Birkie Recap

FasterSkierMarch 23, 2011
Margaret skiing with her “Birkie Pack” a couple days before the event.

If you ski the Norwegian Birkebeiner from the 20th wave, don’t plan to ski it fast.    If you’re in a hurry it will be ‘hurry up and wait’.

However, if you’re able to enjoy yourself in gridlock traffic, skiers lined up from here to tomorrow, wall to wall and stretched to the horizon – then it is definitely a ski that you’ll remember forever.

From Sjusjoen, there’s a 2 hour bus ride to the start in Rena.   So we were on the bus by 6:00 a.m. for our start at 9:50.     At the start in Rena, there is a carnival sized area for staging the start, as well as a ski testing track, hundreds of standard blue porta-pottis, and dozens of trucks arranged to shuttle bags back to the finish.     Everything was very well organized and intuitively arranged, but on a huge scale.

An abundance of blue huts meant that the lines weren’t long.

Conditions for the Birkie were pretty slow, but good snow.     New snow on Friday left things soft and loose, and tracks washed out a bit especially for the later skiers.    “Maxtime” (aka “Mark Times”, a measure of performance based on % back from age group leaders) were typically a half-hour slower than most years.

I was skiing with bib 14,144 and that’s like starting behind all of the field from the USA Birkie times 4. There were 3700 finishers at the American Birkie this year, if you’d like to use that for perspective.

We had very good skis.    I tested grips on Friday and picked a new Start grip wax (“01932 Racing Extra -2/-8”).     It had excellent grip and durability.    I didn’t have to touch the skis through the event, and both of us had enough wax to ski 25km on Sunday without touching them up!     It’s tough to get free-running skis for the whole race (while also having good grip), since Rena and the plateau are very different.   The plateau is open and dryer and about 1600 feet higher.    Both of us were running on the “i5” grind, which was good for the conditions.   Excellent skis really make the experience more fun.

Margaret got her “Mark” diploma (meaning that she finished within the prescribed % behind the winner), which is commendable with bib 14,000+.   She gets bonus points, since she also was skiing with an upper respiratory infection.      Margaret had back surgery 18 months ago to install an artificial disc, and the Birkie trip was both a celebration of her recovery, and training motivation – a carrot – for the past year.    She was really happy with the entire experience (except for being sick during the trip, which was a bummer).

My day was pedestrian as intended, and it was my longest ski of the year by about 25km.   Having said that, it was a motivating thing but there is simply no hope of skiing fast from Wave 20.    But it was a blast – super fun.

Perfect corduroy on the day after the Birkie.

Funny…   …the front of our wave ran into the back of Wave 19 within 2km of the start!     Then it was a matter of standing at the bottom of each steep section to queue up for the walk up the hill.   Even where it’s 10 lanes wide, you’re still having to double pole on the margins and between lanes.   Life would have been much easier in an early wave.

Also, the big descents in the last 15km were a real mess – they looked like the site of a demolition derby for monster trucks.   Huge berms and ruts and no sign of anything resembling tracks.   Yard sale crashes left, right, and center.

The finish is in the Olympic stadium, from the ’94 Olympics.   That is pretty cool.   After 54km, it’s still wall-to-wall skiers and resembled a cattle drive.

Overall, it was a super experience.    Everyone who has ever said,  ‘Every skier should sometime ski the Norwegian Birke’, is absolutely correct.

Now I’m trying to figure out if I can get back there next year, start in an earlier wave, and take a shot at skiing it at speed.