The Speedskating Loppet and the City of Lakes Loppet Festival

The Speedskating Loppet and the City of Lakes Loppet Festival

Every winter, the Loppet Foundation, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, puts on the City of Lakes Loppet Festival—a three day celebration that includes events such as cross country ski racing, fat bike racing, snowshoe racing, and skijoring, to name a few. And for the first time ever, the Foundation is has added speedskating to the itinerary for 2016. But the Foundation does much more than putting on an annual winter festival. Today, we talk with Emily Eastman and Dorothy Bialke about the Speedskating Loppet, as well as the Loppet Foundation itself.  

What is the Loppet Foundation?

The word “loppet” comes from the Norwegian word “løpet”, which refers to a long distance, cross country ski race. Although cross country skiing does play a central role in the activities put on by The Loppet Foundation, this non-profit organization’s goal is to create a “shared passion for year-round outdoor adventure”. Emily Eastman, Sponsorship & Marketing Manager for the Loppet Foundation, says, “Our mission is to work with the underserved youth and their families in the North Minneapolis area. We try and get kids out into the park system and teach them an activity that they can enjoy their whole lives. We teach kids how to cross country ski [in the winter], and in the summer we do mountain biking, trail running, and adventure running. We do that all in Theodore Wirth Park, which is where the Loppet Foundation is based. The park is right in the heart of Minneapolis, and is about the size of Central Park in New York City.

The City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival

The City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival, held every winter in Minneapolis, started out as a single cross country ski race in 2002, and by 2009, had turned into a weekend-long event. In 2015, the Festival attracted more than 12,000 participants, competing in several different winter events. Emily says, “The City of Lakes Loppet Festival has turned into a whole winter festival and celebration of winter. It has grown to include so many different events, including speedskating this year.” Dorothy Bialke, who skates with the Twin Cities Speedskating Club and was instrumental in adding speedskating to the festival, says, “I know the woman who works with volunteers for the Loppet. She helped me get connected with the Foundation. I told her, ‘Speedskating would be the perfect addition to the festival, because it’s a silent winter sport, and can be done in the lake country.’ The foundation agreed to take it on, and since they already have the chip timers for the skiers, they can just send over the chips to our event. They have a lot of the infrastructure already set up.”

The 1K, 25K, and 50K speedskating races will be held on a 1K natural ice oval that will be 8-10 meters in width. Emily says, “The Speedskating Loppet will take place on Lake Calhoun. The 25K marathon will be at 4:00 PM Friday afternoon on February 5th, before our opening ceremonies. We’ll have a sprint skate-skiing event happening right near there, and we’ll have our vendor village and beer garden open. And we’ll end that night with fireworks. Then on Saturday, February 6th, the 50K marathon will take place at 1:30 PM. And after the 50K, as kind of the celebration of the whole speedskating event, we’re doing a 1K fun race, where youth or adults can bring their hockey or figure skates and skate the 1K loop. That will be held at 5:00 PM.”

A Chance to Get the Word Out

Dorothy says that adding speedskating to the Loppet is a good opportunity for “more people to see the sport. I think having more people view it [will] be a starting point to get the word out that, ‘Hey, there’s speedskating in the Twin Cities.’ I’ve been in the Twin Cities for the last 20 years now, but I didn’t know there was [even] an Oval until I started speedskating eight years ago. I meet so many parents that want to get their kids into hockey or figure skating. Then, when their kids get older and they realize they don’t want to do either of those, they say, ‘What else is there?’ The Speedskating Loppet will show them that there really is an alternative. And I hope it will [eventually] grow through word of mouth and draw more people from Europe or Canada….My goal is just to get more people out on the ice.” 

The Luminary Loppet

On Saturday evening, the highlight of the City of Lakes Loppet Festival—the Luminary Loppet—takes place. Participants in The Luminary Loppet can cross country ski, snowshoe, or walk on a lit path around Lake of the Isles. Emily says, “The Luminary Loppet is definitely the most popular event of the entire three day festival, and is such a unique evening on the ice. We have a whole crew of engineers who have made it their passion…[to] create luminaries with machinery. If you can imagine five gallon bucket-sized [blocks] of ice with holes drilled in them for lit candles, that’s basically what the luminaries are. They are spaced about every 20 feet along the lake, so it makes a beautiful path. And every so often, there will be a featured piece of art made out of ice. We have an ice pyramid of luminaries, we have something that looks like Stone Henge, and we have Easter Island Heads that are lit up. And the path goes through a wooded area that we call the enchanted forest, [with] ice lanterns hung throughout the trees. We also have stations along the lake handing out hot cocoa, and s’mores….It’s a special evening, for sure.”

Job Benefits

Emily says that one of the things she loves about her job is “working in a huge metropolitan area, and having the ability to cross country ski right in the middle of the city. I’m a cross country skier, and I’ve worked in the ski industry for over eight years. So to have Theodore Wirth Park in people’s back yards—to be able to ski on trails and to see an amazing view of the Minneapolis skyline, is just so unique.” But even better about her job is the opportunity she gets “see elementary or middle school kids complete in a half marathon or a ski race, when they couldn’t even run a race or ski the year before. It’s very inspiring [for] me to see what the Foundation is doing with some of the kids in the area, giving them opportunities that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. That’s the coolest part of my job.”

*Thanks to the Loppet Foundation for photos.

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