The Tough Call, The Right Call: How We Got Here

It was way, way back in March on the long drive down to Bell’s Eccentric Cafe for the registration party that we started bracing ourselves for this possibility. The Festival Foundation was scrambling not only to sign up eager Icemen and Icewomen for our 31st edition but also to switch the Leapin’ Leprechaun 5k to a virtual event. To my knowledge, they were the first event to make the move. They were not the last. 

On the drive home that night, I thought that, at most, we’d miss a few of the spring races. Over the next few weeks, events in April, May, and June canceled or postponed. Then, it was July and August. I got texts, emails, phone calls, and messages almost every single day asking one thing: “We’re still racing Iceman, aren’t we?” By August, that had changed to something more frustrating, more disappointing, and more honest: “Why have you’ve canceled Iceman yet?”

We weren’t sitting on our hands. Iceman planning starts the Sunday after race day, and that was certainly the case in 2019. By the time we flipped the calendar to 2020, we’d already restructured parking, changed traffic flows in Kalkaska, created the new course, and looked at how we could build more participation in our women’s Pro race. 

All of those plans were put on the back burner with COVID-19. By the end of March, we were already looking at a ton of ways to tweak our race for fall. As confident as some of our racers were, our team watched as event after event were forced to throw their hands up. For the Foundation team, canceling the National Cherry Festival was almost certainly the most difficult decision of their professional careers. In the process of evaluating that event, we started to realize more and more that Iceman as we all know it wouldn’t be possible. 

We ran through dozens of changes to the event, eliminating the obvious elements such as cutting the SRAM Ice Cycle Expo, removing our busing and shuttles, and drastically whittling down race day infrastructure. The finish would have no BISSELL Celebration Zone, where we often get more than 10,000 racers and spectators. In fact, after cresting Icebreaker, racers would be able to see the extent of the finish area in a split-second, with only a timing tent, first aid station, and a very apologetic race director asking them to keep rolling through to the parking lot to get picked up. 

There were many reasons to cancel the event and very few feasible ways to put on anything that resembled the quality race that’s become such an institution in bike racing. First, I think it’s important to say that even if we could have put on the race, bringing over 4,000 people to our region during a pandemic would have been dangerous. Especially with many kids heading back to school, it was impossible to forecast what conditions would look like not just in Traverse City, but in major population centers like Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Lansing, and other places that send their best riders north for the weekend. 

Next, we were denied a permit from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. From the beginning, we’ve trusted and respected the guidelines and restrictions put in place by the state to keep people safe. The DNR denying the permit wasn’t a barrier for us; we believe it was yet another way for us to measure and evaluate risk, and we thank the DNR for working so closely with us this summer. It confirmed what many of us knew to be true; bringing together people from across the state, Midwest, and country isn’t the right thing right now. 

Finally, the decision came down to quality. The Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge earns its reputation each and every year by being the biggest show in town. Our race committee spends months planning and weeks setting up something that feels a bit like the Super Bowl halftime show. We were very concerned that a watered-down version of our race would leave a bad taste in the mouths of participants; come for the Rolling Stones, but see the middle school band? It just isn’t what we do. 

I want to thank the Foundation staff for working tirelessly to try to make this happen. We met weekly (on Zoom, of course) to discuss safety procedures, bounce new ideas off each other, and constantly find ways to make the 2020 Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge a reality. I strongly believe that if any group of people could have pulled off a safe race for thousands of people in a pandemic, it would have been this team. But because they are the quality, caring people they are, they also knew that the best decision for our racers, our sponsors, and our wider community would be to wait until 2021. 

Racers, we’re going to work just hard to make sure that 31st edition of the race happens. What we need is your support to get this staff through 2020 and ready to work on making 2021 the biggest party yet. We understand that times are difficult, but if you can afford to leave your donation, you’ll be ensuring that our tradition of racing through the snow, mud, and rain in November carries on for generations to come. We’ve lined up prizes from Bell’s, a Trek Top Fuel, tons of Clif Bar, and other awesome rewards for donating, including a chance to ride with 2019 Pro winner Alexey Vermeulen! 

