Early weather speculation

It’s February, and if you’ve followed this blog in the past, you know that means that it’s time for Weather Speculation! As usual, we look at weather models and make wild guesses about the weather, although they are at least slightly educated guesses. There’s only 19 days until race day, so we can basically pinpoint to within a degree what the temperature will be when your wave hits the course in Cable. (Note: this is a lie.) Join in!

With an early race this year and snow on the ground, we just need to worry about a warm-up. As you heard on the BirkieGuide Podcast (Wait, you didn’t listen to the Podcast? What is wrong with you! Go, go download it and listen to it now!) there is a thin-but-solid base on the whole of the trail, that could be skied well tomorrow but is susceptible to melting and could use some more snow.

So basically we need one of two things to happen. Either a) it needs to stay below freezing for the next 19 days or b) it needs to snow. If both happen, all the better. Let’s see where we stand with the long-range forecasts:

a) Cold. So far, it’s been a warm winter east of the Rockies. The City of Lakes Loppet may be salvaged by a last-minute snowstorm after warm air melted a five inch base to a thin covering of slush and ice. January has been only a couple degrees above normal, but with wild temperature swings and a late-month thaw. That has passed, and the next few days look colder. Not cold, mind you. But colder. And colder is good enough in Northern Wisconsin in February. (There’s newly-available “NowData” from the NWS for Spooner dating back to 1895. That may be downloaded.) As for the weather, the current models are not showing any major warmups in the next two weeks. In the third week things get a bit dicier with warmer air dumping over the Rockies, but it looks to stay at bay until it gets warm in earnest in March. So this is qualified good news.

b) Snow. Of course, a couple of feet of snow would help out as well. A couple of feet we may not see, but the storm which has pushed north 50 miles in the last couple of days in to the Twin Cities is similarly pushing towards Hayward. It may drop [edit] 4–8 inches of snow on the Birkie Trail (with higher amounts at the south end, which if you listened to the podcast you would now is where it’s most needed, and the totals keep going up; the trend is your friend) this week, which would make everyone breathe easier. Not a blockbuster, but not nothing. Beyond that there are no huge blizzards on the horizon, but an inch here and there. Time will tell.

As for race-day weather, it is foolish to try to predict specific days more than a week out (and certainly not three), so I am not going to. Yet. It will be between -20 and 50 at race start. And most likely in the teens.

The BirkieGuide Podcast is (almost sort of pretty much) here

bgpimage2They said it could never be done. (Wait, that’s a lie.) But it has been done. All hail the BirkieGuide Podcast!

UPDATE: It’s here!

In the first episode we spend nearly half an hour talking with Ben Popp and Al Serrano about the 2016 race. Want to find out about the new hill at Rosie’s Field? It’s in there. The new finish procedure? Yup, in the podcast. Some recording magic from our friend Sam of the Outside/In Podcast, who made the whole thing sound better than a skype conversation? That too is in the podcast. Basically, you should download the podcast, and listen to it a bunch of times. Don’t download it a bunch of times or my server might crash, though.

How do you download it? Well, soon, it will have a link in iTunes and you can download it there. For now, you can download the .mp3 file directly or copy the following link and go in to iTunes and select “File–>Subscribe to Podcast …” and then paste this link (http://birkieguide.com/podcast/feed.xml) and it will subscribe you to the podcast. Do you get your podcast somewhere else? I am pretty new to this so you may have to help me out, and I can submit the feed elsewhere, too.

Want to be a guest on the BirkieGuide Podcast? Email me. Seriously. We can talk.


2016, and the Birkie, are almost here!


December 26 Birkie Webcam. Building that base!

Greetings skiers. (If you live out west, enjoy your snow. If you are in the east, “greetings rollerskiers.”) With the new year upcoming, it’s once again time to scrape those bases and head out for some Birkie training. Some of our best training comes from reading the Birch Scroll for little tidbits about changes upcoming in the race. Here are a few:

* The permanent start! While it won’t be completed for this year, construction is taking place in order to facilitate a 2017 building and start for the race at Telemark. This is good news, as even more of the trail will have a permanent route and will no longer be at the whims of the Cable Airport and the FAA.

* I haven’t skied the classic race, so I am generally unaware of the course between the start and the powerlines, but apparently it’s pretty narrow. So it’s being widened. That’s good, right?

