MARQUETTE – With areas near Munising receiving a foot of snowfall Friday night, U.P. 200 mushers are plowing their way through a snowy trail, forcing them to run slower than expected.
According to Negaunee Township National Weather Service Meteorologist Kevin Crupi, a lake effect snow warning was in effect for all of Alger County through 4 a.m. today.
Friday night saw large amounts of snowfall that slowed the mushers considerably.
“Grand Marais had six inches during the night,” Crupi said. “Places near Au Train picked up six inches of snow in just four hours (Saturday) morning. Just west of Munising had 12 inches in 12 hours. Au Train picked up 10 inches of snow in six hours.”
Crupi said an additional six inches of snow was expected to fall in Alger County Saturday night.
Temperatures, he added, will remain cold.
“West of Munising toward the Chatham area and Trenary … could fall as low as 10 below zero (Saturday night),” Crupi said. “Close to the shore, from Munising over to Grand Marais, we’re five, seven above. Interior Western Alger County, as low as maybe 10, 13 below zero.”
But the snowy weather isn’t making the 24th running of the 240-mile long U.P. 200 any less dramatic. The top five mushers were within minutes of each other as of press time, meaning the race was still very much up for grabs.
“They’re all in at Grand Marais, using up their rest time, a lot of it,” said Ickey Todd, race headquarters director, Saturday evening. “It’s a close race. It could be anybody. It’s just the strategy of the rest time, how they use it.”
Each musher is required to take 16 hours of rest, but they can split that up however they’d like.
Of the 17 mushers that left Marquette Friday night, only one, Glenn Lockwood of Deforest, Wis., had dropped from the race as of Saturday night.
Musher Bruce Langmald was listed as having tired dogs.
As the mushers left Grand Marais Saturday and began the return trip to Marquette, Troy Groeneveld of Two Harbors, Minn. was in the lead.
Ryan Anderson, of Ray, Minn., who is making a bid to become the first musher to win four consecutive U.P. 200 titles, was in second place as of press time.
Listed in third was Nathan Schroeder of Chisholm, Minn., fourth was Frank Moe of Bemidji, Minn., and fifth was Andrew Letzring of Herbster, Wis.
Sitting in eighth place is Keith Aili, of Ray, Minn. Aili is the only other musher to win the Iditarod-qualifying U.P. 200 three times in a row. He returned to mushing this year after a six-year hiatus.
The top finisher in the U.P. 200 will earn a $7,200 prize.
Coming out on top in the Midnight Run was musher Michael Bestgen, of St. Cloud, Minn.
He crossed the finish line at 10:09:55 a.m. Saturday after slogging his way through heavy snowfall.
“We talked to Mike Bestgen … he said he broke trails going through (Saturday) morning,” Todd said.
Bestgen left the starting gate at 9:44 p.m. Friday night and accumulated a total five hours and 12 minutes of rest time. He won the top prize of $2,300.
Coming in just three minutes after Bestgen, at 10:12:01 a.m., was musher Al Borak, of Cheboygan, Wis., earning himself a $2,000 payout. Borak accumulated five hours, 52 minutes of rest time.
Placing third was Tom Bauer, of Tapiola, who crossed the finish line at 10:17:21 a.m., winning $1,700. Bauer accumulated five hours, 20 minutes of rest time.
The Midnight Run is a 78-mile eight-dog race.
Beginning in downtown Marquette Friday night, mushers traveled 45 miles – the longest leg of the race – to a checkpoint in Chatham, where they completed a mandatory five-hour layover period. They finished the race Saturday morning in Munising, where the first team was expected to arrive at about 8:30 a.m. – before lake effect snow slowed everything down.
Though the U.P. 200 and the Midnight Run were affected by heavy snowfall, conditions were perfect for sled dog racing in the Gwinn area, according to Jackpine 30 organizer Darlene Walch.
“The conditions were just absolutely stellar,” Walch said. “The trail was really well packed. It was very firm. It was very fast, and the day was just beautiful. It was 10 degrees, sunny, almost no wind, so you couldn’t ask for a better day.”
From a group of 18 mushers – only one musher dropped out – Monte Simmons of Engadine came out on top, with a time of two hours, 39 minutes and 29 seconds.
Finishing second was Jim Winkowski of Gwinn, running at two hours, 46 minutes and 41 seconds.
Placing a close third was Brad Quayle, of Champion, running at two hours, 48 minutes, 10 seconds.
A large crowd of spectators gathered Saturday at Larry’s Family Foods in Gwinn for the 9:30 a.m. start of the 31-mile race. A crowd also turned up at the new finish line near the First Baptist Church on North Billings Street.
“Gwinn came all out on this race,” Walch said. “The crowd at Larry’s was really good. There was a crowd at the finish line at the First Baptist Church of Gwinn. The church opened up their hall so people could have hot chocolate and coffee … and everybody was just having a good time.”
The Jackpine 30 also offered a $1,000 purse for the first time in its history, with Simmons earning $200 for first place.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.