The Race: Getting to the Start

Please note that for the 2017 and subsequent years of the race, much of this has changed! Many race veterans would do well to read the race guide and this page. You can find the full race guide online here, you’ll probably get a paper copy, too. We’ve distilled some of the changes here.

If you’ve never skied a big, point-to-point ski race before, the parking situation will be a bit different than what you’ve experienced. You don’t park at the start: you take a bus. You don’t drive straight in to the parking lot: you sit in traffic. It’s a big race, and there are a lot of people trying to go to the same place at the same time on roads not built for it. I should stress: you do not park at Telemark (unless you pay the Birkie all the money, they will let you know about this by email and it goes to a good cause!). The lot there can nowhere near accommodate every ski racer, volunteer, official and all the buses going in and out as well. We have information on parking below; the Birkie will have information too.

Birkie Parking. You have two options for parking if you aren’t staying at a hotel with busing or at Telemark itself, which are pretty much the same; it depends on which direction you come from (no left turns). Also note that the race start times for the Birkie have been moved back half an hour.

Note that Donnellan Field in Hayward is not an option this year for Birkie Skiers. With the Kortelopet moving to Friday, there is not as much need for parking, and all vehicles can be be accommodated further north. In the past this lot has closed at 6:30 and was very convenient if you’re coming from the south and are in an early wave, especially since you don’t have to then take a bus in the afternoon. However, this year there will be no buses and it is open for spectator parking only

  1. Birkie Ridge in Cable. This is a new lot on the right side of Highway 63 for traffic from the south. Since it’s a right turn off of 63, there shouldn’t be much traffic turning in to it, but it may back up somewhat on to Highway 63 at peak times. Plan on at least 45 minutes from parking to the start.
  2. Como Field in Cable. This is for traffic from the north. By splitting south and north traffic in to two lots, both with right turns, it reduces the chance of 2014-style gridlock. It should be a bit calmer than the other lot, but still busy. Traffic worked well last year with cars going in to Como from two directions, this should work as well or better. Still, plan on at least 45 minutes from parking to the start.

Several notes: the lots are plowed fields. They’re generally well-plowed and flat. So you don’t need a 4×4 or anything. Traffic is slow at times, but it in 2014 it ground to a halt. Blame a foot and a half of snow, snowbanks in the parking areas, and a parking plan that sorely needed to be updated and now has. The only place where traffic really gets bad is getting in to the Como lot, although the Birkie could alleviate the back-ups on Highway 63 by routing southbound traffic around the lot and not requiring everyone to make a left turn to get to parking (this worked well in 2015). Southbound traffic would be routed around on Short Road. Creating (plowing) a second entrance to the Como Lot for traffic from the north would eliminate another constriction and allow vehicles to more easily flow in to the lot.

N.B.: This is not the current layout, but a proposal to make the current traffic situation less onerous. This was suggested by this blog in 2013 and used in 2015. In 2016, two lots—one on each side of the road—will be used. Also in 2016, I wrote about how I helped out with this in my personal statement and got in to MIT’s transportation planning program. Coincidence?

Note that there is no parking at Telemark Road and County Road M for traffic from the east again this year (especially since the buses will no longer serve this road and the start will no longer be accessible across the end of the airfield). You will be directed to the lot at Como via Cable and take a bus to the start. There is also drop-off on the east side of Highway 63 in Cable just south of town.

While your trip may be faster than the times noted here, this really should be the absolute minimum you allow. Note that in case of any inclement weather it is good to allow extra time.

• Kortie Parking All Kortelopet parking will all be at the Birkie Ridge parking lot north of Seeley. This should work smoothly with the later start, but since it’s the first year, and since there will be a lot of traffic in and out of this single lot, it is probably a good idea to leave a lot of time (at least an hour, maybe more) before your start time in case things don’t work as well as planned, since this has never been used before.

