HAYWARD, Wis. — Ever wonder how they get all that snow, about half a kilometer’s worth and 6 inches to a foot deep, all across Main Street and out toward Hayward Lake for the finish of the American Birkebeiner?
FasterSkier’s Alex Matthews tagged along for a four-hour grooming session in downtown Hayward with two of the Birkie’s main men, Chief of Course Bill Pierce and PistenBully sales rep Greg Toomire.
With more than 40 years of combined experience, Pierce and Toomire worked together to spread about 120 truck loads of natural snow. About seven town and state highway trucks carried the piles down from a soccer field two or three miles away. An industrial snowblower churned up the white stuff, and a skiff prevented grass and dirt from mixing into the pristine white snow.
According to Pierce, the head coach of Hayward’s F.A.S.T. high-performance ski club, this winter was drier and warmer than usual, but there was plenty of snow in the area to lay down on Main Street for the Birkebeiner and preceding elite sprints. Three inches of fresh snow Tuesday night and a couple on Monday evening helped.
“There’s snow out there, it’s just having the power to make it happen,” Pierce said. “That’s the thing the Birkie has, resources to make it happen.”
This year’s 39th American Birkebeiner, which includes 50 k skate, 54 k classic and 23 k Korteloppet races, attracted a record number of participants at just over 9,000.
Pierce said he and his crew had been working for the last three weeks since Feb. 1 to make sure the event goes off without a hitch on Saturday, Feb. 25. They patched the trails with snow from the woods when needed, unloading 500 totes of snow — each weighing 300 pounds — on the course. He said they shoveled 75 totes by hand.
A Birkie staple for about 32 years, Toomire typically brings one PistenBully to events for demo purposes, but goes the extra mile at the Birkie, grooming Wednesday through Saturday. At 65, he’s considering retiring.
“They don’t even tell me what to do anymore, I know what to do,” Toomire said. “I used to know all the mail boxes in town; I used to hit them all.”