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2020 City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival Event Recap

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this year’s City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival! This was one of the best Loppet festivals yet, conditions-wise. The week leading up to the event saw a string of low temperatures which nicely set the large snow base that had formed earlier in the season and firmed up all trails that cross the lakes. Nerves ran high as projected temperatures for the weekend climbed, but our groomers and trails crew worked tirelessly throughout the nights leading up to the festival — starting as early as 3 a.m. each morning to move snow, find and create the best course for participants, and measure ice thickness in over 40 spots across the four lakes to make sure everyone stayed safe. Thanks to these snow magicians, we were able to run all events this past weekend on their planned courses! The snow was fast for the sprints on Friday, the tracks were hard for the races on Saturday, and the trails were well-covered despite hundreds of skiers pushing the snow around with temperatures in the mid-40s on Sunday.

To relive the entire weekend’s events through short video clips and photos, click here. All professional photos and official results can be found here.

Friday Night Sprints

The three-day City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival officially kicked off on Friday night with multiple sprinting events including the Skate Ski Sprints, Freewheel Fat-Tire Bike Sprint Relays, and Chuck & Don’s Skijor Sprints. The events took place under the lights on the snowmaking loop (and some single track trails) in Theodore Wirth Park.

Fat-Tire Bikers rounding the corner on the Friday night sprint course. Photo by Joe Michl.

Fat-tire bikers competed in the only relay event of the night, providing two-person male and female teams the opportunity to race for their chance at one of the $250, $100, $50 team prizes. Spectators watched as bikers’ headlights disappeared into the trees surrounding Wirth’s single track trails before popping back again on the skate deck. Megan Barr and Sonia Pond teamed up to win the women’s category while Dee Dee Watson Winfield and Tracy Paradise took second, followed by Leslie Hale and Lynne Cecil. Peter Olejniczak and John Heinlein crossed the finish line first out of all the men’s teams. Behind them were Chase Wark and Logan Grace. Joel LaFrance and Steve Marshall rounded out the men’s podium. Results can be found here.

While the Freewheel Fat Tire Sprint Relay was occurring, athletes 9 years old and younger strapped on their skis nearby for a quick 400m skate sprint around the lower stadium. Those ages 10-15 skied on a bigger 750m loop. The Youth Skate Ski Sprint event was the fourth race of the Skiwerx Series, and many children from our TRAIL KIDS programs donned their green race suits showing off the skills they have been learning at the Loppet the past few months. Full results from the youth race can be found here.

U8 and U10 youth skiers approaching the sprint finish line. Photo by Todd J. Anderson.

The Juniors, Open, and Masters competitors in the Skate Ski Sprint competed on a difficult 1K loop that featured a steep climb to the top of one of the largest hills on the snowmaking loop followed by a 180-degree turn; needless to say, there was plenty of action in this fast-paced race. In knock-out style heats, only the best of the best progressed. Matt Liebsch, Alex Reich, and McEwan Rodefeld finished first, second, and third, respectively, for the men, while Felicia Geisor, Caitlin Gregg, and Laura Cattaneo finished first, second, and third, respectively, for the women. The top three finishers from each gender were awarded $250, $100, or $50 based on their place. The Skate Ski Sprint was also the first part of the weekend’s Minne Tour, and the top five male and female finishers in the Open category were awarded time bonuses that counted toward their total time for the weekend’s two marathon events. Results from the Skate Ski Sprints can be found here.

If you were at The Trailhead on Friday night, you may have witnessed an interesting phenomenon occur at the end of the Skate Ski Sprint. While the men’s final was happening — which included a battle between both an Olympian and former World Cup racer that was objectively quite interesting to watch — almost the entire crowd turned their backs on the on-going intense ski battle to watch something else… Skijoring! This captivating sprint event paired skiers with their doggy counterparts for an incredibly fun spectating event. Results from the Chuck & Don’s Skijor One-Dog Sprints will be available soon here.

Saturday Events

Classic Ski Tour participants on the Lake of the Isles. Photo by Steve Kotvis of f/go Photography.

Saturday’s good weather was the last push many people needed to get outside and enjoy the festival. The day started with the 37K Classic Ski Loppet, 20K Classic Ski Puoli Loppet and 10K Classic Ski Tour. A record number of participants joined this year’s Tour, so many so that we actually ran out of race bibs! Some skiers came from so close by that they were able to ski/walk to the start line in Uptown, while others came from much further away. One skier traveled all the way from Australia, renting skis with a local friend and trading the summer heat for a snowy ski. Some participants had been skiing for years, but for one little girl, the Tour was her first time ever on skis! The full point-to-point course took participants on a journey from Uptown Minneapolis to Theodore Wirth Park, across the Chain of Lakes and through the parks’ sprawling trail systems. The Classic Ski Tour is designed to be non-competitive, but skiers interested in knowing how long it took them to complete the course can find their times here.

