Weather Speculation: On the edge

No, the Birkie is not on the edge. It’s more that Birkieland is on the boundary between warmer-than-normal and colder-than-normal for the next couple of weeks (as discussed with Chief Meteorologist on our latest podcast). What does this mean for the Birkie itself? Well, not too much. No big warning signs, although a couple of model runs have trended a storm next week closer into Birkieland in the midweek time frame, which could interrupt some travel plans. The GFS has gone a bit too far west/north for my liking on a couple of runs, but has also trended towards the “midweek snowstorm” idea which is not necessarily bad. Hopefully it’s not a 2014 storm which puts down a ton of snow the day before, messes up driving, and makes for a slow, soft course, but some new snow would definitely help the course get further into tip-top shape.

In any case, other than that, not much new to report. We’ll have a podcast out later this week looking at the weather and race details, and then another pre-race weather podcast next week, so stay tuned for that!

Weather Speculation: Two weeks

Two weeks out from the Birkie means that we now have eight GFS model runs which have gotten to Birkie morning (the other major models only go out 10 days, the GFS 16). 16 days out models tell us very little. They’re not going to tell us an exact temperature, but if, for instance, several model runs were showing a big warm-up or a monster snow storm, it would be more likely that we would expect that. So we’re really just looking at trends at this point, and continuity between model runs.

First, let’s look at the NCEP’s 6 to 10 and 8 to 14 day outlook (as of this writing Saturday morning). The 6 to 10 calls for near normal temperatures. The 8 to 14 forecast suggests above normal temperatures for the week leading up to Birkie, and above normal precipitation. That said, Northern Wisconsin is on the edge of both categories: there’s a 40 to 50% chance of above normal temperatures (and therefore, a 50 to 60% chance of near or below normal) and a 33 to 40% chance of above normal precipitation. A bit above normal is fine. What we wouldn’t want to see would be a 2017-style huge red blob centered over Northern Wisconsin: two weeks out from that race, the models suggested 80% and 70% chances of above normal temperatures, and that’s what we got.

So if we let the butterfly flap its wings eight times, how does it play out on the GFS? Mostly fine. Birkie morning temperatures range from -2 to 23 degrees. Birkie afternoon from 14 to 21. The trail received several inches of snow this week, which is excellent news, and the general consensus is a couple of chances for more snow in the next couple of weeks. The models suggest an active storm track south of Birkieland, with heavy snow in the Madison-Milwaikee-Chicago area some time later this week and then again potentially the middle of next week. A couple of perturbations have lifted the storm track north towards the Birkie, which would be good, but we wouldn’t want to see a model trend far north, which could bring rain and warmer weather. This has only shown up once in the past week, so seems unlikely at this time.

Yet even that model run doesn’t push temperatures past 40˚, so it might just make for a transformed base. The models keep Hayward on a rollercoaster between -20 and +30, but don’t have a setup suggesting a big push of warm air. So, with a deeper snow base and reasonably good forecasts for the next week and trends for the week beyond, we seem to be in a good place two weeks out from the race.

Weather Speculation: Where we stand now

With less than three weeks until race day, let the BirkieGuide Unofficial Official Weather Speculation commence. Also stay tuned to the podcast for weekly checkins with BirkieGuide Chief Meteorologist Ketzel Levens.

So, where are we now? Birkieland this year has been cold and dry. There was early snow, an unprecedented severe weather and warmup in mid-December, and then a cold, dry pattern since. Snow has been higher to the north of the Birkie Trail, but Hayward has seen only 7.1 inches of snow this year. The only saving grace is that with temperatures averaging almost 10 degrees below normal, it hasn’t melted. So ice on Lake Hayward should at least be solid (there won’t be any big melting flows to disrupt it, and it’s already Pisten Bully-thick).

The main concern right now is that with relatively low snowpack, a major warmup would spell disaster for the Birkie Trail. So, what does the next two weeks have in store? According to the major models, not much. There may be a few days in the 30s, but the cold snowpack should be able to handle that and transforming a bit of the top might improve conditions. And most of the models show a bit of snow—some of which is falling today—in the next 10 days. The Canadian is most bullish on snow, but also has the highest max temp. So it’s a tradeoff.

240 hour outlook:

  • ECMWF: Max temp 34˚, 4″ snow
  • GFS: Max temp 32˚, 6″ snow (384 hours: 8″), previous run 36˚/7″
  • CMC: Max temp 41˚, 11″ snow


Pivotal Weather / Tropical Tidbits

For race day? Out this far it’s anyone’s guess. So it could be 30 below or 30 above, sunny or snowing. But most likely, we’ll be lining up on the start line.

