Someone up the Birkie Trail on Google Maps

Several years back I made a valiant attempt to create a good elevation profile for the Birkie Trail. Since then there have been things like Strava, and what with everyone and their uncle skiing around with a GPS, we’ve gotten better data. But if you wanted to see the Birkie Trail on Google Maps, you had to monkey around with looking at various Strava segments or activities (or something of the like).

Well, now, if you go to Google Maps, the Birkie Trail is right there! Someone at Google (or whoever is responsible for their data) went and traced the Birkie Trail from start to finish. It’s not perfect. My 2008-era attempt—which cuts off after 38k for whatever reason—is better, as is most any GPS track of the trail (like this one). And, for instance The Google’s trail mucks up something around Mosquito Brook and then going across Rosie’s Field. But it’s not a bad start—are there any other XC ski trails on Google Maps (they have all sorts of gravity ski trails, but those are for suckers).

More snow!

A bit of a surprise storm sure tied things up in the Twin Cities (although not to an Atlanta level) but put down a good bit of snow in the Cities. Reports from Birkieland are of two to three inches of snow, but this will nicely freshen things up. Long range? There’s still no sign of a thaw, and there should be a pretty darned nice base in place for February.

If you’re skiing the Loppet, so am I. See you on Sunday afternoon after racing 90k in Minneapolis. If I survive.

Three-ish weeks!

We’re now three weeks from race day. Well, a little more, but in three weeks festivities will be kicking off in Hayward! The long range weather models go out about two weeks, and, so far, there’s really nothing on the horizon except for cold. Cold, cold and more cold.

Which is good. There’s plenty of snow on the ground. Cold will keep it around. I haven’t seen the GFS model print out a temperature above 20 in the past few days, so the trend looks good. One question is whether some folks in Wisconsin and Minnesota will have seen lower training volumes because of the cold: if it’s -25, it’s hard to psych yourself up for a two-hour long ski. Out here in the east, we haven’t quite had those temperatures. Of course, we haven’t had a nice thick cover of snow for two months, either.

Loppet Tapering

Some of you know that I am living on the East Coast these days. (When I was in the Cities, I was the most prolific poster of trail reports on Skinnyski ever, which became a blog of its own, which had race reports, which became, and then when I moved out east I made my own trail report site because one didn’t exist.) Despite marginal snow conditions in Boston, we’ve had enough snow up north that I’ve been getting some good training in (70-90k most weekends) and keeping up down in the city with November Project and manmade snow.

This weekend, however, I’m coming to the Cities for the Loppet. When I found out that you could ski two marathons for $130 and there was a ski orienteering race to boot, I was in. When I found a $175 roundtrip airfare, the deal was that much sweeter. The only option here is a three hour drive to the Craftsbury Marathon, again relegated to a 12.5k lap race. I’ll fly three hours, and race all weekend. And I mean all weekend: in 26 hours, I’ll race more than 90k. A little warming up and cooling down and I’ll have that elusive 100k weekend yet!

Which brings me to something that’s hard for me to do: tapering. Usually, I’ll run/November Project two to three days a week, and ski most evenings. Sometimes I’ll even drive a couple hours in the evening to ski real trails and hills. This week, I am having to limit myself. This afternoon, for instance, I did not go for a run. Wednesday, I’m not waking up early to do stairs. Friday, I’m probably going to take the day off. Isn’t that crazy?

So, tapering. It’s a thing! And after this weekend, it’s just three weeks to Birkie. So I’ll have to do it again then, too.

(Which brings me to some weather speculation: the next 16 days—more than half the time to the Birkie—on the GFS model show temperatures staying between -20 and +20. No real snow, but also no melt. It could be old, cold snow at this race. Thanks, #PolarVortex.

A month to go …

Remember the Birkie a year ago? It was pretty nice, with lots of snow.

Remember a month before the Birkie? It was a bit dicier. January had been a mess of freeze-thaw cycles and the trail finally built up some base later in the month, but things were dicier in mid-January. There had been three days in the 40s and the base only built up later in the month.

This year? It’s been darned-near perfect. The one day that topped 32 did so for eight hours; not enough to harm the base. About two feet of snow graces the trail, and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, at least in the next couple of weeks. (That’s a live link to the current GFS model for 16 days—half the time until the Birkie—and it shows a high of 25, a low of -25 and 6-12 inches of snow.) This isn’t any official weather speculation quite yet (I might tag it as such, though), but barring a catastrophe, we’re in pretty darned good shape.

