The Loppet is a fabulous festival that takes place every winter at Theodore Wirth Park—depending on the weather. The events include several high-class cross-country ski races, a dogsled race, some ski joering, and a fat tire bike race across the frozen lakes.
This year the snow wasn't so good, which made it impossible to ski the traditional course that starts at the chalet and ends up at Lake Calhoun. But they'd been making snow in the park all winter, which made it possible to run several of the long races as multi-lap loops through the park.
The park is just down the hill from our house, and I walked down to see the Hoigaard's marathon on Saturday morning. It was quite a scene. Someone was grilling sausages on the terrace of the chalet, and the smell of grease and smoke in the winter air reminded me of Boy Scout camp. A pleasant reminder.
There were waxing stations for the contestants, REI was giving away metal drinking cups at a booth.
And of course, there were skiers whizzing past out on the course, and also wandering here and there in their colorful, form-fitting outfits. It all reminded me of some paintings I saw once on the walls of a palace in Ferrara.
I stood by a fierce downhill corner for a while, and the two men standing next to me seemed to know quite a few of the skiers. I heard them talking about a guy named "Toren" and I was tempted to butt into the conversation. It might have been a long lost relation from Sweden! I later found out that one of the racers was four-time U.S. Olympian Torin Koos. He won the sprints but was aced out of the marathon championship by a local boy.
Later in the day we went down with some friends to ski the Luminary Loppet, a non-competitive shuffle around Lake of the Isles that's made more interesting by the presence of hundreds of luminaria—candles protected by ice enclosures in various shapes and sizes.
The chief thrill of this event is being out after dark, wandering the lake past innumerable candles in the midst of hundreds of people all of whom are wearing plastic tubes that glow in several colors. The organizers have punctuated the trek with points of interest including the Ice Cropolis, Ice Henge, fire dancers, and Ice-ter Island.
There are blazing fires at most of these featured "stops." Some serve cocoa; at others you're given a free Kind Bar. (They're pretty good!)
No doubt for many of the adults, the Surly Beer Tent is a highlight. You get a free beer and a salted nut roll, though it seems to me the high-decibel hip-hop band was a little out of place.
Due to the miserable snow-cover, the event organizers dropped the idea of skiing and instructed everyone to walk. That might have been a good idea. I talked to one woman who did the entire loop with her kids, on skates.