BirkieGuide in the time of COVID-19: Cowbell Fever

Your podcaster, hard at work. Photo credit: Lincoln Benedict. Brought to you by New Glarus.

Your podcaster, hard at work. Photo credit: Lincoln Benedict. Brought to you by New Glarus.

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:

Cowbell Fever

I swear, I came up with this before coronavirus. I’d tell people about the podcast, and say it was the “ 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.


Final weather speculation post

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! 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.


Quick final (?) weather update

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.)

“Okay everybody, let’s calm down”

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.

Well, it snowed

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.

Dumping, but not for long

Screen Shot 2020-02-17 at 9.51.01 PMIf 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!

Narrowing the goal posts

The Birkie is looking great.

I’ve said many times that the fewer times I post (and the less traffic that this site sees) the week before the race, the better the conditions. And this year, I’m kind of trying to come up with weather speculation posts, but there’s not much to speculate. The weather is going to be … nice.

Here’s a quick run down of the weather for the rest of Birkie Week. And remember, there is a very solid, partially-transformed, apparently amazing base. Race is definitely on. No meltdown. No blizzard.

Monday: Maybe a dusting of snow. Temperature up to around 30

Tuesday: High of 20, cloudy.

Wednesday: High of 10, sunny, lows around -10.

Thursday: High of 20

Friday: Highs in the mid-30s to around 40. Since the Korteloppet runs midday, the course may actually get a bit warm, especially for later-wave skiers and on south-facing hills. It actually could be a quite tricky wax day, since the surface might be warm and even slushy, with a lot of cold snow underneath. But it should be a lovely day for spectating in Hayward, and for skiing.

Saturday: More of the same. Most importantly, all of the models suggest that the temperatures overnight will drop at least down to about 20 degrees overnight, if not colder. That means the course will be able to take a groom from the day before, and freeze solid overnight. What will be interesting on Saturday is how it skis, especially in the second half. I’d expect the first half to be cold and not too transformed. But the second half, which will get mashed out in warmer weather on Friday might transform a lot and then get groomed and freeze up and be very fast with icier tracks. It might be very fun to ski, with some blazing downhills near the finish, at least before the sun gets too high. Then on Saturday, it looks to be 30s, dry and sunny. If there was ever a day to walk around Hayward with a t-shirt and a six-pack, this could be it. Maybe the perfect combination of skiing and sun. The sunblock concession will do quite well!

A couple of other notes:

The Birkie Trail is closed on Monday night for the rest of the week.

“But Ari, why would the Birkie do such a thing? It’s going to be super cold with a super-hard base and it’s not like we’re going to put ruts in the trail.”

True. Also true: there’s going to be a lot of traffic on the trail getting everything set up before race day. Do you want to meet a groomer at 25 mph on a blind corner? Probably not. And while some years in the past they have allowed skiing closer to race day, this race week closure seems pretty standard. So respect it! There’s always the possibility they read the forecast and postpone the closure a day or two, but unless that happens, ski somewhere else.

We have information about nearby ski trails here, and there are generally excellent conditions this year everywhere.

The Birkie is trying to keep people from littering, and by litter they mean goo packets. So if you have goo packets, throw them away at or near an aid station, or stuff them in your shirt or pants. Details here. They say they will assess a 15 minute penalty for littering, which is kind of harsh, but then again, the trail is probably covered with gel packets once the snow melts, and, ick. So be kind.

For this year’s Main Street (drunk) podcast, we want to hear from you! I can maybe interview 30 people as I drink New Glarus after the race, but you can interview any number of people, just on your phone! Then I can take all of this sound and stitch it into a podcast (or several) and drop them this summer into your podcast feed and you can listen to the Birkie in July (or whenever). So, if you have an iPhone, open the Voice Memo app and just hit the record button, then when you’re done, email the file to If the voice memo app doesn’t work on your phone, here’s another iPhone app which works. And if you have an Android, this app works. This is literally how KIKKAN RANDALL recorded a podcast this fall.

Speaking of, KIKKAN is in town and at several events. You know, the same person who came on ye olde podcast this past fall. This is the unofficial guide, though, check that out in the official guide.

240 hours to go

How do I know it’s 240 hours? 240 hours is when the weather models come in with data for race morning. And so far, all systems are go.

There’s a chance of some light snow between now and race day, but it doesn’t look like more than an inch or two. Also a chance of a slight thaw, but not more than 35 or 36 during the day. No washout, no meltdown, no blizzard. Just, basically, more of the same.

For race morning, and this is 10 days out and likely to change, the models advertise temperatures around 20 with light winds, rising towards 30 during the race. Cold enough to be fast, but not so cold as you need double wind briefs.

And by the way, catch up on the BirkieGuide Podcast if you haven’t already!