What’s new in 2015?

This Guide has been laying low for a while. We’re sorry! (Well, I’m sorry.) Too much time skiing, running stairs, and planning that trip to Wisconsin in February. (And Norway earlier in the month.) Oh, and working with the Birkie to chat with them about many of the upcoming changes. But there are some changes coming, and we’ll detail them on this post, elsewhere on this page, and in the future.

The big thing are start line enhancements and the Birkie Bridge, all part of the Birkie’s Five Year Plan (I knew it was a Commie plot!). The start line could always use some enhancements, especially now that Telemark is closed. While the airport has plenty of space, there is no permanent structure there, and staging 10,000 starters over two hours is daunting, especially on a cold or snowy day. It would be nice to have a building, but that level of infrastructure needs long-term planning as well—you need to finalize the trail before you put up a barn. The idea is to build a start area which will have infrastructure and a permanent routing to the rest of the trail, as opposed to the current start which crosses several easements and is only used on race day.

The pros of a new course? No driveways, all-year access, and a better experience. The cons: the course would no longer start with the same gravitas of facing down the Power Lines Hill, but take a more gradual route. But there will still be hills on the Birkie Course. We likely won’t see major changes this year.

But there will be a Birkie Bridge. 49.5km away, there will be no more soft snow festival crossing Main Street, but a bridge instead. The bridge will be, well, interesting. It will give a bit of a climb right before the finish, and then a steeper downhill to Main Street. It should be plenty wide enough (24 feet), although a climb is always going to require more room than would normally be required. It will be fun to watch skiers crest the bridge, take a dive down the hill and carry that momentum down Main Street. And it should make for some fast finishes. And in the long run, there is some chatter about underpassing other main roads in the future. (And by main roads, I mean “roads.” It’s not like there are that many of them.)

It’s also a good segue to talk about traffic. The bridge will mean that there will be no more Highway 63 detour, and all the traffic through Hayward will no longer back up all afternoon. This should be nice, although it will mean that the course to the lake will no longer be a pedestrian zone during the race, so take care if you’re crossing the road to the lake during the race. (I can only assume traffic will be gawking at the skiers above and be going quite slowly.) And the snow on the bridge should be much firmer than in past years (but hopefully they can get the snow to stick to the bridge deck on the inclines).

But parking. This is the big thing. In the past, this page has proposed a change to how parking works at Como Lot. Last year, the entire transportation system to a halt. The Telemark Field filled, and traffic from the north and south tried to access Como Field at the same time. The entirety of Highway 63 gridlocked for an hour in both directions, people missed starts, and it was obvious that the system needed to work better.

Well, it seems the Birkie has listened. According to rumors, the “Ofsevit Plan” will be implemented this year. Southbound traffic will detour off of Route 63 via Cable Sunset Road. Northbound traffic will have an unimpeded turn in to the parking lot. There will be two lanes of entry. If this goes according to plans (and I will contact the Birkie to make sure that it does, since it is basically the “Ofsevit Plan”) it should double the throughput in to the parking facility, rather than funneling all traffic on to one road, which should also help buses from the south navigate the area. With the larger race, and fewer facilities at Telemark, this dramatically increases the utility of the current lot and should allow traffic to move at a much better pace (i.e.: not complete gridlock). Still, it will be a learning curve, so leave extra time. Especially if there’s two feet of snow beforehand.

It’s time to train, plan, buy exorbitantly-priced plane tickets (no $175 round trip for me this year), and get to Cable! (On plane tickets, it seems that they are starting expensive this year, but prices likely won’t go much higher until a couple weeks from race time.)

OH NOES MY WAVE IS CLOSED !!!!!111!

So, you may have gotten an email that says that the Birkie is basically full. Waves are filling fast, and you might not get in to the wave you really, really want to be in. It would be the end of the world, right?

Well, not really. Because it really doesn’t matter that much what wave you ski out of (for the most part). Wave 2 vs Wave 3? Everyone is right at the top of the curve. There’s only a few minutes difference between the back of Wave 2 and the front of wave four, and wave times can be based on the past four years of Birkies this year, so someone who is seeded in the front of Wave 4 from a Birkie in 2011 may have gone out and logged 600 hours of training the past two years, and someone from the back of Wave 1 might be sneaking in there from their best time a few years back, only to have gotten fat and slow. (Don’t do this.)

There’s a lot of spread. If you are shunted from Wave 3 to Wave 5, it’s really not a big deal. There is going to be traffic on the hills. There are going to be jams at feed stations. The Birkie is working to address these situations, but there’s only so much trail real estate, and there are a lot of people out there on skis. And with poles. So don’t worry about it. Too much.