The 50+ age group made their case in the Puoli Loppet that like wine, skiers may also get better with age. John Rock (55) won the men’s Classic Ski Puoli Loppet with a time of 1:06:33, followed by Tom Ajax (57) in second. Xena Original (52) finished in third for the women’s race. Maria Hauer from New Hope and Maggie Mahota from the College of St. Ben’s finished in first and second, respectively, in the women’s race, while sixteen-year-old Seth Kristal rounded out the men’s podium in third. Full results for the Classic Ski Puoli Loppet can be found here.

Brian Gregg and Matt Liebsch lead the Saturday Morning Classic Ski Loppet start at Bde Maka Ska. Photo by Steve Kotvis of f/go Photography.

Multiple elite racers toed the starting line of the 37K race, but within just one or two kilometers Brian Gregg and Matt Liebsch broke away from the group and kept their lead for the rest of the race. The two said that their secret was using skate skis and then double poling the entire course, which is pretty impressive considering the length of the course and the number of large hills! Brian Gregg was able to shake Matt Liebsch on the last downhill, capturing the lead by 9 seconds with a time of 1:42:09. David Joda finished in third four minutes later. Team Gregg took the lead in both categories, as Caitlin Gregg decimated the women’s field by over 4 minutes with a time of 1:55:07! Felicia Geisor and Vivian Hett finished in second and third, respectively. Complete Classic Ski Loppet results can be found here.

Those who chose to compete in the MNOC Ski-Orienteering Loppet couldn’t just rely on fast skis and good athletic training like those in the Classic Ski events. Saturday’s MNOC Ski-Orienteering Loppet required mental braun and directional prowess. Skiers were given maps of two different courses, Medium/Long (7-9k) and Short (4-5k), depending on which event they registered for, and had to then navigate on skis using only a map and compass. Justin Bakken cracked the long course first in a time of 26:17, while Nathan Blumenshine and Ian Young finished second and third in the men’s long category, respectively, about three minutes later. Jennie Sirota finished the first in the female long category with a time of 45:15, and Molly Moilanen finished in second with a time of 50:14. In the overall short course, Mary Morris, Andrew Verhasselt, and Gwen Daniels finished one, two, and three, respectively. Complete Classic MNOC Ski-Orienteering Loppet results can be found here.

“Bigfoot Boogie” by team Nice Ice! Photo by Heidi Ledermann.

The Southwest Journal Snow Sculpture Contest began as the top racers of the ski events were finishing. This contest showcased the artistry and creativity of those in our Loppet community as ten groups of four or fewer sculptors turned their 4′ x 4′ x 8′ blocks of snow into unique creations which were judged on originality, creativity, aesthetic appeal, craftsmanship, and 360° appeal. A group of three University of Minnesota mechanical engineers competed for the third year in a row, but said that they upgraded from using a paper and pencil sketch of their design the first year to creating a 3D printed model to work off of this year! The top three teams were awarded $500, $200, and $100, respectively. Results from the Southwest Journal Snow Sculpture Contest will be available soon here.

One of the other interesting events back again this year was the Captain Ken’s Kubb Tournament. The scandinavian backyard sport originated in Sweden and found its way to Minnesota. Captain Ken’s Kubb tournament at the City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival is largest winter Kubb tournament on the planet with about 300 players! Teams played each other throughout the entire day in the Upper Stadium until only two were left in the final game: Thief River Falls Kubb Team vs. Chaska Kubb, which was the exact same final as last year’s tournament. Some teams had never played in a tournament before and were just interested in joining the festival’s best party zone by competing in the recreational bracket, while other teams were dead set on winning it all in the Championship bracket and added national Kubb champions to their teams. The top three teams in the Championship bracket earned $500, $100, and $50, respectively. Results will be available soon here.

Crowds watch as three teams complete the Chuck & Don’s One-Dog Skijor Loppet. Photo by Steve Kotvis of f/go Photography.

For the second day in a row, crowds gathered from near and far to witness the equally exciting and sometimes hilarious event that is skijoring. Hundreds of spectators lined both sides of the course to watch as dogs of all breeds and sizes tried their hand (or shall we say paw?) in pulling their favorite humans on skis.

