What a great snow surface ! Extremely HARD lane & track. Blue sky. MAD MAD crowd on the Main Street finish. I love skiing the Birkie !
Last year’s version of the Birkie greeted racers with a surprise warm morning, instead of a forecasted 12 F it was over 20 degrees. This year I was ready with skis for the middle temps, warmer temps & the cold temps, which we certainly saw ! We awoke to -4 F at the condo, and the car thermo said -8 F, and gave the same reading all the way to the start, and during the waiting period before the race. The bright sun made it feel much warmer, and it was a pleasant 20+ degrees by the finish, neither of which was enough to thaw the frozen “carbotein” mixture I lugged for 31 miles.
In the preceding weeks, plenty of fresh snow fell on the Birkie racing trail, and the groomers packed it down daily for the week prior. It was perfectly rock hard, yet not cheese grater -ish, just like we dream about. The plummeting temp Friday night only solidified the skate lane & made the classic tracks bomb proof. Conditions remained very well preserved as many skiers passed over, even the Main Street finish.
Cool sidebar: we parked next to the the Italians in two Lincoln Navigators I don’t think it resulted in any excess speed spilling off them onto me & my friends, just a mutual “Bonjourno !“ They were clearly tightly wound. After the race, I chanced into Marco Cattaneo, who I later learned had just become the Birkie champ. He was quite the opposite of uptight afterwards - quite in a good mood ! I noticed that he had his Orange Base Ski Trabs in his hands, which I was glad to see because I also have a pair of these very fine low volume Italian skis (ground for warmer wetter conditions by Zach Caldwell).
My cold pair of skis for Saturday were an old Fischer with soft tips, circa 1998 with a cold base & cold grind from some guy in Europe. I have heard the voice of experience tell me old skis are fast, so they must be fast. I just acquired the skis this year, and had not been able to ride them before the Birkie. However, with a cold wax & fluoro powder from Dragon Wax, the skis were very good, much to my surprise in the cold !
At the start, especially, it seemed to be a real advantage to be able to close up those gaps, which are like open invitations to move up a couple skiers in that Wave 1 melee / freakshow. As I like to say, fast skis make you look good !
After about 30k I think "the motor" was perhaps tiring slightly (those climbs do not stop coming till Lake Hayward at 48k)...or I am still learning how to ski the Birkie. I have noticed that experienced Birkie skiers (I've only got 4 now), seem to hang back until sometime around 30k, and then start racing. A couple trains moved out ahead of me around this point of the race. I lost one group which had been 10 seconds in front of me through 30k, and I kept another in visual contact for the remainder, however they did press the pace beyond what I was able to do from off the back. It felt good then when I managed to catch the back of that group across the lake, when I found I was able to do a sweet high speed V2 Alternate & make some time up. The lake experience was 10,000 times more fun than last year's blasting wind tunnel. You could sniff the finish, see the Hayward water tower comfortable in the knowledge that even a bonk would not prevent a finish from there, with just 500 meters to go off the lake.
The crowd along Main Street especially at Anglers bar for some reason, was going NUTS ! It is quite thrilling to finish the race with that kind of crowd support. I like to imagine in my wildly creative mind, that it’s just a small bit like the Olympic experience for the elites. Surely that’s what draws the Italians back year after year. Even they would love to see Americans on the podium for both the men’s & women’s Birkie races next time. I wish I could be the one to do it. I only need to knock off 283 skiers to get there. I’ll keep training & working on technique tweaks and we’ll see what happens to my 21% back statistic in 2006.