(Exception: The Elite Wave is based on the previous year, with some exceptions for really fast people. The front of the First Wave is akin to the back of the Elite Wave: not very crowded, no dead-stop back-ups on hills, uncongested feeds. But remember that you actually have to be pretty fast to ski off the front of the First Wave. If you were 225th last year and had a good training year, by all means you should try. If you were 600th and snuck in and most of your training has been PBR tallboy bicep curls, just take it easy.)

A much longer race

Everyone said that the Birkie was hard. It took a longer. A whole, lot longer. The chart below shows finishing times for the past five Birkies, for the skate race (other divisions coming; my computer went on the fritz and had to be repaired so I’m a bit behind). A couple of things to notice. First, the 2014 race was so, so much longer, on average, than the previous races. 2013—which was a slow year—shows longer times, but only slightly. 2014 is pretty much off the charts. Second, the finishing times are much more spread out. In the previous years, the peak 5 minute finishing time had at least 160 finishers. In 2014, it didn’t even make it to 120. So it’s a much flatter curve. Some more statistics below …

Want more? Here are some statistical statistics for the past five years.


2014 2013 2012 2011 2010
Total skiers 3773 3951 3743 3699 3641
Average time 4:48:47 4:02:51 3:46:40 3:46:19 3:30:36
Median 4:44:23 3:54:03 3:36:20 3:35:05 3:21:04
Stdev 1:10:24 0:59:08 0:59:20 1:01:33 0:52:52

That’s impressive. The average skier finished this year in a hair under five hours. Last year, a slow year, the average skier just barely topped four. And compared with the fastest year in 2010 (quite possibly the fastest on record; the winning time was), the average times are nearly 40% longer. In other words, if an average skier skied at the same pace in 2010 for the amount of time they skied this year, they could turn around in Hayward and make it back to the Gravel Pit at 31k. So if it felt like skiing a 70k race, it’s because it pretty much was.

More analysis coming soon; for now I’m off to ski.

The data are coming!

Well, the data are here. Sadly, my computer’s trackpad decided to go on the fritz, so it’s in the shop until tomorrow. Of course, I may be off chasing Aurora all night, so that could be moot. In any case, tomorrow is a new day, and perhaps one where we’ll get some charts up. We’ll be tracking how much longer the race took everyone this year, how many people missed their starts, and other sundry data. Stay tuned.

Hardest. Birkie. Ever.

That’s the word on the street from people with gold and purple bibs. I’ve done nine now—including one with a replacement pole after breaking a pole at the start—and this one was appreciably harder. I finished relatively well, all things considered (having a cold, not drinking enough on an hour-long bus ride where I had to use the john the whole time and then almost missing the start) and my time was 20 minutes off of last year (a slow year) and 40 minutes off my fastest time. So, wow.

I’ve been traveling on the icy roads since, and just gotten around to the Internet. Much more coming soon. Certainly race results. Certainly data (yes, we will be analyzing the number of people who missed starts, as well as how much slower skiers were this year versus last year). And as with last year, we have an open call for Birkie race stories that we’ll post here. Simply email them to me (ari.ofsevit at gmail) and I’ll post them with some celerity. If you are looking for guidelines, find them here and check out last year’s entries. The more the merrier.

Stay warm and ski fast.

Making it in, making it there

This guy made it in last night! Our flight was filled with Birkie chatter and ski bags (seriously, there were Birkie skiers in seats 11F, 13D, 17D and 17F—and judging by the number of ski bags at the coursel, a bunch more) so we must have gotten priority status from air traffic control, we took off on time and landed in to the blizzard in Minneapolis. A bumpy ride across the storms, but a safe and on-time landing. Not wanting to press my luck, I took the train and bus, and was asleep by 11.

I’m hoping my “cold” is due to wild temperature swings and travel. Hoping.

The roads look rough, so go slow and take your time. There will be time to drive fast after the race (maybe). See you all in Hayward!

Two webcams to watch the snow fall

Want to watch a blizzard before you ski? That’s probably all the training you need, right? Well, there are two webcams to follow to do so.

One is at the OO cabin, here, from the Birkie. The other is a Main Street cam brought to you by the Sawyer County Record, here. It’s live and with sound, so it’s quiet right now (no cars and a blanket of snow) but might get interesting as the new snow falls (and is groomed, and groomed, and groomed).

10 to 20 inches. Not even that speculative.

