The Black Lake Loppet
BY POLLY KEITH SCOTLAND
For the umpteenth year, David Harrington has hosted the Last Big Ski Event of the season––the Black Lake Loppet –– on his land near Bemidji, Minnesota.
Once the Mora Vasaloppet, Minnesota Finlandia, and American Birkebeiner events are over, David and his neighbor Hilton Bakker invite family and friends to their private property for one last ski. Since 2005, this end-of-spring, word-of-mouth event has become the grand finale for local die-hard ski enthusiasts.
Organizers Billy Ayers, Mark Walters, and Kris Kolar volunteer to groom the 12-kilometer trail (tracked for both freestyle and classic), order dozens of donuts, make chicken wild rice soup, build a bonfire, set up the trophy table, and bring the bin for canned good donations for the Bemidji Food Shelf.
On event day, registering participants eat donuts, including glazed and sprinkled with nuts, jelly rolls, long johns, fritters, and iced, as they are assigned to one of five waves. The race (or tour) is handicapped and designed for a mass finish, with all skiers crossing the line at approximately the same time. The slowest “Glazed and Confused” skiers start, followed by all subsequent waves every 3 minutes. Any skier getting passed by at least seven people can take as many shortcuts as possible to catch up to the fastest “Iced” racers. For non-skiers, a 3-kilometer snowshoe course is a nice option.
Cardboard cutouts from Lord of the Rings and encouraging poster board signs line the forested trail. All skiers must stop midway at the feed station to eat at least one donut or a gluten-free cup of beans, a jalapeño pepper, or pickle before continuing on.
The 13th person to cross the finish line wins a giant 1987 Eelpout Festival trophy, retro-fitted with skies and topped with a large fabric sugar donut. The trophy is taller than the 6-foot-4-inch frame of Louis Morrissey––this year’s 13th place winner. The traveling trophy returns each year with the previous year’s winner adding an item of personal interest to the trophy’s accoutrements.
While the “race” results are being tabulated, everyone enjoys hot soup and beverages as they huddle by the bonfire. Award categories are made up both beforehand and during the ceremony. Examples of categories include: Most Spectacular Crash, Iron Stomach (for consuming the most peppers), Best Costume, Most Donuts Eaten (usually won by a 12-year-old), and the Red Lantern (for last place). Winners of the 1-kilometer Donut Hole race (one young boy and girl) are crowned with traveling donut hats.
Every kid feels like a champion after winning a recycled trophy from canoe races, sailing regattas, knowledge bowl, speech contests, or track competitions. Following the awards ceremony, donated door prizes such as homemade bread, maple syrup, or handmade soap are given away.
The exact date for this annual loppet varies each year due to unpredictable weather, but David and his crew aim for the first or second weekend of March. With only 10 days advanced notice, the 2020 event had a record crowd of 75-80 participants.
Not everyone can come to northern Minnesota for this spirited event, but perhaps your community could create its own Last Big Ski Event of the Season. Here in Bemidji, Minnesota, everyone leaves Black Lake happy, healthy, and looking forward to next year’s umpteenth Loppet.