9,000-Strong Nordie Showdown

A few days ago I returned from my first trip out to the American Birkebeiner in Hayward, Wisconsin. The experience of skiing on such cold and dry snow was something to behold. Even when the West Coast does get a nice storm (as we are now) it’s rare for the snow to come so dry. I am not sure if this is purely a function of the temperature during snowfall, or if Sierra snow always comes down wetter due to the humid air coming directly off the Pacific.

In any case, this is one event that every Nordic should do at least once in their career. The northern Midwest has a tradition of Nordic skiing that I have not seen anywhere else. There are about 9,000 participants in all the events (54km skate, 50km classic, 23km skate, 23km classic) and most of those are from the Midwest. That says something about the popularity of Nordic skiing in the Midwest, but there is more! When you drive to one of a few massive parking lots for a shuttle to the start, you can hear about the course conditions from the local experts in North America’s only known sportscast for a Nordic ski event.

I was lucky enough to start in the elite wave with about 200 other men. Those spots fill up quickly. Once they are full it’s a done deal and there is not any way to get in. Even you don’t think of yourself as “fast,” always apply for a better wave start. The Birkie recognizes Great Ski Race results as valid because of the large field. If you have any racing ability at all, you need to get moved out of the last Wave 10 up to somewhere in Waves 1-6, depending on ability.

I had a relatively slow start but I was quick to catch up with a pack of fairly quick guys. Drafting off of fast skiers on the downhills is critical since the course loses 1400′ in elevation from start to finish. The high point is at 13km but the first 22km does not have any enormous net loss or gain and then the course takes a series of long rolling downhill until 38km.

I stayed with my pack of guys finishing around 100th place until about 44km or so. I didn’t get truly get dropped from the pack of 10 but the pack continued to spread out more and more. Once I got to Lake Hayward I had used up a lot of energy and I just had a hard time keeping my pace up in the headwind. There is about 500 meters going down Main Street in Hayward but aside from that the final 3.5km is all on the lake and it is tougher than any hill on the course. I lost a lot here. Even if you have lost places coming up on the lake, a racer has to pull it together for the lake and draft on someone to be successful.

I finished in 128th overall and 120th among men. Frankly, I was fairly confident I could place in the top 100, so it is a little bit disappointing. Many of the other skiers in my travel group pointed out that the race is extremely tactical because of all the drafting and that Birkie experience counts for a lot. What does that mean? I need to come back next year, naturally.

I have posted a photo from the middle of the race. I am not sure of the exact location. I made a point of posing for the camera while recovering in the finishers pen and if I can find the picture on the interwebs I will have up here on the blog.

This race is not one to miss. Ask a Birkie finisher for some advice if you decide to go this. It’s a complicated race to train for and plan for, but it is well worth the effort.

The frost beard begins to grow.

Allen Bard Classic

Michael Collins and Kara LaPoint start 20km race

With the 52km Birkie coming up in less than three weeks, it’s really important to get some longer distance races under my belt. That’s been a tricky thing this year with so many races postponed or canceled altogether. The Allen Bard Classic fit the bill and it completely wiped me out. I have done plenty of easy over distance workouts around 2.5 – 3 hours and about one specific strength (double pole) workout per week but somehow that didn’t prepare me for an hour of nearly continuous high tempo double poling. (Weird huh?) Result are up here.

The gym in which we stayed at Mammoth H.S. was a lot like the weight room where we stayed last year for the Mammoth Marathon . . . with one exception. The gym has virtually unlimited space for games, and comes with a full complement of basketballs, volleyballs, tennis balls, the big blue medicine ball for physical therapy, and maybe some other things I forgot about. This means that when ski training and bouldering are done with, there is still a nice space for just about any game you can think. So what did I learn on this trip? (1) Do more strength. (2) Juniors never, ever stop playing, no matter what the laws of physics would tell you.

From the Sea of Cortez to the base of Diamond Peak

Well, it turns out that this was not a bad year to miss two weeks of “winter.” I spent the Christmas and New Year break in Baja California Sur, Mexico (Cabo, La Paz, Loreto, and Todos los Santos). As someone who grew up in Los Angeles, I am embarrassed to say that I had not traveled to Mexico in my life until now. Baja strikes me sort of like the Tahoe of Mexico. The cultural offerings are a little limited compared to other travel destinations, but the outdoor recreation more than makes up for it.

Thus I found myself running, biking, kayaking, and ski bounding around Mexico. My favorite spot was without a doubt Loreto. These two pictures show Loreto from the Sea of Cortez. My next trip (hopefully camping-based) is already bouncing around my head. Of course, to do it right, one needs to go in March or April when the whales are calving.


When I came back to Tahoe lots of people were skiing on snow but it was the man made kind and always at the base of an alpine resort. Such is the way of Nordies. Nothing can stop us! From the afternoon twilight training at Diamond Peak to the CNISSF opener race at Sugar Bowl’s Nob Hill run, it’s been really fun to see how dedicated the Nordic community is to the sport.

