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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.
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, which offers a regular stadium and eliminated road crossings and use of a snowmobile trail.
The race still maintains a quality trail through the Swedetown system, including the signature Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Baby Bear trails. In 2012 a 13k race (now 10k) was also added, giving even new skiers a chance to compete.
The race features a unique culture with 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 - built by racers for racers.