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.)
- 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.