The Masters World Cup and Super Bowl launch the festival to new heights
A snowy winter, an international skiing competition and a Super Bowl make for a one-of-a-kind City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival.
The Loppet Foundation, the nonprofit that puts on the annual cross-country competition and winter sports celebration, is getting a taste of the global spotlight with the Masters World Cup, the unofficial world championships for skiers over 30. Right as the Loppet is done with that event, which is bringing more than 1,000 skiers from more than 20 countries to the Twin Cities through Jan. 26, it will reach a new audience before the big game on Feb. 4.
“Usually you’d think of events like [the Masters World Cup] happening in a place like Bend, Oregon,” said John Munger, the Loppet’s executive director. “To get to the World Masters [Cross-Country Ski] Association to say, ‘We want to come to Minneapolis,’ was a big feather in our cap.”
Minneapolis is an unusual host city for the race, which is typically hosted in smaller European cities. The United States has only hosted the Masters World Cup five times before this year and never in an urban setting — especially not one on the verge of hosting the sport world’s biggest event.
J.D. Downing, president of the World Masters Association, said Minneapolis is a “unique opportunity” for the organization and its competitors to enjoy everything the metro has to offer.
“Athletes can fly into the Minneapolis airport, take the light rail downtown, enjoy great skiing by day, and fine dining and culture in the evening,” he said in a statement.
Munger, who said he planned to ski in the race, said the Loppet provides a perfect backdrop for local skiers to connect with fellow amateur athletes.
“They’re here to compete, but they’re also here because it’s a great social occasion to see people from all the countries of the world who are interested in skiing,” he said.
By this time, Munger was hoping the Loppet would be able to show off the Trailhead, a new 14,000-square-foot adventure center it is building at Theodore Wirth Regional Park in partnership with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. The $8.5 million project hit a snag last summer when soil tests showed they would have to replace 30 feet of dirt before moving ahead. It delayed the opening about two months.
Now the Trailhead, which will include some Loppet offices, community space, a bike and ski shop and a Cajun Twist eatery, is on track to open this March.
The foundation’s other improvements at the park are ready for skiers. The organization has invested in new snow-making infrastructure, from new pipes and snow guns to a cooling tower, to produce all the fresh powder necessary to put on the festival, which runs Jan. 27 through Feb. 4.
Loppet goes downtown
The Loppet will get its first foray into downtown Minneapolis this year with Super Bowl Live, the 10-day festival on Nicollet Mall leading up to the game.
The foundation is programming a snow-covered Birkie Bridge with snow tubing, skijoring races with skiers and their dogs and kubb, a Scandinavian lawn game similar to horseshoes or lawn bowling. The Loppet Trail at Super Bowl Live stretches two downtown blocks and goes over 9th Street.
The downtown fun isn’t the only thing being added around the Super Bowl.
The night before the game, the Loppet will host its annual Luminary Loppet, the festival’s marquee event, which is expected to draw a record 10,000 guests to Lake of the Isles.
This year, the foundation is inviting ice sculptor Trevor Pearson to create instruments out of ice. Percussionist Marc Anderson will play the ice drums, horns, whistles and shakers at a cold concert made possible through a Minnesota State Arts Board grant.
“I’ve made music on exotic instruments from every corner of the world, but I’ve never played ice,” he said.
The annual celebration of winter, which will have additional time slots to account for people in town for the game, will feature large-scale ice installations, from an Enchanted Forest to Ice-Henge and the Luminary Pyramid. A traveling family of penguins will join a glowing puppet polar bear and the hundreds of luminaries spread throughout the lake.
This year is the second year the Loppet will be a part of the Great Northern, an effort spearheaded by Eric Dayton to rebrand winter as a selling point of the Twin Cities to attract tourists and locals alike. The festival combines the Loppet with other wintertime attractions like the St. Paul Winter Carnival and U.S. Pond Hockey Championships.
With hundreds of thousands of people coming to town for the Super Bowl, the Masters World Cup and other festivities this year, Munger said next year will be a test to see if the Loppet and its partner events will draw people back to Minneapolis without the football game.
“They’ll go, “Oh, you know what, next year I am going to come back,” he said.
All the attention begs the question: What’s next on the Loppet Foundation’s horizon?
Munger said one day he would like to host a FIS Cross-Country World Cup and see Olympic medalist and Minnesotan Jessie Diggins compete.
“She’s one of the greatest skiers in the world and she’s from Minnesota,” he said.
It’s one step toward realizing the vision of Theodore Wirth, the city’s first park superintendent, to bring a Winter Olympic Games to the North Star State.
Until then, this year’s events will be enough.
“We definitely have a lot on our plate,” Munger said.