routine,” Poquette said. “We need routine to keep momentum in certain things we do in our life, so when you lose routine, it’s hard to get going again.”

The Polar Roll has received a lot of positive feedback.

Facebook comments from previous Polar Roll competition include:

“Stellar event all around! It’s amazing to have dedicated people putting on these greats events!”

“If you have ever been on a fat bike this is a bucket list event.”

“I have never participated in a bike race in my life and figured this should show me where I stand. It sure did! Let’s just say there’s plenty of room for improvement. Besides that, every single person I met, both on and off the trail, was supporting and motivating.”

Age is not necessarily a roadblock.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of kids that are doing the event every year,” Poquette said. “So, there isn’t a youth-specific race, per se, but these kids are getting involved in with their moms, their dads, or both their moms and their dads, or their grandparents.

“They’re doing the 15-mile, which is really cool to see because 15 miles in the snow is tough, and we’ve got kids, I think as young as 9 years old, doing it.”

Poquette expects trail conditions to be the best trail organizers have ever offered.

“The conditions that we’re going to have this weekend will probably be the best conditions we’ve ever had,” he said.

Poquette said the public is welcome to check out the packet pick-up/vendor exposition from 5 to 8 p.m. today at Westwood Mall. The expo will include cyling vendors, local nonprofit organizations and other companies.

Poquette said proceeds from the Polar Roll will support the 906 Adventure Team, with money given back to the trails after each event.

Fashioning the belt buckles that will be awarded to top participants, he said, is local blacksmith Gordon Gearheart.

“When you hold it, it’s like, ‘That’s a piece of art,'” Poquette said.