Back in the first decade of the century, I was the ski coach for the Macalester College nordic ski team. The team has a tortured history (let’s just say they cut the varsity program while I was on the team and I’m still bitter a decade and a half later) and while I was there it functioned as a club team. Meaning: people skied when they wanted to, I herded cats (definitely easier than high schoolers, though) and they paid me a hefty, three-digit salary and free race entries. Since I was skiing anyway, putting in ten or twelve hour days (real work, then ski team) all winter wasn’t all that bad.
Also back then, registering for the Birkie was something you could do last-minute. (Heck, back then you could register for the Boston Marathon a few weeks before the race!) But no more! In 2011 year the race filled in December. In 2012, after four years of good snow in the Upper Midwest, November. The 2013 race filled in October (and that was after a horrible snow year), it’s stayed around then since, as the race capacity has increased slightly. And you have to be really damn fast to weasel your way in once the race is filled.
Anyway, I got to know registration systems really well. In a given year, I’d register at least half a dozen people for the William O’Brien race (really bad registration), the City of Lakes Loppet (pretty easy, although being buddy buddy with the organizers I just sent them a spreadsheet they could drop in to a database and wrote a check—and got a discounted fee to boot since they were saving on processing fees, so very easy), Mora (quite easy) and the Birkie. And I love the Birkie. Their registration has improved, and in past years has worked pretty well.
First, the good things. It generally works. The system saves data from year to year, so you don’t have to enter it. (This is very nice.) The system also lets you register multiple people and then check out, which is actually surprisingly useful when you are signing up twelve skiers.
As for the not-so-intuitive stuff. Once in a while, links don’t work. As an isolated incident, this is no big deal. But a couple years ago, the page was crashing when I put in a bad password. It’s not completely isolated. And they now seem to allow you to pick your own password, but back in the day you got a randomly-generated one. And there’s no way to change it. And if you forget your password, you are prompted to create a new account. Some of this may have changed, as the process has been pretty simple the past couple of years. If in doubt, call the Birkie office.
For new accounts (or if you forgot your password; mine is stored in my email now), you are prompted to enter a Birkie ID (remember yours? me neither). If you can’t remember it, you can search for yourself by name and birth date. This is kind of annoying, but if you’ve skied the race since 2000 it makes things easier for you and for the Birkie. If you are a total n00b, you can add a new participant. Once you’ve added yourself as a participant, you can go ahead and register for the race. Yes, it’s a bizarre two-to-three-step process. But if you are signing up multiple people, it does help. (It surely could be simplified and/or streamlined.)
For existing accounts it helps to remember your password. Again, there is no password recovery (this may have changed), you create a new account. If you have an existing account, you are presented with a list of skiers who registered in previous years on that account, and can register them or change their profile (pretty much anything but the name and date of birth, so if you get married, well, call the Birkie office, I assume—but the Birkie is very open to people of all sexual orientations so you can change your gender). Down at the bottom are people who have already registered (even though they appear above and have “register” links next to their names).
Go through the screen and register. It’s not cheap. The base fee is over $100. Why does it cost? Well, first of all, there are a few costs associate with the race. Like dozens of school buses, police patrols, medical staff, volunteer insurance, administrative staff, grooming, set-up and tear-down, fuel, web design and hosting, printing, food and others. Most point-to-point races cost in this ballpark. But here’s the thing: the Birkie is a nonprofit. No one is getting rich off these race entries. If there’s extra money lying around, it can go in to things like youth programs, elite skier development, trail building and maintenance and grooming and the like. The Birkie grooms and maintains about 100k of trails, and you can ski them for free. So it’s not a bad deal. (Also, big city marathons, which don’t exactly have to build, maintain or groom the roads, are pushing $200 these days. So it’s a bargain!)
Once you register, you’ll get an email confirming your registration. As for your wave: you have to wait. We’ll get to waves later, but waves are very, very, very important to a lot of Birkie skiers. People define themselves by their wave. The first question any Birkie skier will ask another is “what wave?” If you’ve skied the race, you know this. But when you register, you don’t know right away. Your information is sent off to Birkie Central, where the Wave Elves take your registration, donate any twenty dollar bills to the local orphanage (no, you can’t bribe your way in to the first wave, as far as I know) and make their calculations to assign you to the appropriate wave, based on past Birkebeiners or qualifying races.
You then find out in one of two ways. You can go to skier confirmation (it’s under registration at the main Birkie page, which is hard to link to specifically) and put in your information a few days later. Or you can wait for the Birkie postcard to come in the mail. Getting this postcard in the middle of the summer, when it’s 96 degrees with 110% humidity, is like Christmas in July, but better. (My birthday is in July, so it’s a nice birthday present.) My advice: wait for the card. If the wave assignment is obviously wrong, call the Birkie office and complain. They do get things wrong (for instance, they once seeded the previous year’s winner in wave 6).
Also, now that the race is filling up, they are cracking down. On transferred bibs. Or don’t get caught. They probably won’t catch you. But do you really want your good name (read: your wave qualification) riding on some deadbeat friend who is going to get hammered at Metro’s the night before the race? Didn’t think so. Races have really good reasons for not wanting bibs transferred (liability, medical, etc). Don’t do it.
And if you do transfer a bib surreptitiously, don’t win. Because then they probably will catch on.