MINNEAPOLIS — February brings the City of Lakes Loppet Festival to the Twin Cities area at Theodore Wirth Park. Billed as an “Urban Ski Festival,” the Loppet also includes the very popular Captain Ken’s Kubb Tournament—the largest outdoor winter kubb tournament in the world.

This year’s weather was perfect for kubbers and skiers alike. After hiking up a short but fairly steep hill from the new ski chalet and past the tubing hill, baton-chuckers were greeted with an array of perfectly groomed tournament-ready, snowy pitches. Thanks and kudos to the late-night work of Eric Goplin of Minnesota Kubb and the park’s snow grooming crew for the excellent conditions!

After years of growing popularity, the Loppet tournament in recent years has been divided into championship and recreational divisions.

Matches began at 10 a.m. The 16 championship bracket teams were randomly placed into four groups of four teams who then squared-off. All teams advanced to the afternoon bracket where the morning round-robin play determined seedings. Round-robin matches were best-of-three, with a one-hour time limit allowed to complete each round.

As always, the lunch break included complimentary Captain Ken’s chili and an assortment of other tasty treats and souvenirs, as well as discount tickets for the upcoming Minnesota Cross Country Ski World Cup.

The top four teams to come out of the morning round in the championship division included an assortment of familiar faces: Free Agents (Gregg Jochimsen, Ryan Kolden, Joe Pendleton), Lumber Tumblers (Casey Anderson, Brian Evans, Brian Winistorfer) Beauty School Dropouts (Steve Dolan, Tony Kutzke, Tim Motzko), and Chaska Red (Paul Knutson, Jason Larson, John Oman, Tyler Patterson).

Championship bracket play proceeded with head-to-head matches that were decided in the same best-of-three format manner as the morning rounds. The first round concluded with no surprises as all eight one and two-seeded teams defeated their opponents to advance to the quarter-finals.

The quarter-final round saw a minor upset, with east of the river underdogs, Shinbusters (Dave Bell, Steve Cole, Justin Kleinschmidt, Rob House) knocking off St. Paul Kubb Society stalwarts, Beauty School Dropouts. Both the Free Agents and Lumber Tumblers cruised into the semi-finals without a loss, while the fourth number one seed Chaska Red overcame Drill Pickles (Brad Larson, Demian Moore, Mark Peterson) 2-1.

Free Agents quickly took down Shinbusters in two straight games to reach the finals on their side of the semi-final bracket.

Co-finalist Chaska Red’s journey to face Free Agents included a bruising hour-long victory in game one over Lumber Tumblers. In that game, Lumber Tumblers overcame a large early deficit to even things out at one remaining baseline kubb apiece. Things broke down for a bit after that point. The vagaries of winter kubb conditions took hold for both sides, as Lumber Tumblers could not capitalize on substantial advantage lines left by Chaska on two separate occasions. Chaska struggled a bit in the elements as well, missing a king shot in their first opportunity and having to expend extra sticks on multiple subsequent turns to clear the field on the increasingly trampled down and frozen pitch. Chaska did eventually prevail in game one. They took the second game as well, but only after missing their first king shot again.

Cooling down in the wings, Free Agents finally got back on the pitch to face Chaska for the final match. Chaska lost the king toss, but Free Agents were unable to capitalize on their open—missing with both batons. Chaska made the most of their turn, going three-for-four with their return throws and then clearing the baseline on the next turn after that. After the initial opening-round misses, Free Agents also cleared their baseline in their next two turns. But the first-turn misses and Chaska’s strong opening four-baton salvo gave Chaska the first shot at the king, and they did not miss this time.

Game two proceeded in a less surprising fashion. The two teams began with each taking out a single baseline kubb on their opening turns. Then, Chaska’s full six-baton turn netted them an additional three baseline kubbs, while Free Agents only managed one additional baseline with their first six-throw turn. A subsequent tightly drilled pile by Oman required only two batons from Patterson to clear. Oman then took out the final baseline kubb, and Knutson finished the match with two batons to spare giving Chaska first place in the 2020 Loppet.

In the background as the championship match concluded, Shinbusters continued their role as spoilers, taking out Lumber Tumblers to claim third place for the tournament. Of note, this was Shinbuster member House’s second consecutive weekend on the podium, having taken first place in the previous week’s Vinterfest tournament in Scandia, Minnesota.

Photo courtesy of Demian Moore.