• Busing. On the last Saturday in February, the Birkie operates the second or third largest bus system in the state of Wisconsin (behind Milwaukee and maybe Madison). It’s efficient and they have a lot of experience doing it. Normally, you can drive from Hayward to Telemark in under half an hour. On Birkie morning, leave an hour and a half, minimum. If you park at Como or Birkie Ridge, remember: everything looks long, but everything moves. Buses comes in threes. The traffic in to the lot creeps along, but it creeps. Get your spot, get your skis and get on a bus. Unless you have an elite wave bib, people won’t let you cut in line. If you do, well, people might let you cut in line. The best advice is to plan ahead and leave extra time.

There are two big changes this year which should make busing for the Birkie a bit easier. First, there will only be 7000 skiers going in to Telemark, not 10,000, since the Korteloppet is on Friday. (We’ll have details of that separately below.) Second, the race course will no longer cross McNaught Road, so the buses will not have to come in and out of Telemark on Telemark Road. This is actually a pretty big deal, because it means that buses will be able to unload people on the right side of the road right next to the start area. This should help quite a bit. (2018 update: this works pretty well.)

Anyway all of this this means you don’t have to leave three hours to get from Como to the start. Unless you want to see people rushing around way before the start, there’s no need to be on a bus at 6:30 if you are in wave 5. Calm down: it’s cold at the start and warm in your bed. Getting on the first bus bus is not a cure for the fever.

Oh, and don’t try to bend the rules. There are times when you can bend the rules (example: you’re a top-level skier from another region who has never skied the Birkie and would like to be in wave 1 rather than wave 4, in this case you can ask/plead your case), but this is not one of them. Unless you have a pass, you will not get in to Telemark. You won’t be talking to a friendly Birkie volunteer; unless the local police are volunteering (they’re not). Go to Como with everyone else. It would be nice if they gave car-pooling elite wavers a pass to park at Telemark, but they don’t. It would be nice if they chartered planes to fly elite wavers in to Telemark, but they don’t. Park in designated parking. Take the bus with everyone else. Or pay the Birkie a lot of money (donate!) and get a start pass, or charter a plane to fly to 3CU

• Before the start. Without the lodge, Telemark is no longer an option for getting warm or hanging around before the start. So the start is somewhat chaotic—and if you’re in a later wave you might want to plan to arrive a little later. There new start area has a building and will likely have a big tent, too. Still, you don’t want to do anything extra at Telemark. There are lines for things like bathrooms, of which there are generally enough. (Gentlemen often relieve themselves on the far side of the start area, or down the trail somewhere.) Still, if you can relieve yourself at home/cabin/motel/middle school/discretely in the woods/not so discretely in a snowbank next to the start area, do so.

• Warming up. With the new start, the Korteloppet Trail and several other Telemark trails are groomed to warm up, easily accessed from the start area. Follow signs. There are lots of fun trails to ski on, but remember you’re skiing 50k to Hayward, so don’t go and ski too much. It’s less spacious than the airfield runway, so expect it to be crowded unless you take a longer ski away from the start. If you want to run, McNaught Road will no longer be closed and have heavy traffic, with buses continuing through Telemark. It may be best to run up along the Condo Roads if anywhere. If you do run, bring your poles if you do to get your arms moving; I’ve made this mistake. If you ski out the trail before the start, make sure you don’t go near any timing equipment. Whether this is discouraged or disallowed will probably be a pretty ad-hoc decision, so don’t push any boundaries. (The trail will be easier to close than in the past since it’s not, you know, an airport runway.)

• Drop your bag. The first rule of your drop bag, and this goes for any point-to-point race of any sort is that you do not want to put your stuff loosely in the bag they give you. If you haven’t purchased a Birkie backpack, the plastic bag they give you should contain a zipped duffel bag or, preferably, a backpack. It is much, much easier to wander around Hayward with a backpack full of wet ski clothes than a plastic bag with handles full of wet ski clothes, and the Birkie now sells backpacks, which got great reviews in 2018 (I bought one for 2019). Fun fact: I ran my first Boston Marathon in 2015. It was 50˚ and raining with a headwind. I wore my Birkie gloves from a couple years back and at the end of the race my hands still barely worked. They marched us half a mile to the bag retrieval and, after a long wait (they could learn a thing or two from the Birkie here) handed me my bag. I asked the volunteer to rip it open, please. After saying yes to her “are you sure?” I was able to sling my backpack over my shoulder and stumble off to the subway to change in to warm, dry clothes. (*) Runners, apparently haven’t figured this out. Skiers have. (Or anyway, you have, since you’ve read this far.)

