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!

Ari’s Unofficial Guide to Skiing in the Cold

So, we’ve I’ve decided that it is going to be a cold Birkie. Either windy and cold, or calm and really cold. The jury is out on what kind of cold, but it won’t be a 35˚ slushfest. Thank goodness.

I realized that there may be some out-of-towners who have never skied a cold race—or never really skied in very cold temperatures at all. I say this from experience: skiing in high school in Boston, I never needed more than a pair of thin gloves. My first college race was at Mount Itasca in Colerane, Minnesota, deep in the Iron Range. It was 3˚. The race was straight up a manmade snow hill, and straight down it. The downhill was frigid. At the end of the race, unable to move my fingers for an hour, I promised my coach that the next day he’d take me to get lobster mitts. I’m on my fourth or fifth pair, and will have them on Saturday.

So there are skiers like me, who might be from New England, or the Mid Atlantic, or California, where temperatures below 0 are sporadic enough that they don’t have experience in them. (On the other hand, in the Upper Midwest, people are tired of it; this winter it has been below zero 42 days in Minneapolis, 59 days in Hayward and Duluth—including a record-setting 23 days straight—and 67 days in International Falls.) As someone who learned the hard way and have since raced a number of races in adverse, cold conditions, here are some tips to staying comfortable in the cold:

  • Don’t overdress. One mistake I’ve made time and again for my first cold (<-5) ski of the year is to freak out about the temperature, wear what I should be wearing, and then throw a down parka over that. It won’t be -20. Dress in thin layers, and don’t wear too much. For 0, I figure three pairs of long johns or race pants on the bottom, and three wool/polypro layers on the top.
  • For god’s sake, don’t wear cotton. This should go without saying. Wool is your friend. Polypropylene is also your friend, but will get stinky.
  • Keep your hands warm. You’d rather have warm hands than cold hands, so grab lobster gloves if you have them. If not, swing by a ski shop and pick some up, you’ll be glad you made the investment. If your lobster mitts are getting old, a pair of liner gloves might be the trick to not having chilly fingers.
  • Keep your head cool. You will get warm as you race. If you have a thick hat on, you’ll get very hot indeed. A thinner hat is probably fine, with perhaps a buff or a headband to keep your ears warmer. And don’t ski with your favorite hat, if you get very hot and throw it during the race you’ll probably never see it again.
  • Get a buff. It’s great because you can use it to cover different parts of your face during the race, and it’s very adjustable. I usually start with mine over my ears, cheek and neck, and then can pull it down if necessary just to cover my chin and neck.
  • Don’t go overboard covering your face. You need to be able to breathe, and nothing is worse than an ice-caked piece of cloth slamming in to your chin with every breath. The ambient exhaled air should keep your face somewhat warmer than the air around it. If you are prone to frostbite, take necessary precautions, but breathing should come first. If you keep the area around your face warm, your face will be fine.
  • Wear sunglasses or other eye protection. Even if it’s not sunny. It will be bright, and your eyes will get icy if you don’t. If they get foggy you can always perch them on your forehead, but you’ll be glad to have them in case.
  • You should be cold at the start line. When you’re standing around waiting to start, if you’re warm and comfortable, you’ll overheat and get wet during the race. This is not a good thing. If you’re chilly, you’re probably dressed right. If your hands get old, spin your arm around, the centrifugal force gets blood to your fingers. It feels odd, but it works.
  • DRY YOUR BOOTS. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is worse than putting on wet boots on race day and skiing in the cold. You’ll have cold feet, which lead to poor balance, which leads to tired legs. If your boots are moist from a ski the day before, put them on a heat vent or radiator or put a fan on them, or even put on dry socks and walk around in them—anything to get the insides dry.
  • Gents, two tricks. One, don’t shave. Facial hair is good insulation. Two, if you have an extra hat and you’re worried about certain areas “down there” just stuff it in between a couple of layers. It looks weird, but it certainly does the trick.
  • The more adjustments you can make during the race, the better. The temperature will change, and you want to be able to change with it. I do this in several ways. The aforementioned buff maneuver. I’ll sometimes perch my hat above my ears (if it gets really hot, I’ll take my hat and stuff it in my pants somewhere), it’s amazing how much heat you can dump with bare ears. I often wear a hooded wool layer, and the hood can go up or down (usually starts up and comes down) if I’m hot or cold. And zippered top layers can help you cool down if you’re overheated.
  • Your drink belt will freeze. You can heat it up, turn it upside down, put a heat pad in there, whatever. Your camelbak hose will certainly freeze. If it’s below 0, you’ll be out of luck. Above 0 you can usually keep it liquid with a few shots of Whiskey, but below 0, you’ll be drunk if it is potent enough to remain liquid.
  • You will need warm, dry clothes at the finish. Often my legs are fine, but my core is always wet from sweat. The first thing you want to do in the changing tent—before you even get that first beer!—is stip off any wet layers and put on dry ones. Which means you want those in your drop bag. And you’ll want to be warm and comfortable. I usually go with a wool base layer, a cotton sweat shirt and a down jacket on top, plus dry gloves (dry liners inside your wet lobsters can work), a dry, warm hat, DRY SOCKS and shoes. And dry pants are never a bad idea, if they get wet during the race.
Follow these fifteen or so steps and you’ll survive. I hope.