This photo sums up my birkie:
I got cold again (like two years ago) and had to add some festive attire. I still haven’t learned just how much colder Wisconsin is than California. Still a great trip and tons of fun. Congrats to Matt Gelso and Patrick Johnson on their great finishes!
This past weekend Wyatt and I ventured out to Hayward, Wisconsin for the American Birkebeiner, the largest ski race in North America. The 50km point to point race serves as a stop on the Word Loppet tour, which means it not only attracts the top domestic racers, but also a dozen or so of the top ski marathoners in Europe. This year was no exception, as I found myself at the start lined up right next to Martin Koukal of the Czech Republic, a former World Champion in the 50km.
Wisconsin was being hit with the cold weather that has been hitting most of the country this winter, and as we lined up awaiting the starting gun, we struggled to stay warm in the frigid single digits and brisk headwind that we faced. But, soon enough the gun went off and we were on our way!
Last year I had a top ten in the race, and I had hopes for another strong finish. However, by about ten kilometers in, I was struggling to keep up with the brisk pace being set by the Europeans at the front, and I soon found myself losing contact with the lead pack of about 15 skiers.
Though dissapointed to not be at the front, I regrouped mentally, and worked to relax and ski efficiently so I could have a strong second half of the race. By then a second pack of about a dozen or so skiers had formed, including several of the top Euros who also hadn’t been able to latch on to the lead group.
I skied in this group for some time, most of the time keeping near the front. Posted behind me for much of this part of the race was an Italian who had been third the previous year. Despite being out of the running for the win he still decided to use the “tricky” psyche-out tactics that the Italia marathoners are notorious for, a combination of stepping on your skis and poles as much as possible. After becomming tired of his antics, I eventually forced him to take the lead, and then did my best to return the favor. Apparently he did not appreciate this and after a few minutes he looked back at me, stared me down for a few seconds, and then motioned for me to take the lead.
And with that I decided to make a move and break away from the group, as I ramped up the pace and left the pack behind. One frenchmen from the group was able to match the move, and we then skied the remaining 20km together, picking off a few stragglers from the front along the away. I ended up crossing the finish in 14th place (& 4th American), which, though not quite looking for, was still a solid finish that I could be happy with!
My day was not quite done however, as I was met at the finish by an official from the US Anti-Doping Agency, who informed me I had been randomly selected for anti-doping control. It was actually a kind of nice perk, because I was immediately escorted to a warm room where I could change and rehydrate as I prepared to give a urine sample. It was my first time being subjected to a USADA test, so it was very interesting to experience the testing process and see the efforts we make to keep sport clean in this country.
Anyway, it ended up being a great weekend, and I’d highly recommend anyone who loves Nordic skiing to make it to the Birkie at least once. Thank you to Peter Hanson and family for helping me with the transportation and housing which made the weekend possible! And congratulations to former Far West racer Matt Gelso who finished as top American in seventh place!
The Far West XC Elite Team owes a huge thank you to Silver Sage Sports Performance, Marmot, and Alpenglow Sports for providing us with team puffies this season. Ben Grasseschi put together the design to keep us looking sharp.
These jackets are awesome. Last week we did a bit of “field testing” to see just how warm they were……they worked great….
Patrick and I went up to the Boulder Mountain Tour in Sun Valley, Idaho over the weekend to ski with some of the best in the west and have some fun on real snow. It was a successful day with both of us cracking the top 10 (Patrick 5th, myself 9th) to earn a bit of money. Patrick also won the first preem to claim a bit extra dough. It was a new course this year, with a few more climbs and a few more Ks, which turned out to make it a more fun and interesting race, and probably helped us out a bit since we are from altitude. The Toko blue wax we raced on was excellent as well. Thanks to the volunteers in Ketchum that made it happen on thinner than usual snow.
The Teton Ridge Classic is a great ski race. Beautiful scenery, nice rolling terrain, tons of snow, cheerful volunteers, lots of hot soup and bread at the finish. I had the added benefit of driving over to Driggs, Idaho with the Idaho Nordic crew. Turned out that it was perfect fish scales and/or zeros conditions. I left both of those pairs of skis in Reno. But Mike “Silver Fox” Weber set me up on his extra pair of fishies. Throw in their v05 Finite structure tool and the skis were dynamite. Oh and one last critical piece of equipment: my lucky Bill Clinton ski tie. Needles to say, It was a good race.