Rookie, vet win Noque 50K Freestyle

MARQUETTE – First-time racer or defending champion, it didn’t make any difference to the male and female winners of the 50-kilometer freestyle race at the Noquemanon Ski Marathon on Saturday.

In her first year competing at the event, Jan Guenther of Minneapolis won the women’s division in a time of 2 hours, 58 minutes and 43 seconds.

Guenther hasn’t been able to compete here before because she owns her own ski shop, but due to a lack of snow in her hometown, she made the trek to Marquette County in search of snowier conditions.

“It was the prettiest course I’ve ever been on,” Guenther said. “It was just awesome. First time here because I’m usually busy, but we have no snow in Minneapolis. It is gorgeous, it is like you’re in Sweden and I love windy courses and I love the last 5K of it. It was so much fun.”

In the men’s division, Michael Brothers of Houghton returned for his second race, and for the second straight year snagged first place, hitting the line in 2:44:19.9.

“It was definitely a tough day,” Brothers said. “It was warmer than predicted and (there was) a lot more fresh snow then any of the freestyle skiers expected, so you had to really ski it smartly today and not go out too hard and kind of conserve energy, knowing that you’re going to need it later on.”

With the unexpected conditions, Brothers changed his skis 15 minutes before the start of the race. He chose to go with a pair of skis that were better for the warmer temperatures, but not as good in powder.

“You never know with these (skis), the other ones would have worked better earlier on, but they would’ve been slower at the end,” Brothers said. “I would much rather have the faster skis toward the end of the race then toward the beginning.”

The strategy paid off as Brothers saw his chance to break away with about 13 kilometers remaining and took it.

“I just happened to be pulling a pack of three (racers) at that point and there was a little bit of an uphill, a long gradual uphill,” he said. “The pace had felt pretty conservative up to that point, so I decided that I would just kind of test it out and kind of go a little bit harder on the hill (and) see how much time I could put on them.”

One of the area’s top men’s finishers was Matthew Palomaki of AuTrain, who took fifth place in 2:49:10.1.

In the female division, it was Marquette’s Vicki Asmus coming in third in 3:06:48.7. Guenther said she was surprised she held off Asmus down the stretch.

“Vicki caught me at the last 8K, then I just really liked the course so I pulled away; I thought she was going to catch me actually,” Guenther said.

Race Director Jon Mommaerts said the event, which drew more than 1,600 racers in its 15th year, brings in close to $1.5 million to the area. Most of the revenue is generated from outside of the Upper Peninsula, since that’s where 80 percent of the participants are from.

“I just have to thank the entire community for stepping up as they always do and volunteering and working very hard on the day of the event to make it all happen,” Mommaerts said. “It’s really a community-wide event.”