Race Replay

This year, the entire race was streamed live and is up on the Internet.

My favorite point is at 1:51 in to the video, when the men’s Elite field’s leaders pass a female skier wearing a colorful race suit and bib 501. None other than Kikkan Randall. She pulls off and double poles and the racers glide right by. The best part? The announcer doesn’t even notice!

Around 2:17, the men pass the women, just before Bitch Hill. I’m sure they’re working hard, but they look better on Bitch Hill than I did! Both races formed in to small packs around Highway OO, with four women and three men skiing the second half of the race together. At 2:38, Alayna Sonnesyn breaks the women’s pack on the Highway 77 climb, and the men stay together to the finish. The men hit Main Street at 2:49 for the sprint, and the women a minute or two later.

Congrats to the winners … and to everyone else who didn’t make the video.

Quick Birkie recap

Not a bad Birkie. A little snow, a little soft, a lot of skiing. And, no, the drizzle and rain that some predicted didn’t exactly materialize. The course skied cold and soft. This is quite often the case.

Way before I had the chance (or time, or energy, or skills) someone’s gone ahead and posted a bunch of data visualization. Check it out! And stay tuned for podcasting in the next few days. We have a bit of editing to do, but it should be a good podcast this year.

I may even post a personal race story for the first time in … a long time.

Final(ish) call

Hope you’re ready (especially if you are skiing the Korteloppet).

The trail looks great. Lots of snow, lots of webcams. And a nice transformation if you had a cached version of a webcam like I did:

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 8.34.49 AM Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 8.34.58 AM

That’s not too bad! The rest of the trail looks great, too. Cloudy, with a little spitting snow. I wound up being on a late flight so I’m inferring form the amount of snow on the ground in Minneapolis that there’s a lot of snow in Birkieland.

As for the weather …

The consensus is that it will be in the 20s to start for the Birkie, rising to around freezing during the race. As for the snow, there’s likely to be something. Probably around an inch, but with a ± of about … an inch. There could be nothing, but I’d expect at least a coating on the trail, and maybe after the groomers can groom it in, i.e. right before the race. So it won’t be hard, by any stretch of the imagination.

However, the snow will slow down travel tomorrow morning, so leave plenty of extra time to get to the start. An additional half hour may not be a bad idea, especially if you’re coming from further away. Warm, falling snow can be come ice, especially on any grades or hills as cars churn it below their wheels. So, take it easy, take it slow, take your time, and get ready to race.

Then, on Saturday evening, a heavier system moves through, with several inches of snow (but a sharp cutoff near the Birkie) and strong winds. If the Birkie was Sunday morning, it would be a mess.

Can we complain? Probably. Should we? Well, no, probably not. There are certainly worse places we could be.

We may produce a podcast from the Expo today to put on the radio when you’re driving to the start tomorrow. If not, find us (me) in Hayward (look for a guy with a media bib and a backpack full of beer) to get on the big podcast!



Two days …

Or one day if you’re skiing the Korteloppet.

Birkieland received several inches of snow on Wednesday and it’s getting groomed up today to set overnight. The Korteloppet should be excellent, with temperatures in the 20s under partly sunny skies. Just a beautiful day.

Then Friday night it clouds up and a warm front pushes in. It won’t get particularly warm overnight, but this will keep temperatures from falling back much, only in to the low to mid 20s. The course regrooming may not set up as much as people would like, and for classic skiers especially, the area which sees 3000 to 4000 skiers on Friday may have significantly warmer/different snow than the area to the north which is still on the fresh powder, as the pressure from skis may introduce some melting and moisture in to the snow. Of course, it looks like some light snow will fall overnight on Friday night in to Saturday morning, maybe mixed with a bit of freezing drizzle depending on how little saturation is present aloft to create snowflakes. (Let’s not get in to how this works right now.) Whatever comes down should be light, but enough to coat the trail, and it may fall through the start, so I wouldn’t expect rock-solid conditions. As seems to be usual, grab a softer pair of skis (except maybe if you’re in the Elite Women’s field?).

Race temperatures should be in the mid to upper 20s, rising to or just above freezing during the race. No need for lobster gloves this year! It will be cloudy all day, though, so no Lake Hayward sunburn, and yet more snow moves in later on Saturday night. All things considered, we’re dodging a blizzard bullet, given how much snow has fallen. Should be a great day for a race!

Birkie Trail is closed …

… until race day, of course.

Well, technically, it doesn’t close until midnight. So you have two hours to ski it before it turns in to a pumpkin.

