The Great Bear Chase was started in 1981 by Rick Oikarinen and Bob Gregg as a late-winter cross-country ski that would showcase Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, and the plethora of snow it gets.
“We know how much snow we get up here, and we know how truly unique it is compared to places that are only three or four hours away,” said Oikarinen, who served as race director from 1982 until 2005. “Plus, we knew there was an opportunity to help our trails grow and maintain their pristine condition.”
The race was, and still is today, a major fundraiser for the Swedetown Trails Club. The club uses the money to maintain the Swedetown Trails, some of the finest in the Midwest.
Evolution over the years…
From the very start it’s been a long race, allowing skiers to go on either a 25k or 50k course, but the exact route has changed many times through the years.
Originally it began by climbing Rope Tow Hill near the chalet. As the race got bigger (from 30 in year one to hundreds today), a bigger start area was needed. The race, for years, started and finished at what’s now the Calumet Colosseum. That was until the Mine Street Station was erected. The race start was then moved to the railroad bridge and even downtown Calumet, both of which offered picturesque starting scenes.
In 2012 the race moved to a new area, and offers a unique starting situation where the wind is hardly felt and stadium viewing is available.
The race still maintains a quality trail through the Swedetown system, including passes through the famous Mama Bear and Papa Bear trails. These are the signature trails of the Great Bear Chase, offering beautiful site lines and amazingly well groomed lines. In 2012 a 13k race was also added, giving even new skiers a chance to compete in a race, while still seeing some of the famous Swedetown Trails.
The race features a unique culture that is hard to explain unless you’ve been a part of it. Oikarinen calls it a small-town feel. Some racers just love the excellent trail conditions at a time when Minnesota, Wisconsin and the lower peninsula of Michigan are almost bare. Others just love the authenticity of this race, that’s built by racers for racers in the heart of the Copper Country.