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 info@birkieguide.com. 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!

Getting in clown range

Weather nerds sometimes speak of “clown range” for weather models. Clown range implies that, beyond a certain time frame, the weather models are about as good as a clown predicting the weather, usually beyond about seven days. But for very wide-scale trends, there are ways to read tea leaves to discern large-scale trends: wet vs dry and warm vs cold. Will it be 0 or 45 on race day? Who knows. But even a month out, we can say whether there is a greater likelihood that it will be warmer or colder than normal: we were worried in early February of 2017 because the models painted a picture of very warm weather four weeks out and look where that led.

So far? So good. The next two weeks look warm-ish (but not snow-melting-warm) and then cold-ish. And beyond that? Normal-ish. I’ll take normal-ish with a good base in place. Normal-ish doesn’t melt two feet of snow. And normal-ish make for some of my favorite Birkies, like 2009 and 2010: cold to start, warm and sunny by afternoon.

But I’ll take anything with 50k of snow on the ground to Main Street, frankly.


One month to go (or so)

So, time to fire up the old Weather Speculation machine!

Long story short: I think we’re in decent shape.

The next two weeks are warm. On the long-range maps, they show up as anomalously warm by 2 or more standard deviations. But anomalous warmth can be either good warmth (not too cold with some frozen precip to build the base) or bad warm (high temperatures or rain which eats the snow). And the next couple of weeks look like good warm.

For instance, the normal high in Hayward today is 22, with the normal low of -1. The next couple of days will sit right around 32 with some light snow or wintry mix. Not enough to add to the base, but nothing that will remove it either, and with last week’s storm, the base is in pretty good shape. For the rest of the week, the temperature will remain between 20 and 35, but it will stay dry. So is this quite warm? Sure, but it won’t do anything to the base. I’d much rather have this type of weather than temperatures of -10 followed by a rain storm.

This pattern may continue clear into early February, before it finally cools down. Not much new snow, but nothing that appears to be a major meltdown. I’d actually rather see this followed by a cool down closer to the Birkie than the other way around. Weather is cyclical, and a few warmer weeks are often followed by a few colder weeks. If we can survive the warm and get into a colder cycle come Birkie, as the models suggest, we’re in good shape.

Obviously, a ton can change between now and race day (and a lot will). And one of the best things on our side this year is a reasonably early race: February 22 rather than the 27th or 28th. If we assume that in any given year, the chance of the Birkie happening is 90% (since it’s been canceled about once a decade in its history) I would put the chances of the race happening, given current conditions, higher than that, in the neighborhood of 95%.

Ski on!


I’m running the New York City marathon this weekend.

So are:

Kikkan Randall, Brian Gregg, Ida Sargent, Liz Stephen.

Combined, we have 11 Olympic appearances. I’ll let you guess who has zero.

But Kikkan and Brian were kind enough to come on the podcast and talk about their race preparation, and how it is to go from skiing towards running (and probably back to skiing soon).

(Oh, yes, Kikkan Randall on the BirkieGuide Podcast, pretty exciting.)

Find the podcast here, or download the .mp3 directly here if you want.

More results aggregation

Another entry to the burgeoning field of aggregating race results, this with data back 20 years! Birkielo (an elo rating system for ski races) gives you a score based on where you placed in races (taking in to account the strength of the field, using math!). Also, if you’ve skied a lot of races it doesn’t show all the results. Still a very cool tool, and probably has results going back as far as I’ve seen!