Be safe, stay healthy, and look out for each other. Until next time, we’ll see you in the woods! 

Moving Fast into March: No Hibernation for Iceman Cometh Nation

Moving Fast Into March: No Hibernation for Iceman Cometh Nation

Here at Iceman HQ, all this talk of March 1’s festivities has us itching for some riding. If getting signed up for the 30th edition of the Iceman Cometh Challenge doesn’t get you fired up to ride, then you’ve been cooped up inside for way too long!

Iceman athletes haven’t been hibernating. From Nordic skiing, fat biking, and even hopping on the trainer, our racers have been working hard to maintain and build fitness for a full season that seems to add more killer events every year. Remember the off-season? Well, that’s not really a thing anymore!

Around here, there is a fat bike race nearly every other week, and that’s a sport that’s grown to include races across the state. Some of the best Strava scores of the past two months have come from events like Fat Chance! at Crystal Mountain and the Big M Fat Bike Race near Manistee.

Activities on Zwift, TrainerRoad, and Rouvy count toward your Ice Society Strava score, and there are dozens of riders who have been raking in the points since November. New virtual events and races have made indoor racing a lot more fun and make it possible to ride with bike nerds from around the world.

Of course, some folks need to swap their pedals for skis to enjoy winter, and we’ve had a blast following the Michigan Nordic ski scene from Noque to Cote Dame Marie. This weekend, the 43rd Annual North American Vasa will start and finish in the same spot as the Iceman ends at beautiful Timber Ridge Resort. For Iceman racers, it’s got to be just a bit of a relief that they get to go down Icebreaker to start their 12, 27, or 50 km ski events, rather than finish up that short but cruel little slope.

There are also two fat bike races as a part of the Vasa’s Festival of Races, and it’s a testament to Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association that racing on their expertly groomed and simply gorgeous Winter Sports Singletrack draws so many rabid fat bikers. NMMBA also played a huge role in designing and laying out our 2018 Iceman course, and they do a great job incorporating their years of racing and riding in putting together a fun, fast, and exciting route that suits a wide range of abilities.

If you’ve had a hard time peeling yourself off the couch, we really hope that get yourself signed up for the 30th edition of the Iceman Cometh Challenge gives you the motivation to get moving, and maybe even try something new before winter fades into spring. The countdown to our 30th year starts in earnest in just a few weeks with events at 7 Monks in Traverse City and Bell’s Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo. More details to come, but make sure you’ve got a plan in place to make this year’s race your best yet!

2019 Iceman registration is open for everyone

2019 Iceman registration is open for everyone

The 30th Annual Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge will be held on Saturday, November 2, 2019.

Online registration for ALL Bell’s Iceman and Meijer Slush Cup riders opens Monday March 4th at 9 am.

A total field limit of 4,500 Iceman riders and 400 Slush Cup riders will be accepted. The March 4th online registration opening for all riders will operate on a “first come – first served” method.

The Bell’s Iceman entry fee for 2019 is $100.00 and includes the USA Cycling One-Day License and the online registration fee. USA Cycling members with an annual license will receive a $10 rebate upon showing their license at packet pick-up in November. The $10 USA Cycling annual license rebate is not available for riders in the Pro/Category 1 races.

2019 Meijer Slush Cup entry fees are $70.00 and include a USA Cycling one-day license and the online registration fee.

The 2019 online registration system utilizes your Ice Society account on the www.iceman.com website. Thus, all registrants need to have an active account within the Ice Society. A new capability of the Ice Society is to allow parents to manage their children’s accounts with the same email address.

To eliminate confusion, tandem entries follow the one bike – one entry system. Tandem captains can enter their stoker’s name on their account page.

A free USA Cycling account number (not an annual license) is required for each rider. For riders without an account number, you can create an account with USA Cycling by looking for the “sign-up” button in the upper right-hand corner of the www.usacycling.org website.

Questions or concerns?

Email: icemaninfo@iceman.com

Call: 231-803-4259