Inspired by Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins, a high school skier and her puppy sport matching glitter for the skijor race. Photo by Heidi Ledermann.

The Chuck & Don’s One-Dog Skijor Loppet has three distances for races to choose from: 10K, 5K, and 3K. Almost 100 dogs and skiers competed, and the varying distances allowed for spectators to see a wide range of skijoring abilities. The 10K race is part of the National Skijoring Championship and is an accredited IFSS World Cup Race, so it features some of the best skijoring teams in North America. The 5K and 3K races are open to all interested in giving the sport a try, so fans are able to cheer on dogs smaller than a loaf of bread that somehow manage to run the entire race distance, dogs that are more interested in saying hi to every spectator than getting to the finish line, and dogs that decide 1K in that skijoring is not their sport and then get dragged to the finish line by their very tired skiing counterpart who had not expected to be the one doing the pulling.

Despite finishing after one lap only to realize a minute or so later and needing to go back out on the course, therefore completing a longer route than anyone else, Richard Kisseloff from Illinois managed to still win the 10K race with a time of 22:18.1. Tyler McKean and Adrian Swanson from Minnesota rounded out the men’s 10K podium, while Deanna Clark from Ohio, Jan Guenther and Margret Raasch from Minnesota finished first, second, and third in the women’s 10K. The top three competitors in each 10K category $150, $100, and $50 cash prizes, respectively. In the 5K event, Ally Anderson took first overall with a time of 12:08.8. Sixty-year-old Nan Waisanen and 31-year-old Carrie Miller rounded out the women’s top three. Ryan Kraft, Brennen Schulz, and Sam Timmreck took first, second, and third in the men’s category. Jonah Lidberg and Rick Rick Pertl finished one and two overall in the 3K, while Kelly Renken rounded out the men’s podium. Sydney Bramer, Tanya Adelman, and Lina Evert finished in the top three, respectively, for the women’s 3K. Both the male and female top three finishers from the 5K and 3K races received $100, $50, and $25 gift cards from Chuck & Don’s. Full results for the Chuck & Don’s One Dog Skijor Loppet and One Dog National Championship can be found here.

A Minne-Loppet skier gets excited to start skiing. Photo by Steve Kotvis of f/go Photography.

The Junior Loppet and Minne-Loppet were the last two events of the day held at The Trailhead, and quite possibly the most impactful to anyone watching. The future and growth of a sport rely on youth participating in it, and the Minne-Loppet and Junior Loppet events focus on growing and diversifying skiing so the sport can continue to thrive within all communities for years to come.

The Loppet Foundation’s mission is to create a shared passion for year-round outdoor adventure in the Minneapolis area, focusing on underserved youth and families. Each year, the Loppet works with 11 north-side elementary schools as part of the Minne-Loppet program and three middle schools (Anwatin, Franklin, and Northeast) as part of the Junior Loppet program. Through these free programs, about 800 children annually are supplied with ski equipment and taught how to ski. The City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival then provides the students with an opportunity to showcase their newfound ski skills in front of their friends, families, and the greater Twin Cities community.

Young skiers from across the state who are not involved in the programs are also invited to join in the events during the City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival, as the Junior Loppet and Minne-Loppet events are the two youth “races” at the festival. The Junior Loppet is a timed competitive freestyle event for anyone under the age of 19, while the Minne-Loppet is a fun classic ski for kids where all participants receive a delicious cookie from UCare, a medal, and hot chocolate upon crossing the finish line. All children were also invited to participate in the Minnesota Youth Ski League (MYSL) SuperCarnival, which featured relays, ski ball, and an obstacle course on skis for children in the Lower Stadium before the Minne-Loppet and Junior Loppet events. Results from the Junior Loppet can be found here.

Luminary Loppet

Time-lapse of one of this year’s new ice carousels. Photo by Phillip Brooks.

This year’s Luminary Loppet and REI Co-op Luminary Party were the most highly attended Luminary events to date, and it’s easy to understand why considering the perfect weather Saturday night! Close to 13,000 individuals walked, snowshoed, and skied through the beautiful candlelit path created by our incredible Luminarians on Lake of the Isles. Complimentary hot chocolate was served to all on the lake by REI Co-op and North Memorial Health. The popular fire dancers, Ice Cropolis, Ice Henge, Ice-Ster Island, the Enchanted Forest were all back again this year, along with the gigantic winter puppets and ice musicians. However, new this year were multiple large spinning ice carousels, the brain child of some of our incredible volunteers. These spinning structures caught the attention of many as they gazed in wonder and awe. As the night came to a close, skiers danced to tunes from Dr. Mambo’s Combo while sipping complimentary beer from Surly Brewing Co. and warming up by the fires.

