I just posted one of my favorite podcast episodes so far, getting moderately weather nerdy with Ketzel Levens, an Elite Wave classic skier and meteorologist at the Duluth National Weather Service.
So, that happened.
The Birkie happened (it probably shouldn’t have), and the fat bike happened, and then, pandemic. The Birkie has run a couple of smaller races this fall, and done so successfully, but since the covid rates have spiked, especially in Wisconsin, and while the race is going forward on all (well, most) cylinders, there will be a lot of changes.
On the one hand, thousands of people have still signed up for the race. That allows the Birkie to maintain their trail and programming going forward. That is important for the long term operations for the race and organization. It’s almost like the Birkie is something that people value highly! Plus, it’s an outdoor even, socially distanced (an arm plus a ski pole is six feet at least) and most people wear face coverings anyway.
In addition, because the race can be spread over the trail and the whole day and multiple days, the Birkie will probably be the largest single athletic event to take place during the pandemic in the United States. The Elite skiers will be finished with the race long before the last skiers start.
But will it be a race? Sort of. It will have waves, and times, and for the tip-top skiers might have a mass start, but the times won’t matter for wave placement, and with limited resources available on-course, skiers are asked to ski with precaution. And ski virtually if they have any medical conditions, and given various travel restrictions, the large contingent of out-of-towners should consider skiing closer to home. It’s a good day to stay safe, while still getting a pin, hat, and most importantly, completion credit towards your Birchlegger bib.
What about this site? Most of this site is based on a normal event. That will probably stay. In the next few weeks we will be working on a 2021 event page, but deferring mostly to the Birkie. Yes, we’ll obsess over weather, but less-so over traffic and lodging and logistics, since it will be so different.
The podcast will continue! There are a couple of queued episodes which need to be produced, and several others. We’ll probably have more frequent updates with Birkie race officials, in order to keep people up-to-date through the podcast. And hopefully a bunch of other fun episodes as well.
Unfortunately, without a Main Street finish there will be no Main Street podcast, but we will ask for people to send in autio clips from their race to stitch together.
Stay safe, keep ‘er movin’ and check back soon.
So, what are we doing here?
First, let’s all thank our deity of choice (or not!) that the Birkie wasn’t canceled. Maybe it should have been (how bad was the coronavirus in mid-February anyway?) but we had a perfect day and a great race. And the Birkie office doesn’t have to make a tough call. Sure, skiing is probably decent social distancing. But the expo? The feeds? Main Street? Good luck.
Now, the podcast had plans. First I decided that since I am (was?) running the Boston Marathon, I would talk to other Birkie skiers doing the same. I ran some code, expecting half a dozen or so who do the double, et voila, there were 35. Two thirds of whom wanted to be on the podcast. Which was going to be a logistical nightmare, so a small silver lining is that now there might be a podcast of “how I would have trained for Boston after the Birkie if it hadn’t been canceled.”
Then, the podcast had media credentials for the World Cup in Minneapolis. And a ticket purchased. What’s better than watching a day of some of the best skiers in the world? Watching them while talking to people about the Birkie. Well, that, of course, is not happening.
So what is happening? Well, we got a great podcast coming up with Team Gregg, who went off the week after the Birkie and skied the Vasaloppet: 90km of classic skiing. In Sweden. With a one-year-old in tow. (I’m impressed.) And we have 150 minutes of audio from the Birkie and with social distancing and no long runs required, plenty of time to edit it (probably into three episodes). Oh, and we have a friend who is going to play for us a new theme song of Norwegian fiddle tunes, with the request that it include cowbell.
Oh, yeah, and a new podcast name:
I swear, I came up with this before coronavirus. I’d tell people about the podcast, and say it was the “BirkieGuide.com Podcast” which is descriptive, but drunk in the din of the Angler, is that Birkie Guy? Birkie Dime? But everyone can figure out cowbell and fever, since that’s pretty much what we all get in February. So, yeah, Cowbell Fever. The name should change, but the feed will stay the same. So enjoy the rebranding.
Oh, and, I figured I’d set up a patreon. What is a patreon? It is a way for people to give creators of Internet content cash money in exchange for that free, free content. I don’t expect anyone to do so! If none of you sign up for the patreon, there won’t be any fewer podcasts or information on the website. But if you do, uh, I’ll give you a shout out on the podcast as a supporter, and then probably buy a bunch of novelty cowbells (as long as there is, like, more than three people who sign up) so that next year on Main Street you can be sure to make yourself heard loud and clear. And beer. We can always buy beer.
So, Cowbell Fever. Because it’s not quite Birkie Fever, but it’s way better than coronavirus.
Be well, do good work, keep in touch … and see you on the podcast airwaves soon.
Not really speculation. A repeat of today. It will start out not quite as cold (10 to 15) and then warm up a bit faster. Today’s warmth slushed up the top of part of the Kortelopet course, and maybe the Birkie course in a couple places north of OO, but it should groom up well tonight, and should only get faster, at least for early-wave skiers. Expect the temperature to break freezing around 11:00, and to climb towards 40 during the afternoon, with light winds from the south. There might be some fog early on but it will burn off pretty quickly.