* While most of the Birkie is in Bayfield and Sawyer County forests, portions near the end cross private property. Rosie’s Field is one such property. It has been sold by one family to another, but they are still Birkie-friendly. So much so that they are allowing us to have more trail and more hills! (You can see the new section in Google Maps, I think it’s the narrower horseshoe in the larger area of activity here, which appears to be logging, but might be housing, in which case it would add a new road crossing.)

Most importantly, this will add significant climb in to this part of the course. It will be comparable in size to the Mosquito Brook Climb or the hill after Highway 77; not as steep as Bitch Hill, but longer. This will affect race strategy, as it will mean that from Mosquito Brook to the top of the hill after Hwy 77 will go as follows:

Given the total climb and steepness, it may be the most difficult climb of them all. It will certainly make the race more, uh, I think the word is “fun.”

* Wave times will be adjusted slightly at the start. In particular, the waves will be somewhat more spread out for skaters, especially for the big, early waves. From the Elite Wave through Wave 4, there will be at least 15 minutes between each wave. The elites will go off at 8:20, followed by Wave 1 at 8:35, Wave 2 at 8:50 and 70 year old-plus skiers at 8:55 (this relatively small and classic-skewed group had previously started with Wave 3; all will start together regardless of technique) and Wave 3 at 9:10. Beyond that, the waves will start every 10 minutes, but with fewer Birkie skiers in later waves and more spread-out times, it should reduce some congestion on the trail.

* Freedom isn’t free. (Actually it is, by definition.) But the Birkie Trail isn’t, so buy a pass if you’re planning to train there!

It’s snowing in Birkieland, putting down a good base. Hopefully the early-season woes will subside, the lake will freeze solid, and the race will be the best yet.

See you in February!

The New York Times is Stealing My Ideas

Well, not really. And as usual I used the title here to reference a Seinfeld quote. But the New York Times has a data piece out about the NYC Marathon this weekend showing a time lapse of people running along the course:

Does that remind you of anything?

Well, I guess if I was two years ahead of the Times, that’s okay by me.

The new start area

You may have seen that the Birkie is fundraising for a permanent start area. You may have gotten an email, or two, or three. The Foundation is pushing this start area, and we here at the Unofficial Guide think that it’s a good idea. So if you have some extra dollars floating around, maybe you don’t need another pair of Triacs this year, and can send a couple of bills over to the Birkie. (If you want to send a pair of Triacs to me, 175 cm, please, I’ll give you my address, and even pay shipping!)

Anyway, while a lot of us new-timers think of the Birkie as being a fixed route from Cable to Hayward, that has not always been so. Up until 1992, the race switched direction every year. In the ’80s, is started up Mount Telemark, before winding its way through the Telemark trails and on towards Hayward. The Foundation added a bit through Fish Hatchery this year (which probably needs to be widened), added the Classic Trail, and has rejiggered a few other sections as need be. The trails is a living, breathing organism, and change is not always for the worse.

The start isn’t going to change dramatically. It will be rebuilt near the current start, but off of the airfield, which the race needs an FAA waiver to use every year. The trail itself will bear the brunt of the change. It will lose about one kilometer of distance, so the Fish Hatchery joggle might be to keep it at 50k. And while the elevation will remain about the same, it will be much less steep. The first hill on the power lines—the one that separates the men from the boys—will be cut out, meaning there won’t be a gaggle of V1ers a kilometer in to the race, but a faster V2 start out of the gates. The main concern is that the course won’t be wide enough at the start, and hopefully the course designers keep it plenty wide. I would say the course should be at least 20m wide from the start to the power lines, especially since it’s climbing most of that way.

The major upside? A new start building. Tents are expensive, annoying, and can collapse when 18″ of snow falls on them. Having a building, however, would be supreme. Would it be able to handle 10,000 skiers on Birkie morning? Certainly not: you’d need an outright convention center for that (or at least the Hayward High School). But it would be an upgrade over a damp tent pitched on snow with a hay-covered floor. And, theoretically, it could serve other purposes throughout the year: a chalet during ski season and bike season, and an event center on weekends year round. What Birkie skier wouldn’t want to have their wedding at the Birkie start?

The Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Vermont is an interesting case study. It hosts the Craftsbury Marathon, a tiny ski race in New England (well, tiny by Birkie standards) but is similar to the Birkie in that it has low user fees, dependable snow and terrific grooming. It is basically funded by the Driessigacker family (of biathlon fame) and their family business: Concept2 rowing supplies. (They make the SkiErg, too. Why? Because they’re skiers.) Concept2 has done tremendous business in the past few years, especially since CrossFit has decided to use Concept2 in their “workouts.” (I speak only derisively of CrossFit, although now every time I run by a CrossFit gym and see people paying oodles of money throwing balls or whatever I smile and think of how they’re funding skiing.) Craftsbury has a huge new chalet and training center that the Birkie would be lucky to have, several large solar arrays, a fleet of groomers, and some of the lowest trail fees around. The Birkie doesn’t have such a benefactor, but it makes up for it with tens of thousands of skier-supporters Together, we can make that kind of difference.

With Telemark quite possibly past the point of no return, it’s time for the Birkie to decide its own future. Is it free? No, it’s not free. Can you gripe about how much the race costs? Sure, but I just paid $175 to run the Boston Marathon and wait to retrieve my gear bag from a tent in the pouring rain. And they didn’t have to groom the roads. If you want the Birkie to thrive, and you can step up to the plate, you should. This is just phase one, and a few dollars from each Birkie skier would go a long way towards assuring a top-notch experience for decades to come.

A great day for US skiing, brought to you by Birkie & Kortie champions

I posted this on Facebook earlier, but not everyone who reads this is my friend on Facebook, so here it is on the Internet:

This video is amazing:

If you have five minutes, watch it. If you have an hour, watch the whole race (start at the 1:00:00 mark) as the announcers realize that Caitlin is in position for a podium and are utterly shocked by it.

I’m not.

Caitlin is a friggin’ rock star who, through various happenstance, has been on the outside looking in way more often than she should be. She skied at NMU because back in the early 2000s, that’s what you did: ski in college. (I vaguely remember watching her start a race in Ironwood and smoking the field.) Then she was told she should have been on a development team, and was too old to be supported. She was selected for the Olympics in 2010—I interviewed her on a sketchy Skype connection for the Loppet newsletter a few weeks after—but only at the last minute after she had skied fast enough that they couldn’t rightfully leave her off (again she was “too old”), and then had to pay her own way to World Champs. In 2011 she won the Birkie (note to November Project types: the temperature—not windchill, temperature—was -11. Can you say #‎weatherproof‬?) and 2013. In 2014 she was left of the Olympic team because of, among other things, internal politics, and she was too old, (although her husband got to go to Sochi). I asked her last year if she was considering another run at the Olympics in 2018 or hanging up the—well, not the spikes, bindings? let’s say bindings—and she was only a little non-committal: 37 is old even for skiers, but especially for US Ski Team selection. Good thing she kept after it.

Caitlin and Brian—Team Gregg—are also super-active in the community, working with the Loppet Nordic Foundation and hundreds of at-risk youth in Minneapolis. Caitlin rollerski trains on residential streets in Saint Louis Park (yup, I went out with her once, and it was not easy to keep up). After a swooping hill where I was trying not to crash she says “it’s nice, these hills remind me of the World Cup courses.” A suburban street west of Minneapolis. She represents the best there is of citizen athletes.

This year, she skied her way on to the World Championship team—even still, there were lingering questions about whether they’d take her. And today, she showed that she belonged on the track. This is no disrespect to anyone else on the team: Jessie Diggins had an amazing race (we expect greater things!), and all four American women were in the top 15. (Charlotte Kalla smoked everyone, of course.) Did the snow matter? Sure. But the skier makes the skis fast. For those of us watching Jessie win high school races in Minnesota, it’s especially cool to watch her perform at such an elite level. But for Caitlin, it is years of vindication: she more than belongs.

Yes, Charlotte Kalla will be above the fold in every newspaper in Sweden (and deservedly so). But guess who’s flanking her in every picture? Not Marit. Not Therese. Jessie and Caitlin. The day belongs to the American Women. And I hope we’re not done seeing great things from any of them.

So, that happened

This morning, I went out for a crust ski on the Charles River.


I’m not kidding. The river is well frozen, and the crust has seen enough sun and moisture that it’s pretty perfect. A couple frozen drifts here and there, and some ice under the bridges. It’s pretty great. I might call for a ski race on it some time this week.

Then I got to my office and turned on the Internet and Caitlin and Jessie had broken the Internet.

This is pretty awesome. Caitlin won the Birkie in 2011 and 2013, and Jessie the Korteloppet in 2008 and 2009. That’s four Birkie event wins! To have them both on the podium, and with significant payouts too ($10k and $6k), is really fantastic. A great day for US skiing.

This page interviewed Ms. Gregg last year, and maybe she and Jessie will join us again soon (maybe for a podcast; yeah, we might start doing podcasts).

Race Report Guidelines

You skied the Birkie. You told all your friends about it. Why not tell the world on BirkieGuide.com?

Well, why not? Because you send me a PDF with embedded images. Or a Word Doc with weird alignments. Newsflash! Every race report sent to me gets parsed manually to HTML and then posted. So if you send me a PDF and it has weird line breaks, I have to remove those by hand. Which means your race report doesn’t get posted, and the world doesn’t find out about how you totally smoked that dude in the feed at OO.

So please, send me your race reports, but please do so with the following in mind, with the overarching goal of making it as easy as possible for me to take your report from email to the web:

  • Please send me text with as little formatting as possible. I have to get it Internet-ready, so a PDF with in-line photos really doesn’t work. Sending the text in a plain word doc or the body of the email is best. I’m drawing the line this year. If I have to pull out carriage returns and such, I’m not posting it. Sorry.
  • I’ll post photos, but please send them as separate attachments.
  • Proofread! Please proofread. I have to proofread, and if there are fifteen spelling mistakes on the first page I might give up.
  • Consult a style guide. Use em dashes (—) and elipses (…) not double hyphens (–) and treble periods (…). And single spaces after punctuation. I’m amazed that is still a thing.
  • Keep it clean, and not ad hominem. If you want to call out a person who didn’t let you pass on a hill at 20k, don’t mention their number or name, unless it’s a buddy of yours.
Note that we are looking a the possibility of setting up a blog-type interface where you can input your Birkie story (and anything else under the sun or moon), but haven’t yet figured out if this install of WordPress supports that. For now, please email stories to ari.ofsevit @ gmail. And I promise we’ll get them up faster than last year.

Thank you!

I’ve met a lot of people in the past few days, and if I mention BirkieGuide, it’s amazing, but almost without fail, people say they’ve read the site and love it. That’s great—and heartening, this site doesn’t write itself. I’ve even had people who I guess heard my name and came up to shake my hand. Guys, go find the winners and do that. Or the guys who’ve skied 40 races (I’ve now done 10). But, yeah, thanks again! See you in Seeley!

Race post-mortem: traffic and parking

A couple years back, I wrote about how the Birkie really needed to fix parking and busing situation. Then last year happened. I spent some time this past summer talking with the Birkie, and a team from Georgia Tech, about fixing the parking. (It helps that it’s kind of what I do for a living in the real world.) My idea was basically that they needed to split the parking and not have two streams of parking trying to access one road, and minimize the left turns and crossing traffic. The Birkie, using their new trailhead, did one better, parking northbound traffic at the Birkie Ridge trailhead.

And you may have noticed: it worked. It helped that there was 1.8″ of snow this morning, not 18″ inches. But, on a daily basis, I see traffic which increases by 10 or 20% and goes from free-flowing to gridlock. The Birkie was over capacity. By cutting it in half, they brought it way under capacity. It works.

I talked to Ben Popp and he said that, at one point, he saw a line of people waiting in traffic and was disappointed. Then he realized it was only 18 cars, and they were moving. That’s not an issue. The hour-long backups, those are the issues.

Last year, it took us 1:45 to get from Hayward to Cable. This year, we made the trip in 25 minutes (it helped that we were traveling with an elite elite racer who had a start parking pass, but even with the buses, it would have been less than 45 minutes, or an hour less than last year). It was a huge success. Parking is one of the biggest constraints on the capacity of the Birkie, and it has been dramatically improved. And, yeah, I’m taking just a bit of credit for that.

More on the race, of course, later. FWIW, 154th, best finish ever.