Sunday Events

Brian Gregg (L) and Matt Liebsch (R) slide into the finish of the Star Tribune 37K Skate Ski Loppet. Photo by Margaret Adelsman at

860 skiers competed in Saturday’s Star Tribune 37K Skate Ski Loppet, 20K Skate Ski Pouli Loppet, and 10K Skate Ski Tour. The Star Tribune 37K Skate Ski Loppet was much tighter packed than the previous morning’s Classic Ski Loppet, as the long-distance skate race included a higher concentration of elite-level athletes competing in the event, which was a part of the CXC Marathon Cup and the final scored event for both the festival’s Loppet Challenge and the Minne Tour. The men’s race was determined by an extremely close photo finish between the top two skiers from the day before: Matt Liebsch and Brian Gregg. Liebsch determined not to fall behind again after taking second the day before, lunged across the line wiping out both him and Brian Gregg but securing the top spot on the podium with a time of 1:39:44 and taking home with him the grand prize of a dinner for him and his friends cooked by Sitka Salmon Shares. Alex Reich rounded out the top three with a time of 1:41:05. Caitlin Gregg again left little chance for her competitors to win in the second long-distance race of the weekend. She secured the top spot on the women’s Skate Ski Loppet podium by over seven minutes with a time of 1:45:10. Vivian Hett and Bonnie Weiskopf finished in second and third, respectively. Complete Star Tribune Skate Ski Loppet results can be found here.

The Skate Ski Puoli Loppet also featured some repeat podium finishers from the day before. Kristofer Johnson finished first with a time of 1:07:36, Tom Ajax finished second for the second day in a row with a time of 1:07:51, and Sam Scott took third just one second after Ajax. Susanne Hill won the women’s Skate Ski Puoli Loppet with a time of 1:08:47, followed one second later by Xena Original and 4.5 minutes later by Maggie Mahota, who both had podiumed in the classic event the day before. Complete Skate Ski Puoli Loppet results can be found here.

Many participants in the Skate Ski Tour expressed their excitement on Sunday about being able to avoid some of the longer course’s largest hills while still being able to enjoy the point-to-point feel of the 10K. The Skate Ski Tour is designed to be non-competitive, but skiers interested in knowing how long it took them to complete the 10K course can find their times here.

People enjoy the weather and watch the skiing and biking events from the patio of The Trailhead. Photo by Steve Kotvis of f/go Photography.

Bright sunshine and temperatures in the mid-40’s caused more athletes than ever before to toe Sunday’s starting line in t-shirts, tank tops, shorts, and even mini skirts! But the trails held up, and a great party met those who finished at The Trailhead. The Bato Bato marimba band played popular tunes outside while racers enjoyed chili from Captain Ken’s and spectators enjoyed Surly Brewing Co. beer on the patio while heckling those who took the last sharp-left downhill turn in front of The Trailhead a little too tightly.

Start of the Askov Finlayson Snowshoe Loppet. Photo by Joe Michl.

Moving from skiing to running, those in the Askov Finlayson Snowshoe Loppet followed the ski tour course but while running on snowshoes. Eric Hartmark absolutely dominated the course, catching up to many of the skiers as he sprinted by. He finished with a time of 41:19, beating the next snowshoer by almost 4 minutes. Kelly Mortenson and Mark Brose rounded out the top three in the event, respectively. Katy Class was the first female finisher with a time of 1:01:44, followed by Melissa Krumrich and Kelsey Guggenberger in second and third for women, respectively. Both the top male and female finishers received $100, $50, and $25 cash prizes, respectively.

Start of the 37K Fat-Tire Bike Loppet. Photo by Joe Michl.

The fat-tire biking events have been part of the City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival for a few years now, but new this year — in addition to the Freewheel 37K Fat-Tire Bike Loppet and the Freewheel 20K Fat-Tire Bike Puoli Loppet — was the Freewheel 10K Fat-Tire Bike Tour. This new event was designed to be non-competitive and allowed those newer to fat-tire biking the opportunity to be part of the festival by riding on a shorter course with less extreme hills. For those interested in knowing how long it took them to complete this event, results can be found here. The fat-tire bike events followed almost the exact same course as the ski courses, in addition to utilizing some of Theodore Wirth Park’s single track trails.