Why is it closed? As we discussed in a recent podcast (listen to the podcast!), the Birkie needs to pack and plow the heck out of the trail when there’s this much snow, and having people on the trail slows down that process. (Yes, they’ll plow the 6″—we’re up to 6″ now—will be pushed off with whatever is left incorporated in to the cold base.) And once it’s been packed, if people ski it before it sets up, it could leave ruts which would have to be resmoothed out before the race. It’s not as big a deal as, say, a 40˚ day followed by a deep freeze where the ruts could freeze solid, but it’s still nice to let the groomers do their work.

Plus, do you want to be headed down a hill in to a corner only to see a PB400 staring you in the face? Probably not.

Here’s a made-up question and answer about the trail closure:

Q: If it’s going to snow 6″ on Wednesday anyway, why can’t I sneak a ski in before they groom that?

A: You probably could and would probably get away with it. But the Birkie crew will probably be out during the storm packing, especially on the Korteloppet course south of OO. There aer plenty of other trails to choose from, so maybe stick to those?

Q: The Birkie used to allow skiing on Thursday or even Friday, why does the trail close on Tuesday now?

A: Well, it closes on Wednesday for all intents and purposes. And there are races on Friday, so Wednesday is the new Thursday.

Q: Why can’t I ski on the north end of the trail during the Korteloppet? Surely they’ll give it another pass.

A: Surely they will. But they might be grooming the north end during the Korteloppet. Get the Korte in shape and then move north for some final prep. Depends on a lot of things. Also, with the Telemark trails and the North End trails and any trails that aren’t race trails, you can ski the north end, so maybe just do that instead? Or maybe, I don’t know, taper?

Q: Mukwanago is so far away!

A: Mukwanago is not far away at all! It’s 6 miles from Hayward. And word is they got out and packed it a bunch. And it’s a terrific trail.

Q: Where else can I find places to ski that aren’t the Birkie Trail.

A: Skinnyski.

Q: Are conditions good in other places?

A: Yes.

Q: I’m a #pro and I need to obsessively test wax on Friday for the race, where can I go?

A: Probably the warm-up track near the start would work? Or the west loops at OO, if they’re regroomed? Or go on the trail and be really annoying to other skiers testing wax, that’s a good idea.

Q: Can I ski the Korteloppet course after the Kortie and before they regroom it?

A: Officially: no. Unofficially: probably, but why? Just ski loops at OO or Mosquito Brook or at Fish Hatchery or Birkie Ridge. Again, you don’t want to meet a groomer coming down the trail as you’re going up. They’ll probably be grooming from both directions (I think a machine lives in Hayward during the race—the Birkie posted a photo getting gas at a gas station downtown—and can come up the lake and over the hill, the rest of the machines live at OO) so just let them be, mmkay?

Q: Is the Birkie Trail the shortest way to ride my snowmobile to Metro’s?

A: No. Or maybe, depending on where you are, but stick to the sled trails, please. Unless you’ve been deputized to pull a drag. (Also, apparently Metro’s has been closed for a decade.)

Q: Okay, so, I’m going to ski at North End. Some of the North End trails cross the Birkie Trail or even use it for a few meters to go from one side to the other. Will there be Birkie police out there if I cross the trail or ski down it for 30m to get to the rest of the North End trail? Can I do that? I want to be good but I want to get a ski in!

A: You know what? Use your best judgement. If the groomer went by three minutes before and you’d be putting ruts in the trail going across, maybe wait a few minutes, or ski gently in the tracks and cross double-poling at a right angle, or circle back. If it’s not final-passed or pretty solid, you’re probably in the clear. Just let it be our little secret. Abide by the spirit of the rule.

I think we can do this.

Weather Speculation: Race will be good. Race may be soft.

Headline says it all. The race is going to be great. Not too cold. Lots of snow. Plenty on the trail.

But the trail may be soft. Despite the Birkie’s best efforts to plow snow off the trail (yes, that’s what they’re doing with any snow that falls) they can’t get it all. So even if there’s cold snow underneath to mix with the new snow, it won’t be as solid a skate deck and classic track as what’s there now with a week of cold and no new snow. (Plus, the skate deck will break down faster; probably only the first few dozen skiers will really want their stiffest skis unless there’s a lot of water content in the snow and a refreeze, and that’s not about to happen.)

Now, this is a great problem to have. The headlines in 2017 from five days out mentioned words like “grim” and referenced the song lyrics “livin’ on a prayer.” This year you should only be praying you don’t only have a pair of super-hard track skis.