2022 Birkie … early weather speculation

It’s less than four weeks to Birkie (are you excited?) and so far, all systems are go. While we won’t speculate on the status of omicron (hopefully down) we will look at the long term weather prognostications. So far it’s been a cold January in Birkieland, but relatively dry. There have been eight days in January at -20 or below, so the lake is properly frozen. Snowcover is ample but not deep, so the big issue would be a large-scale warmup later in February.

Right now, this looks unlikely. There appears to be another cold wave coming down the central part of the country, and although it won’t be as severe as last year (at least not in Texas) it will bring some more -20s to the Northwoods. (Sidebar: here’s a potential explanation for these later-season cold snaps.) The NCEP weekly forecasts suggest colder than normal temperatures in the greater Birkieland area throughout the month. All of this can change, of course, but in The Year Which Shall Not Be Mentioned (2017) this was right around the time we started to see very warm temperatures appear on the long range forecasts.

The main worry would be that after a prolonged cold snap warm weather might replace it. While there is no model support suggesting that (yet) often these cold snaps are followed by warm periods (like last year late February into March, which was particularly warm). It will be something to keep an eye on as we get closer in.

Watch this space for annual updates and of course the podcast!

No unofficial guide this year—see the Birkie Page (and send us your voice!)

As the Birkie-covid situation changes by the minute, we suggest you follow the official Birkie website for all your Birkie race needs: in person, virtual and other FAQs.

Stay tuned to the Cowbell Fever podcast, and participate! As you ski your Birkie this year, whether in person or virtually, record yourself. Make a short audio recording (instructions below) with your name, where you’re from, where you’re skiing your Birkie, and how it went. Record for a few seconds or a few minutes, and send it to and we’ll compile it into a podcast. It will be like the annual Main Street podcast, except without Main Street involved.

How do you do this? If you have an iPhone (or iPad), the best bet is to use the Voice Memo app which is installed on your phone. Hold the device (without headphones is best, using the built-in microphone) about a foot from your mouth, and hit record. There’s no native app for Google devices, but this app seems to work well when we record podcasts.

Questions? Reach out. The more content, the more I get to stitch it together into podcast. And if I get enough, I might even sneak in a lost file of me, perhaps after a couple of Leinies and a shot of Aquavit, from last year.

Also, remember, BirkieGuide can be fed beer money here.

See you in 2022!

Birkie Update clif notes

We watched the Birkie update, and took some notes, to give you a very abbreviated version of the presentation.There are a lot of visitors coming, but not a lot of medical capacity. Follow all safety protocols: ski on the right day, get a negative test, stay in your bubble, self-sufficiency, and avoid indoor spaces (get takeout!). The Unofficial Guide:

  • Birkie continues to encourage virtual option for everyone. (Your trusted blogger/podcaster had an Elite Saturday start and was excited to “race” but decided it’s definitely not worth the risk.)
  • Virtual race updates:
    • One third of skiers are skiing the race virtually (this is up from 20% at the last meeting).
    • Now Feb 20 to Feb 28. You can switch by the 27th.
    • Now offering a bunch of different sport options, not just skiing! You can bike, run row, ski-erg or swim it.
    • There are 32 venue partners across the country, but you can ski (or not ski) it anywhere.
    • You can ski whatever technique you want (skate, classic, run, swim), but ski it in one continuous race period.
  • Birkie Trail updates:
    • Open until Feb 21, so you can ski your virtual race on the trail through Saturday, Feb 21.
    • Closed thereafter north of OO, but open and groomed south of OO. Park at Mosquito Brook or Fish Hatchery. If you ski from Fish Hatchery to OO and back, that’s >43km, so it’s a Virtual Birkie.
    • Race course:
      • Out on skate, back on classic.
      • KM markers will count down from 44.
      • Skate days; no classic tracks. Classic days: no skating, number of tracks will depend on conditions.
  • Health updates for in-person participants to avoid spread in the Cable-Hayward area:
    • Get a covid test within 5 days of your race day
    • Don’t come if you have a positive test or show any symptoms
    • Don’t come if you’ve had covid within the last 90 days (the virtual race is fine)
    • Only ski on the day you are registered to ski
    • The goal is to limit skier-medical interaction
      • Plan to finish your race. If you think you might drop out, don’t ski.
      • As such, adverse weather may cause cancellations on a day-by-day basis.
      • If your day is canceled, you’ll have extra time to complete it virtually.
  • In-person race information:
    • Pre-race:
      • The radio will be broadcasting on 87.9. Do not rely on your cell phone as coverage may be limited.
      • Enter parking from Telemark Road. Allow an hour before your race to get to the start. There won’t be much more to do than sit in your car once you’re there. You can start after your assigned time.
      • No warm areas, or warm-up ski areas, available; you may run in the parking lot, or warm up on the trail. No wax testing at the start.
      • Port-o-johns in parking lot
      • Do not drop any clothes at the start, they will not be returned. No gear bags, no lost-and-found. There will be “ski tie donation boxes” at the start.
    • During the race:
      • Wear a mask before and after the race, as well as at the start, finish and aid stations
      • Aid stations: free-flowing liquid, no food, no cups. Bring your own water bottle. Maybe best, carry all your own water. Assume the water will be warm enough not to freeze at the aid stations, but expect to have to stop to get any aid.
      • No spectators, but there will be live tracking on the Birkie website and in the Birkie app.
      • The events will be timed, but the time will not count for anything.
      • If you think you might not make the cutoff times, remember that the virtual option has longer cutoff times. You can turn back earlier but won’t receive credit for your race.
    • Post-race:
      • Get in your car and drive home.
      • If you’re hungry, get takeout.
      • Buy some brats and Leinies and New Glarus and throw the beer in the fridge while you cook the brats up at home.
      • Record (on your phone, using the Voice Memo app on your iphone or a voice recording app on another device) your virtual experience and send it to me (, so I cam put it in the virtual Main Street podcast! Or for the full experience, set up a zoom with me and we’ll record it in person.