Start wire-based times dropped

For the past couple of years, the Birkie has adopted a start wire timing system. Except for the top six skiers, all skier times were based not on when the gates were raised and the gun went off, but rather on when you crossed a set of timing apparatus embedded in the snow 300 meters from the start line. There were several reasons for doing this:

  • Getting to the very top of your wave was less important, meaning people would place less of a premium on “pen jumping” to make sure to get to the very front of their wave (although skiing out of the front of your wave is still quite beneficial to your overall finish time).
  • Wire timing allows people to start in later waves, perhaps with a friend or family member who had a slightly different qualification time, without a time penalty.
  • Wire timing gives us an extra data point to play with at the start of the race. Oh, wait, that only benefits me. (If you’re interested, this site looked at how well your “time to the wire” predicted your overall finish (in 2012) here. The long and short of it is that while there was a correlation, it was not nearly as tight as the correlations from later points in the race, since only about 0.7% of the race has taken place to that point! So moving to a gun time will relieve us of some data points, but will make for less confusing timing.)
However, there are several issues with wire timing:
  • You have to keep everyone off the course in the morning. In the past, skiers who wanted to warm up before the race would ski down the race course towards the powerlines, turn around, and ski back. The wide trail had enough room for everyone who wanted to venture out, provided they were off the course by the first start time. With chip timing, no one could ski near the wire as it would upset the timing, so everyone was segregated on to an 800m oval next to the start. Which is why I went running last year to warm up.
  • People who start in the wrong wave can muck up results. For instance, in 2012, there was a foreign racer who started several waves early, and his correct time was input incorrectly, resulting in him appearing to place 14th for some time until that was ultimately corrected. As someone sitting “on the bubble” of the Elite Wave that year, it was of great interest.
  • The front of the race can get screwy, too. Take a look at the pack finish in 2012. Several of the later finishers appear to have longer times, since their wire times are 40 seconds shorter than their gun times. While this won’t fix instances where someone from a later wave actually skis faster than someone from an earlier wave, it will make results make more sense.
So, this year, the Birkie is going back to “gun” timing. You’re time will be based on when the gates go up, and nothing more. It’s a lot simpler. The Birkie has information here, and Skinnyski has more here.

Outlook good

We’re down to the home stretch! The Birkie is counting down the days as “k’s” from finish (50) to start. They’ve crossed Mosquito Brook and they’re not looking back! It’s OO or bust!

As far as the snow goes, things look good. Hayward peaked up over freezing for a few hours on Sunday, but it was to no real detriment to the still-1-to-2-foot base. (Let’s not get started on the meltdown on the east coast, mmkay? And complaining about warmth and rain is petty in light of California’s snow-free winter. Here’s to hoping they can grow things in the Central Valley this spring.) And the next two weeks look pretty superb. A few inches of snow look to fall overnight, and there’s a chance for a few more on Saturday, which could add up to a half a foot of snow. From then, there’s a chance that the region will once again drop in to the grip of the dreaded polar vortex but it seems like it will be slightly modified, and in Hayward, 25 below overnight is pretty much normal. If anything there does not appear to be a major meltdown coming to the Birkie area in the next two weeks.

With snow cover down to Iowa and Illinois, it would take quite a warm-up to wreak havoc on the Wisconsin snow pack. Things look good through the end of the month. From there, it’s just three weeks to Birkie. You ready?

Surviving the deep freeze

Back in 2011, you may remember, the Birkie was held on a chilly day. The race started around ten below, and the temperature barely made it above zero later in the day, the lowest observed temperatures in the history of the race. Of course, it could be worse. On Monday, the high temperature in Hayward was -15. In other words, there’s a good reason why the race takes place in late February. There’s no way you could run the Birkie with temperatures varying either side of twenty below.

In any case, the temperatures in the Midwest have bottomed out, and look to increase in the next few days. By the end of the week, it could be nudging up in to the low 30s, a tropical paradise compared to 30 below. Luckily, temperatures don’t look to run any higher than that (aided by extensive snow cover) so the 12-to-18 inch base in Birkieland should be set for some time. And while it’s been dry recently, some snow appears on the horizon, to freshen that base, and add to it.

(Here in Boston, it’s been cold enough that they’ve blown in a mile of snowmaking and some of our higher-grade mental citizens are biking on the Charles.)