After a disastrous 2014 event which saw the title race canceled on race morning due to dangerously high winds in the mountains, there has been much soul-searching in Norway as to how the Birkebeiner ski marathon can go forward (or whether the organizers were being wusses).
Last week, organizers of the 54 k classic race from Rena to Lillehammer announced changes they are making to safeguard the competition’s future.
Chief among them is the addition of a new section of trail in the Hemmedalen nature reserve, to be used as a backup if for some reason the trails over the mountains are too dangerous.
This comes as a great relief as organizers had mentioned developing a back-up course as early as the first few days after the failed 2014 races, but in early October NRK reported that negotiations for the location of new trails were fruitless. Allegedly, organizers and landowners could not come to an agreement over the fees to be paid for use of the land.
The new 14 k section swings to the south of Raudfjellet, the high point of the course where winds were so extreme in March.
Additional precautions are being taken in the mountains, too, with a new weather station set up in Raudfjellet to accurately assess wind and weather. The Birkebeiner is also retaining its own meteorologist, John Smits, to interpret this and other data and give better forecasts for race day.
The organizers announced that they will be ramping up their inspections of participants’ backpacks, which are required to be 3.5 kg in weight (to represent the baby prince carried over the pass by the original Birkebeiners) and include items such as an extra jacket and pants, food and drink, and extra long underwear. By making sure that all racers have this extra gear, organizers say they will be less worried about inclement weather.
They also announced that in case there is a low snow year, they are working on saving snow to be deployed onto the trail.