See you, hopefully, on Main Street in 2022.

Mini Weather Speculation

Most years at this time I am thick in the middle of weather speculating. Looking at long-range forecasts. Prognosticating. Making things up.

This year? There’s a five day window for the Birkie. Lots of us (me included) are skiing virtually. And the weather looks good: a cold, hard base and no big warmups in sight.

One interesting note is the bend-but-don’t-break characteristics of the past two Januarys. The last two Januarys have seen temperatures 7 and 8 degrees above normal in Duluth (which has a longer record than Hayward, but is similar) but rather than some cold days which melt a lot of snow and then some cold snaps, the weather was mostly just pleasant.

This isn’t exactly normal. The Northwoods are home to large temperature swings, yet in Hayward the temperature during the first half of the month 2 to 36. No deep freeze, but minimal melting. It got colder later in the month (one night dropped to -16) but no day failed to hit 10 all month, while no day rose above 36. You can’t melt much snow at 36 in January.

This is similar to last January. The temperature never passed 34 in January of 2020, but it did go above freezing several days. In fact, high temperatures the past two years have only been 4 or 5 degrees above normal, with lows 10 degrees higher. In fact, since 1998, there have only been 10 Januarys without a day above 40; the past two years both qualify despite being well above average.

February, of course, is off to a different start, and not in a bad, 1998-style way (with all but one day above freezing that month in Hayward, and somehow the Birkie still sort of ran). The temperature hasn’t been above 0 since the 5th, and it looks like a solid two weeks below 10, with several days staying below zero. Good to get that out of the system now, especially with the mostly self-supported race. The latter two weeks look milder, but I don’t see anything on the horizon to melt or wash away the snow.

But, stay tuned for occasional updates.

New Podcast: Trail Running Skiers

New Cowbell Fever podcast posted, with some of the fastest skiers running in the White Mountains in New Hampshire, Jess Marion and Jordan Field, and Anne Hart, a former Birkie Ambassador (and, oh, yeah, Olympian) who joins to talk more about running and the Birkie. Find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, or find an .mp3 here.

Support the podcast on Patreon! And check out the SkiWise App!

If you’re interested, here is some information about the trails we’re talking about:

Fastest Known Times (links there to Jess and Jordan’s Strava tracks):

Presi Traverse (18 miles, 8500 feet of climb)

Pemi Loop (29 miles, 9100 feet of climb)

Hut Traverse (45 miles, 16,000 feet of climb)

Jessie’s (different Jessie, yes, that Jessie) blog post about the Presi Traverse (with Annie) and Pemi Loop this past summer.

Virtual Deadline

Today’s Birkie deadline is that it is the last day to switch to Virtual and be assured that you will receive your bib on time. For people worried about travel, exposure, or public health, it certainly makes to try the virtual option this year. I gave up a slot in the Saturday Elite Wave, where I would almost feel like racing. Yes, I will miss the event immensely, but prioritizing my health and the health of the community is probably more important.

But that leaves the virtual option, which can be done anywhere! The Birkie is partnering with some ski areas to come up with appropriately-lengthed routes, but there’s always SkiWise to find trails near you.

If you switch by today, you are guaranteed to get your race packet delivered before “race day” so you can wear your bib proudly as you ski around your home trails and get ready for 2022.