Holy smokes.

The storm is coming, and the models are not backing down. Everything has lined up for a textbook blizzard, and it is zeroing in on Birkieland. The National Weather Service has probabilistic snowfall forecasts (here) and it’s a doozy of a storm, with an epicenter pinpointing Hayward, Wisconsin. At the 10th percentile, Hayward would see 9″ of snow. At the 50th, the accumulation would be 16″ and at the 90th percentile, there’s the chance for 21″ of snow. In other words, it’s just as likely that Hayward gets 10″ of snow as it gets 20″. There’s an outside chance that only six inches falls, but about the same chance of two feet.

Wow.

While this will most likely cause some race-day disruptions, we can thank our lucky stars that it’s falling tonight, not tomorrow night. Two feet of snow on race morning would probably cause the race to be canceled due to too much snow. Even still, it is going to be a Herculean effort on the part of the Birkie staff to get the course, and the infrastructure, in place for the race. There are 5 Pisten Bullys set to groom, but expect a soft course. There’s close to 100k of trail to groom, and the groomers can only make so many passes. There is also a ton of plowing for parking, plowing on roads to get to Hayward, and, just, where do you put all the snow? Expect things to move a bit more slowly than usual.

On the other hand, Main Street is going to have very good coverage.

The snow will start out heavy and wet, but as the storm goes by will get lighter and dryer. Still, it may be a more moisture-ful snow than we’re used to in the Midwest, although once it gets cold it may turn in to powder anyway. I’d expect most of the snow to fall with temperatures in the mid- to upper-20s. Once the storm departs, expect some lingering snow, some blowing and drifting snow, and plummeting temperatures—likely below zero on Saturday morning. Luckily, winds should be light. And we’ll thread the needle again: one day earlier and we’d be in a blizzard, one day later and it might be -10.

This will be a very interesting Birkie.

Wednesday Weather Speculation: Pre-Birkie Blizzard

So, there was some question on the models this afternoon as to where the western edge of the snow would be. The NAM model was an outlier and even suggested that the snow would only reach to the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, with only a few inches in Birkieland. As much as I like big snowstorms, big snowstorms the day before the Birkie create big headaches, so I was kind of, sort of maybe a little bit rooting for this model.

Well, it fell in to line behind the rest of the guidance, so, bring on the snow! Here’s the TL;DR version of the next few days, weatherwise; I’ll go in to more detail below:

  • Warm today! 40s in Hayward right now.
  • Cool but not cold tonight. Only in to the upper 20s, probably cool enough to freeze the base, not that it really matters.
  • Heavy snow begins tomorrow around noontime and continues through Friday morning. 8-12 inches. Don’t drive up tomorrow night. Just, don’t.
  • Temperatures drop from 30 to 10 during the storm, don’t budge tomorrow. Strong winds.
  • Race start temperature around -3, winds slacken somewhat.
  • High on Saturday around 10, wind chills remain below 0. Dress warm. Light snow may continue to race time. Soft skis.
And here’s the longer version. We’re looking at textbook Panhandle Hook storm, and I am going to give the award to the European Model which was on top of this a full week ago, although the GFS had the same idea, and even the NAM extension was clued in. The NAM has been wishy-washy, but the other models have held serve, and now it’s go time. The GFS’s most recent run spins up a real doozy of a storm, dropping well over a foot of snow on the Birkie Trail on Thursday evening; let’s all just thank God or Allah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or whoever that it isn’t a day later; I don’t know if the race could be held with that much new snow. As it is, expect things to be slow on Friday. I don’t expect a foot and a half, but 12″ is not out of the question. It should be dry and powdery by the end, and it will be compressed but you can only knock so much air out of the snow, especially if it’s still falling until Saturday morning and blowing. The course will be soft.
Then there’s the cold. We should be used to this, because about half of recent races have started at or below zero (here’s our weather history page). The added rub here is that it may be windy. The models look to slacken the winds in the evening, which would be preferable, but if they don’t we’ll have a nice breeze from the west. Guess what direction the start goes? Due west. Guess what direction the second power line segment (after the turn) is? Due west. Get ready for a headwind at the start.
Once in the trees it should be pretty nice. Mostly cloudy (so no need for sunscreen, plus most of your face will be covered anyway) and perhaps some light snow. Yup, soft skis.
So, take it easy getting to Hayward, watch for blowing and drifting on Friday, and leave some extra time on Saturday morning. It will be a soft Birkie, but there is going to be an amazing amount of snow. And I think we can all agree that that is a good thing!