Anyway, after you pack your bag appropriately, make sure it’s in the right truck. The Birkie is proud of never having lost a bag (they’re much better than the airlines), but there are thousands, so make it easier on them. Leave a bit of time. And don’t worry about a few minutes in the cold without a jacket—a thousand other people will help to break the wind. In the past you’ve been allowed to bring your own bag, but the Birkie plastic bags are big, sturdy (I’ve seen them used months after the race) and have your number in big letters on the outside. They’ll fit (almost) anything. I put a full-size hiking pack in mine, no trouble. But not skis. You can’t ship skis from Telemark to the finish. (You also wouldn’t want to; they’d likely get broken. I have shipped skis at the City of Lakes Loppet so I could ski a classic marathon and then a ski orienteering race—I’m an idiot, especially since I skated a marathon the next day—but you don’t need different skis in Hayward. You need beer.) You don’t have to drop your bag, necessarily, before you hit the pens. But it might be a good idea.

What to pack? This is important! At a minimum: a change of clothes, dry socks, for god’s sake dry gloves and a hat and a warm jacket. Maybe two or three warm jackets, depending on the weather. It’s cold at the finish if you’re just standing around, even if it’s 30 and sunny (but especially if it’s 5 and snowing, like in 2011), and especially if you are wearing your sweaty spandex. You will be sweaty. Sure, you won’t look foolish wearing spandex for once because everyone else it. But it’s much nice to wear dry clothes. (It’s really hard to have too much clothing, especially if it’s a cold day. Your body temperature will be cooling down after the race and trying to warm up your extremities. You only want to spend so much time in the changing building. Dress like you’re going to be standing around: layers are good, and a nice thick parka is never a bad idea.

Oh, and put your shoes in your bag (maybe bring a separate plastic bag, or tied to the outside of your backpack so they don’t get your dry clothes wet if they’re snowy). The last thing you want to do is walk around Hayward for hours drink beer and eating brats in your wet, sweaty ski boots.

( * By the way, if anyone is running Boston, let me know and we can grab a beer after the race. And if you need a place to stay, I have couches and friends with couches, and am a 10 minute subway ride from the buses to the start. I’m dead serious about this. Last year I was dead serious about the race, almost literally.)

• Cell phones. Bring em’. Put them in your bag. It makes finding people at the finish a lot easier, especially if some of the people you are going to try to find are skiing the race in more than 3:00. I think there’s reception at Telemark, but if you battery is low, it might be a good idea to shut it off, especially if you plan to take a while to ski the race. (iPhone users tracking with GPS take note: if you turn off cellular data, you’ll keep your battery intact while still getting GPS, you just won’t be able to surf the web, which you shouldn’t be doing during the race anyway.) Keep your phone in the center of your bag so it stays warm-ish and the battery doesn’t deplete. Or just turn it off.

Once in Hayward, there’s usually decent reception until the second and third waves start rolling in, at which point it can overwhelm the network (in 2019, Verizon is bringing a portable tower in, so this may alleviate these issues). The Birkie will have wifi in their celebration area, which may or may not also get overwhelmed. A protip learned from the anti-Trump marches (btw, if any readers of this blog are Trump supporters, go die in a hole) is that while text and data channels may get overwhelmed, you can often place a phone call without any issue. So use your phone—wait for it—as a phone!

• Delays. Sometimes, the start is delayed, although this is less likely with the later start time in 2017. This happens, generally, if there is a problem with busing or weather makes driving difficult. It’s usually 10 or maybe 20 minutes, if it happens. They’ll announce it at the start and probably on WOJB. Yup, more time to stand in the cold. This is pretty rare, though.