So, basically perfect.
Also, remember: record yourselves! Send sound clips to firstname.lastname@example.org! Use the Voice Memo app on an iPhone (which is pre-loaded), or download an app here, or if you have Android, this app works. We’d love to hear from you!
We have dropped a couple of podcasts this week, so listen on your way to the start if WOJB isn’t your speed. And hug a volunteer, ski fast, and remember to smile (you can’t help but smile!). See you in Cable.
Happy Korteloppet morning, everybody, and check out our podcast from yesterday.
A quick note on weather: all signs are still good.
Friday morning is cold, but it should be in the 20s by Korteloppet time and crest just above freezing—maybe as warm as 35—by 2 or 3 p.m. It will be breezy, as southwest winds peak later in the afternoon.
Tonight it is clear, calm and colder, down to around 15, and plenty of time below freezing to freeze the trail solid, from the top down and, since the snowpack will retain a lot of cold, from the bottom up. I would assume the Birkie will be grooming early to let the trail set up well overnight.
Then tomorrow, it starts out cool at race time, with the early waves going off around 20˚. But don’t overdress! The temperatures will warm during the race, up to freezing by about 11:00 and then continuing to warm into the 30s and maybe up to around 40. In the shade, the cold snow and shade should keep the snow frozen and fast, but in the sun, especially for later waves, on south-facing downhills and on the lake, it might get a bit slower and slushier. Good news on winds, though, which will remain light throughout the day, although any winds that do blow will be from the south or southwest.
As for the snow, the course may be slower than expected with the new snow, but I would assume it has been well-tilled and worked and should be solid. For the Birkie, I’d expect the section after OO to be quite transformed during the race today and to till up tonight with some colder powder below and ski quite fast.
(It should be noted that one model, the high-resolution NAM, keeps some low cloud cover in place on Saturday, with cooler temperatures because of this, but it is currently an outlier.)
This is what I posted when someone was freaking out that the Birkie might start at 35 degrees (slightly updated):
The snow pack is cold and it won’t be too windy. Except for some south-facing hills (almost always downhills) and maybe the lake and a couple of fields, ambient of temperatures of 33 degrees will not warm the snow as the cold snowpack will radiate out cold air to the surface. These are 2m air temperatures, meaning 2 meters above the surface.
The Korteloppet may transform the snow, but 12+ hours in the low 20s overnight will freeze it right up and there’s a lot of powder down there to till back together. But the model output statistics, which tend to do a better job with high and low temperatures, show it going up to near 40 on Friday, and then in the 12 to 14 range overnight, and I would not be surprised if those verified during the day on the warm end and overnight on the cold side if the surface winds decouple from upper level winds and there is even a couple hours of radiational cooling. Temperatures at 8 a.m. on Birkie Day may actually vary significantly across the course, but should even out by 10 or 11. The models are mostly in agreement that it should be down around 20. There are sort of two camps: one which is clear and calm and gets down into the teens and then up into the 30s, and another which keeps temperatures warmer overnight with some cloud cover, but the clouds keep it cooler on Saturday.
In either case, I would not expect most of the course to be anything but cold and frozen until about noon.
If you’re looking for information about recording yourself and sending it in for a podcast, you can find information at the bottom of this post.
Reports of 5″ new snow in Cable, and probably similar amounts up and down the trail.
This means that while they will be able to till this into the base, it probably won’t be as fast as it was looking before this latest round of snow went from 0 to 5 inches in the course of a couple of hours. And my soft, cold skis are certainly happy. But it should make perfect conditions even better. The Birkie crew will be packing the trail all week to compress and compact this new snow, the trail is close, so give them a wide berth.
And get excited. It’s fever time.
If you look at a Birkie webcam screen grab right now you’d see it dumping snow. And it is! A heavier-than-expected band of snow set up across Northern Wisconsin today and what was looking like a dusting has turned into an inch, or maybe even two. It’s coming down starting in the upper 20s, and will finish a bit cooler and powderier, and temperatures fall tonight, plateau tomorrow, and then fall again tomorrow night (if the winds let up with fresh snow cover, -20 is not out of the question).
What does this mean? Probably not that much. This snow will be worked into the Birkie’s existing base by means of a lot of tilling, most likely, and will probably slightly slow conditions for the race. If you were on the edge between softer and harder skis, the softer skis may win the day, but the Birkie will probably do a lot of work to make sure that the base is solid by race day. And while it does look like Saturday will get above freezing, Friday may not as the models have backed away from temperatures cracking 30 until midday on Saturday, so except for south facing hills on the second half of the course, what is on the trail later this evening is probably what the race will be skied on.
Which is not bad. Because it may well be the best race conditions since 2010. Ski conditions and race conditions are not exactly the same thing. What I might like to ski on—some nice fresh powder clinging to the trees as I softly glide through the woods—is different than what I want to race on. For a race, I want a cold, hard-packed base, with a mixture of powder and older, transformed snow which will all freeze together to be fast and fun. And that looks like what we are going to get. No complaints from this skier!