MastersRacingBirkie Review: Race Goes Oppet Spar!

FasterSkier FasterSkierMarch 5, 2007

With each and every new update from the Birkie Board, the participants in the 2007 American Birkebeiner either breathed a sigh of relief or cursed the snow gods once again. A week which kept skiers on an emotional roller coaster rose to a Birkie fever pitch on Friday morning when it was announced that the Birkie would be held but that it would be Oppet Spar or an “open track event”. That was quite a change from the announcement of Thursday afternoon that said, “We need 3” of new snow to have a safe course and race.” The weather forecast was not as optimistic as every new report pushed the arrival of any significant snow well into Saturday afternoon and night. What changed from Thursday afternoon to Friday morning that prompted the Birkie to be “game on”? It certainly wasn’t the weather because the 3 inches that everyone was hoping for did not happen. It was not the course being in better shape because as of Friday morning, shortly before the decision was made, I viewed a few portions of the course and they did not at that time appear to be “race ready”. What really happened in those stress packed hours between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning is that the American Birkebeiner Board of Directors decided that weather aside; they were going to make this race happen. It is that type of attitude that makes the Birkie the greatest show on snow.

Sure, the course would accommodate the 200 elite skiers plus a few extras that were successful in petitioning themselves into the only timed race but what about the 6500 other skiers. Without significant snow how would the hard pack stand up to the masses that would be snow plowing every downhill? How would the sun facing uphills withstand the wear and tear of all that herringboning? The short answer to both those questions; just fine.

Many a skier went to bed on Friday night with a whole new type of apprehension not typical of a pre-Birkie rest. Would they be risking injury by going to the start line? Bill Kopanda, a First Wave skier from Illinois announced that he was going to be skiing in his old hockey goalie gear.

Those of us who went to bed Friday night when the snow started to fly had a sense of optimism that it would be a “safe” track. Unfortunately that same snow stopped shortly after it started and we awoke to a dusting at best. What happened while us skiers were tossing and turning and dreaming of broken bones was the Birkie Foundation groomers were out on the course making a miracle happen. Those Piston Bulleys ran through the night and I have no idea what they were scraping up and tilling but come Saturday morning it looked like snow. They transformed all the dirt and debris into a very skiable Birkie trail. We should all tip our Stormy Kromers to the Birkie crew.

The Birkebeiner is reporting that 6708 skiers participated in races that day and it was my experience that every one of them finished with a smile on their faces and with the thought that the course was significantly better than they had anticipated. The “ski festival” rather than a race created an atmosphere I have never seen at an event of this magnitude. There was a fellow from Romania who was going to do the course with ice skates on and a woman was spotted running the course with snow shoes. I saw a tiger costume and a few flasks of something that did not smell like XL-1 or Clif Shot.

Birkie 2007 will long be remembered as the “Bizarro Birkie” as Greg Stadler from Milwaukee referred to it. In many ways it was bizarre; how do the North Woods of Wisconsin get to the end of February and not have enough snow to put on a race? How does the temperature rise to 53 degrees on the Wednesday before the race? I talked to a course Chief out at OO on Thursday morning and he remarked that if the temperature had stopped at the predicted high of 37 degrees, “we’d be racing Saturday”. We will never get answers to those crazy questions but we now know, the Birkie is a stronger force than the evil weather makers. The strength and camaraderie of the Nordic skiing community in the Midwest rose to the occasion and made Birkie 2007 one of the most memorable in years.

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