Over 1,600 racers were met with mild temperatures and fast conditions for today’s Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Marathon just outside of Edmonton, Alta.
It was a very flat course that started at the Ukrainian Cultural Village and wound it’s way through Elk Island National Park to the Cooking Lake Blackfoot recreation area. Racers got to take in the northern Alberta prairie scenery, crossing a number of frozen lakes and bogs in near-perfect conditions.
The premier event, the 55km Birkebeiner with 5.5kg pack, was won by Kirk Howell of Calgary in a time of three hours, three minutes and seven seconds. He was tied with Blaine Penny, also of Calgary. Third place went to Mikhail Kudienko with a time of 3:11:04, making it a Calgary sweep.
Wietske Eikelenboom of St. Albert, Alta. was the fastest woman in the 55km with a pack, clocking a time of 3:45:42.
Though some had been worried yesterday about the conditions, 55km Birkie Lite (no pack) winner Andy Pohl said conditions were very fast. Temperatures held steady around –2C, with patchy cloud cover protecting the track from the sun’s glare, which made for an icy and quick first half of the race.
“It was tough when we merged with the 31km course, but up till then it had been super fast,” Pohl said after his race. “It was good, but really tough. My arms are spent from all the double polling, and I could barely stand up at the end.”
The Camrose racer took the win with a time of 2:49:56, three minutes and thirty-five seconds over 2nd place team mate Nils Lokken. Calgary’s Gabe Altebauemer was third.
Andrew Brisbin, also from Camrose, skied away with the win in the 31km Edmonton Journal Tour. Calgary’s Kurtis Wenzel and Lethbridge’s Alex Mahoney finished 2nd and 3rd.
Canmore’s Amanda Ammar was the fastest woman in the 31km event. She said it was a bit of a lonely ski.
“I was battling it out with some junior boys and masters men, but for the most party I was by myself,” Ammar said. Still, the 2006 Olympian said she was happy with her result, especially after working a 50-hour week heading into the Birkie.
“I’m glad I snagged some of the Rocky Mountain Racer guys. I think they’re about 14, so I can’t beat up on them too much, and the older boys got me because of all the double polling, but overall I’m pretty stoked,” Ammar said.
The day wasn’t just about high performance however. Of the 1,600-plus racers, ages ranged from two-years-old up to the legend Frank Haley. At 86, Haley was the oldest racer on course today, and has raced every full 55km Birkebeiner with a pack till this one. He said he’d registered in the 55km again this year, but his family convinced him to play it safe and race the 31km Journal Tour; still nothing for an octogenarian to sneeze at.
Haley too, was please with the course.
“The folks doing the grooming set an excellent course,” said Haley. “It got a little soft and difficult towards the end, but overall it was great.”
Haley said he hopes to race again next year, but has to be realistic about it.
“At my age, I’m not making any commitments,” he said. Skiing has added decades to Haley’s sporting career. The well-known Birkie veteran used to run marathons, but said he finds skiing “much kinder” on the body.
Full results are available HERE: