Marquette General Health System's 15th annual Noquemanon Ski Marathon saw nearly 1,600 racers this year, a new record. Tourists flooded the Marquette area that January weekend, and local businesses have been reaping the benefits of the spike in tourism. TV6's Dustin Bonk examines the ski marathon's impact on local tourism in part two of his series "Dustination: Noque."
It all starts with the ski expo the day before the race. Racers come into town to register and pick up their gear. In fact, they come in from all across the country and beyond.
"In the Midwest, I would say the Noquemanon is the second most popular race, next to the American Birkebeiner that brings in about 9,000 racers," said Nikki Dewald, Race Coordinator and Animoosh Skijor competitor. According to Dewald, the after-race surveys indicate that many of the skiers place the Noque as one of their go-to races of all the ski races in the country and that they want to attend every year.
The Noque might not have as many racers as the Birkie, but it has quite a few. So let's break it down...This year, adult racers came in from Canada, Germany, and 17 states, mainly Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, and Wisconsin, but even a few from Arizona and Alaska, totaling 1,464 racers. Add in the 131 Junior Noque racers, and that totals 1,595 skiers, a record number.
There were 694 racers from Michigan, 484 of which were from the U.P. There were 294 racers from Marquette alone, the same number of racers from all of Lower Michigan. Over all 15 years, the Noquemanon Trail Network reports a total of 19,330 registrants including adults and children.
Some of the overall growth is attributed to how the ski marathon has more than just a large scale point-to-point cross country ski race. Over the years, the Noque has included new events like snowshoe races, skijor and snow bike races as of 2012, and adaptive ski races as of 2013.
Many of the registrants are repeat racers in each of the different events, but whether new or returning, the racers like to do a little shopping while they're here, something businesses take advantage of.
The Noque even draws in vendors from all across the country. Boulder Nordic Sport from Colorado had people lining up to buy their products most of the ski expo.
"We do a lot of business with the folks that race this race, so it benefits us to come up here and fly our flag and sell some products," said David Chamberlain of Boulder Nordic Sports. BNS has been selling at the expo for seven years.
Beyond the expo, the whole city of Marquette sees a spike in profits. The Marquette County Convention and Visitors Bureau keeps a close eye on the thousands of tourists. They say the busy weekend fills up hotels, restaurants, and more. Much of that good business also spills into neighboring communities.
"Just try to go out to dinner on Noque weekend or try to find a motel room. It's not going to happen," said Jeff Stasser of Downwind Sports in Marquette.
"When we have an event come into town, it really helps everybody. Everybody benefits. Everything from hotels to restaurants, bars, store owners...it helps everybody. It helps our whole economy," said Alison Silk, Public Relations and Marketing Director of the MCCVB.
Many of the tourists seek out the MCCVB for advice on what to do while in town. The MCCVB regularly takes advantage of the opportunity to promote other events in the Marquette area to encourage tourists to revisit later in the year.
Stasser says he sees a 30 percent increase in sales over the course of the weekend. Most of his customers that visit that weekend are in for ski maintenance, and he offers better deals for racers and extended hours.
"As a business owner, I love it. I'd love to have an event like that every year," Stasser said. Stasser was also a volunteer for the event.
"It shows that cross country skiing is a viable business opportunity for the community, that it does bring money in, and it's worthwhile to invest in this sport and these types of events in town for the economic benefit to all of us," said Jon Mommaerts, Race Director and one of the original founders of the marathon.
Each year, the race tends to grow in numbers, and local businesses are likely to continue seeing better sales on the busy race weekend. NTN officials say that the goal is to make the race weekend better each year.
"It's a wonderful, wonderful community event, and I do think this is the best race we've had in 15 years," Dewald said. "As race coordinator, I just want to say thanks to the Marquette community for all the volunteers showing up for two, even three days of marathon festivities, and I want to thank our sponsors, our land owners, and all the racers."
Dewald says planning for the 16th annual Noquemanon Ski Marathon has already begun. She says there will be a greater focus on marketing to Wisconsin and Minnesota skiers, and that there are also plans to improve the course by planting more grass, removing more rocks, and possibly purchasing a snow gun to help combat future mild winters.
The next Noque starts on January 25, 2014.