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The Course

The Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge is a point to point mountain bike race held traditionally on the first Saturday in November. The race starts at the Kalkaska Airport in Kalkaska, Michigan and finishes thirty miles later at Timber Ridge RV & Recreation Resort on the eastern edge of Traverse City, Michigan. The course consists primarily of dirt roads, two-tracks (the majority of the course), abandoned railroad beds and the world famous Vasa Nordic ski trail. It crosses only one paved road (Williamsburg Rd at mile 17) as it winds through the breathtaking terrain of the Pere Marquette State Forest in Northern Lower Michigan.

The Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge events attract competitive cyclists from all of over the world! Ages range from 1.5 years to 80 years of age. Their ability levels vary from first-time racers to Olympians.

The Course changes each year. Check out the newest course in the Glacier Gazette each year or subscribe to our blog!

GPS file: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/44777018
Slush Cup GPS File: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/44842306

2023 Course Map & Description

The Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association has been riding, racing and assisting with Iceman course prep for many years, but 2023 marks the first year that NMMBA has officially taken the course reins for this iconic event. Tom White, trail development lead and NMMBA board member could not be more excited. We tapped into his insights and designs for the 2023 course and beyond. We got an earful and lots to share with racers, volunteers, spectators and weekend trail users.

In the continuing evolution of the Iceman course, NMMBA’s first move was to talk to the founding father of the Iceman, Steve Brown to get his take on how the course and the race has evolved over the decades. The goal of NMMBA is to maintain the Iceman legacy while keeping up with forestry plans, weather patterns and ever changing forest users and uses. Thirty years ago the forest between Kalkaska and Timber Ridge was a seldom used network of leaf covered logging roads with some classic Northern Michigan sand traps along the way. Today, we are sharing the woods with so many other users and it is a great thing but presents challenges for those pedaling under their own power. These realities shaped our goals into three buckets: a safe/rideable course, a sustainable course and a more mountain bikie course. Roadie body suits, slicks, drop bars and aero helmets are cool and all, but we want to build a course where those things hang in the closet till spring.

So what does the 2023 Iceman course look like? It breaks down like this:

The start is largely unchanged. Getting 5000 bikes sorted out and moving rhythmically through the first 3 miles of the race is a huge challenge and keeping the start safe and preventing racer pile ups in the first two minutes is the goal. To accomplish this we brought in gravel and strategically pulled off sand and placed gravel to allow two lanes wherever we could. We also created a center mound between lanes to discourage spontaneous and sketchy lane changes that create pile ups. Nobody wins the race in the first mile, but crashing yourself or others out can lose the race and the ride experience in an instant.

As racers pass through the Dockery Road intersection the course and soil transitions into more luscious loam and delicious single track flavor. At this point the starting line butterflies are gone and riders are well into their groove and should be traveling with their race day mates. The single track pieces in this section are mostly flat to down hill and should allow racers to flow and even take advantage of a little recovery. It should be noted that no single track was added simply for the thrill of it. Every piece of single track eliminates hub deep sand sections that are no fun for anyone. Make it Stick is back after the forest management of last year and is in excellent shape. Be sure to listen for the drumbeats as you climb through that section. The Hero Section gets chopped into two halves with the first half being replaced by the downhill berms of Uncle Tom’s Cabin as you skirt around the newly and artistically harvested section of beech, ironwood and maple. The second half of the Hero Section now incorporates a unicorn of a grassy two track with a single hot line through it. Finally, the Hero Section finishes with a new downhill/flat section of single track known was Tighty Whitie as it glides between two large white oaks as it takes racers off a busy and sandy ORV trail.

After Broomhead Road the course picks up speed as racers turn left into the newly added Time Saver Two Track. This is a sand-free two track with a mild hump and drop off that is just enough to make you smile. The Time Saver 2T transitions into – you guessed it – the Time Sucker Single Track. The Time Sucker ST is 100% flat and full of turns as it routes racers around a nearly impassible section of sandy gas line trail.

The next sections are known as the Three Sisters with one sister that is more popular than the others. However, we added a Step Sister to the mix this year and eliminated a major wash out that would have required most to push their bikes. The Step Sister is only half the length of a football field, but infinitely better than pushing a bicycle in the lead up to the Williamsburg Road crossing.

As the echoes of the announcer at Williamsburg Road fade racers will notice mile 18 on the dashboard and feel the comfort of the familiar 25K classic Iceman route and the final 10 ish miles until racers get to dance with Steve Brown’s perennial serpentine finish. Be sure to leave some legs before that for the hills of Boonenberg, Anita’s, the Ice Crusher Climb (CC climb), Wood Chip Hill and the final Icebreaker Climb.

The Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association is honored to be partnered with the absolutely fantastic Iceman group of volunteers, the Michigan DNR, the racers, event sponsors and the Cherry Festival Foundation. Without which this incredible event would not be even remotely possible. It must also be noted the entire race from Kalkaska to TC travels entirely on public/state land. This is the only way this race could exist. Only the first 60 seconds at the race start and the final 2 minutes at the race finish are on private lands. Every other inch of the course takes place on shared use public land where hunting, motorsports, hiking, horseback riding, camping and forestry management are ongoing. Please enjoy the entire 2023 Iceman event while keeping in mind we are all sharing a common space with many other equally important users and uses.

See the course on Ride with GPS: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/44777018
Download course files here: https://www.iceman.com/p/race/2023-gps-files
See the Slush Cup Course on Ride with GPS: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/44842306

Square Photo of Start line with Start text and Hyperlink to Start Line information

Square Photo of Finish line with Finish text and Hyperlink to Finish Line information

Photo of bike repair with text of Course Safety hyperlinked to Course Safety information

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