I am really excited about the upcoming weather forecast. Oddly, I am wondering how to plan the training for Incline High School with snow on the ground. Probably it will look similar to last year. I feel like I have the dryland training sort of laid out so I could just keep going on dryland for the rest of the season. But for racing puposes, it’s pretty clear that we need snow. Epic races like the Tahoe Rim Tour, Great Ski Race, and Billy Dutton Uphill will need snow to run. And it’s not a moment too soon. Kara’s point that we can always make the best of our conditions and continue training hard resonates with me. Huge swathes of “snow country” are without snow and no one can get off of competition by complaining about training conditions at the home area. Nearly everyone is coping with a poor year!

Great to be Back

It’s great to be back around the sierras racing and training. I spent much of the summer in NY as a camp counselor, and now that I’m back in school at UNR it’s good to be back at elevation. I’m also very excited to be skiing with the Far West Farm Team again this year. I think it is going to be a good year.

Mostly I just wanted to say hello again, but here are a few pictures from my training adventures over the past few weeks (including a ski on October 7th!)

Marathon Day in Mammoth

Junior Melanie Swick cruises to 6th place in the varsity race

I am not referring to the skiing marathon that takes place in Mammoth every April. This marathon was the other kind filled with driving and waxing. Friday was the first day I had been to Mammoth’s Tamarack XC since I was 10 or 11 years old. It’s a distant memory from the time when I thought that all classic skis have fishscales and that skating is just for ice rinks. It was strange to come back ~15 years later as a coach.

But enough nostalgia. Incline Nordic had an awesome day on Friday! I am told the weather and the waxing conditions were vastly better than they have been for several years. Freshman Evan Vomund and Juniors Melanie Swick and Ashley Vomund posted some of their best results yet in high school league racing. Evan notched his season best result with 2nd in open division and a stellar 10th overall when varsity and open results are combined. Melanie placed 6th in the varsity division, a season best for her as well. Ashley was 10th in open division and 13th in combined results. With top finishers coming in around 20 minutes, the course was slightly longer than other distance races in the high school racing circuit. Our skiers loved the course. View complete results and photos of the race.

The ride back was long. It builds team bonding or character or something else that’s good for you I am sure. I think everyone gained a richer appreciation of how hard Mammoth High has to work just to show up every Friday for 2 months of competition. To steal a page from Gus, I am going to share something from our admittedly trashy playlist on the way home. Dragostea din tei is a song everyone can enjoy, but no one can understand. The video is new to me and it’s sort of entertaining.

Back in the Groove

IHS Freshman Evan Vomund skies through the lap halfway through the Royal Gorge 5km High School open race

I haven’t raced much since the Snowshoe Thompson race following Christmas. I was planning to fly East to visit with grandparents but switched to a roadtrip to Los Angeles when NYC got buried in snow. (About 7,000 flights were canceled in just a few days.) I did the first Tahoe Donner night cup race, a 5km classic race. Somehow I managed to blow up in a 5km! My lungs started burning after 1 or 1.5km and the oxygen debt took me further and further downhill (not in the good way). I guess I need I need to wear a balaclava or buff even when the temperature seems OK. I feel like a rookie.

I have been training as hard as ever though. Monday I am racing the Sierra Skogsloppet, the second Junior National Qualifier and another notch in the Sierra Ski Chase. That will launch me into the Tahoe Rim Tour (26km classic division) six days later and the Alpenglow 20km skate race at Tahoe XC the following weekend. I am going to have a lot more race kms than I did in the earlier part of this season. Last year Alpenglow was my first race since I only got on snow Jan. 2nd after my move to Truckee.

Finally, Incline Nordic enjoyed some great weather at yesterday’s skate race at Royal Gorge. The loop was short and fast with few hills. After some nasty weather at the Kirkwood opener and the Snowshoe Thompson, the California rays are back. I’m sure alpiners are bummed by the shortage of fresh pow, but as an XC skier, I couldn’t care when or how we get our spring base.

Merry Christmas

Laura Henze hands off to Julie Falke

The Incline High nordic team is featured in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza after the CNISSF high school and middle school opener. Pictures cannot really convey the brutal wind and icy precipitation that was hammering the athletes for 3km loop at Kirkwood XC on December 17th. As a small team that had to compete in a 3-person relay format, our results are hard to read. A team with our two boys Evan Vomund and Ryan Collins returned their team from 10th place to 6th place. I saw incredible effort from very new skiers who had been on snow for only a week or two.

Tomorrow is the first Junior National Qualifier. The 10km classic Snowshoe Thompson Race at Auburn Ski Club could be difficult. There is a good chance that falling snow will make for unpredictable wax conditions. Wednesday afternoon the Incline Nordic team worked on technical uphill climbs at Tahoe XC. If you haven’t made a few embarassing attempts at skiing up a slanted and uneven trail on classic skis, it’s a really good idea. No matter how fit you might be, reading the trail properly and being nimble on your equipment will make all the difference in a crowded race with people cheering on the sidelines.

Merry Christmas!