One hundred and sixty-five bikers competed in this year’s longer fat-tire bike events. The Freewheel 37K Fat-Tire Bike Loppet came down to a close finish between Cole House and Corey Stelljes with House taking home the gold by one second with a time of 1:34:01. Jacob Olsen finished in third three minutes later. Megan Barr finished first in the event for women with a time of 1:58:54 — a full 12 minutes ahead of the next female biker! Heather Stelljes made silver synonymous with the Stelljes family name, and Jenny Barr finished in third in the women’s category. Complete Freewheel Fat-Tire Bike Loppet results can be found here. In the Freewheel 20K Fat-Tire Bike Puoli Loppet, Kate Coward showed she is no coward on the race course! She won with a time of 1:06:25, almost 5 minutes ahead of the next finisher, male or female. The top three men — Patrick McCauley, Justin Bigham, and Mike Martin — came next, respectively, all finishing within one minute of each other. Anne Grabowski and Wendy Stocker finished in second and third in the women’s category, respectively. Complete Freewheel Fat-Tire Bike Puoli Loppet results can be found here.

A skier glides over the soft snow while being pulled by his two dogs in the Chuck & Don’s Skijor Two Dog Loppet. Photo by Leslie Plesser.

For the third time during the week, skijorers tested their skills, but this time many had two dogs instead of one. The Chuck & Don’s Skijor Two Dog Loppet was a point-to-point race following the race courses from earlier in the day and marked the second day of the National Skijoring Championship and IFSS World Cup Race. Deanna Clark edged out the winner of the previous day’s races, Richard Kisseloff, to win Sunday’s event. Kisseloff took the top male spot, followed by Kevin Daly and Tyler McKean in second and third, respectively. Amy Oberbroeckling earned the second place women’s spot. The top three male and female finishers earned $150, $100, and $50 cash prizes, respectively. Complete Chuck & Don’s Skijor Two Dog Loppet and Two Dog National Championship results can be found here.

Overall Weekend Winners

Men’s City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival Minne Tour winners. Photo by John Bussey.

Three events took into consideration the entire weekend of racing: the Loppet Challenge, the Minne Tour, and the Combined National Skijoring Championship event.

The Loppet Challenge ranks skiers based on their total time from the Classic Ski Loppet and the Skate Ski Loppet, while the Minne Tour combines that total time with any bonuses received during the Skate Ski Sprints. Brian Gregg, Matt Liebsch, Alex Reich, David Joda, and Jakob Ellingson took first through fifth, respectively, in both the Loppet Challenge and Minne Tour for men, receiving $1,500, $800, $400, $200, and $100, respectively. Caitlin Gregg, Felicia Geisor, Vivian Hett, Elspeth Ronnander, and Kelly Donahue took first through fifth, respectively, in both the Loppet Challenge and Minne Tour for women, receiving $1,500, $800, $400, $200, and $100, respectively. Full Loppet Challenge results can be found here. Full Minne Tour results can be found here.

Women’s City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival Minne Tour winners. Photo by John Bussey.

The Combined National Skijoring Championship event ranked skijor teams that competed in both Saturday’s Chuck & Don’s Skijor One Dog Loppet 10K and Sunday’s Chuck & Don’s Two Dog Skijor Loppet based on their overall time. Richard Kisseloff was crowned the overall Combined National Skijoring Champion. Deanna Clark finished second overall and was named the women’s Combined National Skijoring Champion. The two of them were each awarded $100 cash and a $100 Chuck & Don’s gift card. Tyler McKean and Torrey Swanson came in second and third, respectively, in the men’s Combined National Skijoring Championship. McKean received $50 cash and a $50 Chuck & Don’s gift card, while Swanson received $25 cash and a $25 Chuck & Don’s gift card. Complete Combined National Skijoring Championship results can be found here.

Thanks to all who made the 2020 City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival possible!

One of the groups of course aid station volunteers who provided food and drinks to the athletes while competing.

No Loppet Foundation event would be possible without the help of many individuals and organizations assisting us, and the City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival is no exception. In fact, as the Loppet’s largest annual event, the City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival requires the largest number of volunteers and sponsors out of any Loppet event to make the weekend run smoothly. Those who support us do not give up just one weekend of their lives to help out, they have been working tirelessly behind the scenes for months to make sure that your festival experience is the best it can possibly be. So from the bottom of our hearts, thank you to all of you for all that you have done for us this year, and to all of you who have already committed to helping us again next year. We have thoroughly enjoyed working with you all, and this event would not have been possible without each and every one of you!

To find out more about how you can get involved in future events, email or