The details?

Seasonable weather Tuesday. Wednesday brings snow. The models are in pretty close agreement for Wednesday: 3 to 4 inches. Could it be 2 or 6? Sure. I’ll go with 3 to 5 to be safe. That gets plowed off and incorporated, and for the Korteloppet, Friday morning should be cold enough—down below 10—to firm up the trail pretty well.

Then things get interesting. The temperature for Korteloppet Friday (pretty much second biggest ski race in the country, mind you, although the Book Across the Bay may be larger) will be in the low- to mid-20s. Which is perfect for skiing. But after the race, two things happen. 1) it doesn’t get cold overnight. 2) it snows.

With just 1), we’d probably be in pretty good shape. The snow is cold enough down deep that the groomers could go out and pack the trail southern portion of the hard and let it freeze up. But with new snow falling on top, even an inch or two, and it being in the 20s, it might stay relatively soft. Firm and packed, sure, but not rock solid. Which, with thousands of skiers to come, might not be super-hard.

Of course, the first 20+ kilometers will be untouched. So they just need to get plowed off and retilled, and might stay quite firm. Except, of course, for the 1 to 2 inches of snow overnight, and temperatures in the 20s. If I had to venture a guess right now, I’d guess the race will be skied in snow or snow which has tapered to flurries, with clouds and light winds, and with temperatures in the mid- to upper-20s. Which is quite warm for the Birkie!

All this can change. The snow could stay south on Friday night. The main storm on Saturday evening—get ready for a fun post-race drive—could come earlier. The snow could taper to a period of freezing drizzle which could glaze the course right before the race (this actually could happen). The course could be skied with fresh grooming underneath and then a dusting of snow on top of it (the groomers can’t groom right up to the start, so if it’s still snowing, the corduroy gets buried). But right now all signs point to soft and warm. But not too warm. Maybe perfect. See you there!

Holding pattern: Pattern holding (weather speculation)

No major chances on Friday morning. 7 days to the Korteloppet, 8 days to the Birkebeiner. Definitely in range.

Cold for the next few days but not frigid. Lows around 0, highs in the teens. The region saw a bit of snow last night, but not another dump, so the groomers should be able to handle it. The next week looks dry and cool, warming a bit later in the week, but in to the 20s during the days, so no big worries. I want to take a second to talk about how well the four-week outlook worked out: it predicted cold and moist, and we got cold and moist (well, cold and moister). Not that we can ever really trust that.

Anyway, there are some hints of some light snow on Wednesday night, but nothing the groomers can’t handle. Then for the race, there are hints of light snow during the race; the models have trended cooler and drier, so I’d be surprised if we see anything too heavy or too wet. Very likely we’re looking at cool but not cold and soft conditions. Still a week out, but things look good. I’m going to round up to say there’s a 100% chance the race is a go.

Grooming update: Trail closes Tuesday

The Birkie Trail will close on Tuesday to skiing. Exact timing is to be determined, but will likely depend on exactly what the snow and weather looks like at that point.

Once the trail closes, please heed the closing. Depending on conditions, a single skier can ruin the groomers’ work, and potentially create a dangerous situation for skiers on race day. The groomers have to tackle preparing more than 100 km of trail for 9,000 skiers, so they have enough work as it is.

Want to find out more? The podcast sat down with Kurt Proctor, the Birkie’s head groomer, to talk about what goes into that perfect trail on race day. You can find the podcast on iTunes, or download it here.

10 days to go!

240 hours from race day: we’re within range for real Weather Speculation

Once we get to 240 hours from an event (that’s 10 days, guys), weather model resolution improves. The US, European and Canadian models all have 6 hour resolution looking out to that time, which gets us to race morning. With a lot of snow on the ground to groom (we have a podcast upcoming on that, stay tuned!) and a cold forecast, we’re not really worried about whether the race will happen, but more of what the course and weather will look like.

As of right now, here’s what we see:

  • Cool but not cold. A few nights below zero, most days in the 10s or 20s.
  • Dry. Likely little or no snowfall in the next week
  • A hint of a storm on Korteloppet Friday

The last one is interesting. All of the models are hinting at the same thing, but 10 days out, take it with several grains of salt. What it looks like right now would be temperatures peaking on Friday around 35, potentially some snow or even rain, and then a cold front sweeping through on Friday night. But it could be 40 and rainy, 20 and snowing, or 0 and clear. That’s anyone’s guess. We’ll know more in the next few days.