Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Squaw Valley

I've been traveling a bit. Boulder, Boston for Passover and a flood, then Tahoe. Lots of airplanes. The trip to Reno as interesting—we flew from Boston to San Francisco (right over Hetch Hetchy, which I correctly identified, photographed, and compared to Google Maps on the ground) and then backtracked to Reno.

Once we were settled in, we had an hour to kill before dinner and trails groomed at Squaw Valley. It's not really a nordic center, but a few k of trails for people who don't want to go gravity skiing. We didn't know how to get on the trails, so wound up traipsing through the new snow to get to the groomed snow. My mother didn't love that.

It was a 30" powder day so there hadn't been much action on the trails (which were pretty well groomed) as most anyone who was there before 3 had hit the slopes—in fact at 6 p.m. we were the first skaters of the day. The snow had packed well, however, and the scenery was great, although the trails were less than perfect (but not bad, just a few punch-throughs).

Some pictures:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Boulder on the crust

[Due to travel and family, this post was delayed by a couple of days; the skiing took place on Sunday the 28th.]

Hitting the crust (sans poles)

This blog operates under the assumption that crust skiing is awesome. Some of my best skis have been on the crust, especially in April on Maine in 2007, when a thick snowpack led to crust skiing on the trails in Farmington. Since then, I've looked for crust skiing where I could find it, whether it was in June in Colorado or on a golf course in Saint Paul. After a week, and two feet of snow, in Boulder, I finally was able to enjoy the crust in town, too.

The early morning view from the Chautauqua Trail Head.

Boulder has quite a bit of open space, especially along the Flatirons and other hills which rise, strikingly, out of the plains. While the terrain pretty quickly gets very steep (the Flatirons are known for their rock climbing), there are sections which aren't too steep to ski and, with the recent snows and northern exposure, had built up enough of a base that after warmer weather Saturday they'd crusted up. That's what I was heading for.
The view to the north (downtown Boulder included)

I biked the 300 foot hill up to the trailhead (a good warm-up) and hit the trails just as the sun was rising over the prairie—the views were splendid in the early morning light. I headed up along one of the hiking trails (these had been stomped and melted clean). The hill started out gradually but didn't take long to get steeper, and I was mostly V1ing. There were a few rocks and some brush to avoid, but the crust was firm and the purchase was good. I do quite like crust skiing.

Another view of the Flatirons.

I skied about a mile up he trail and in to a wooded area (less snow, but still good crust). In some shaded areas, my poles punched through the crust in to a couple of feet of snow, but for the most part my skis and poles stayed on top. At turn around time I began to retrace my tracks and realized that there was a reason I was huffing and puffing—what I'd come up was quite steep! My rock skis' edges leave something to be desired, and I was barely able to make a turn; I was definitely not carving up the slopes. But with a few well-placed turns, and a lot of skidding across the hill, I made it down to the base without incident, loaded up my bike, and shot downhill (300 feet) in to town.

And another view of Boulder and the surrounding hills. This is less than two miles from both Downtown Boulder and CU.

I was up later in the day and a the snow had melted back a good 200 yards; it might crust overnight; if not, it might be the end of crust skiing in Boulder (and I may have hit the sweet spot). I went on a trail run later in the day which was pretty mushy and then, after I'd gotten in to a narrow drainage with northern exposure, quite slippery. I ran up, but slowly walked and skidded my way down. It was in the 60s in town, but still winter up in the hills.
My tracks in the snow.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On the road again

Instead of biking back in feet of slush this evening, I strapped on my skis. Conditions weren't great, but I was able to skate in places, especially on the Boulder Creek Multi-use path, which was pretty good for V1 except for a couple of places. I'll probably hit the local trails tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I drove up to Eldora this afternoon to ski—after hours—on their nordic trails. The drive is narrow and twisty and gains >4000 feet, but that meant there was snow on the ground (it was 60 in Boulder but 30 up at 9k feet). The snow was transformed in places and deep, deep powder in others; it seems to depend almost solely on the exposure. In any case, kick was variable, but I skated, and it was very good. The trails are hilly and fun, and I was reminded of the altitude every time I hit a headwall.

We parked outside the gate (I had been assured it wouldn't be closed but didn't want to take any chances) and we skied until around dark. There were snowmobiles buzzing around the trails, but they didn't seem too concerned with us skiing around after hours—none stopped to let us pay our trail fee. We had to jump across a bit of a stream on the way out—I dropped my skis in to it but no harm done. I'll be back later this week; in the mean time there's another foot of snow forecast for tomorrow!

Eldora is great in that it's 35 minutes from Boulder, although it would be even better if it had night skiing and bus service after 4:00. Oh, yes, hourly (or so) bus service from Boulder to the ski trail.

Oh some "make my friends jealous" pictures:
Before the sun went down.

Views through the woods.

Tracks and clouds.

Danny practices his double poling (not bad for a first-timer).

Danny then pulled my skis out of the stream I had thrown (well, slid; I threw them across the stream and they slid back in) them in to.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

North Boulder Park

Conditions at North Boulder Park were deteriorating, but not horrid. As a novelty I jumped on my friend's town bike to head up to the in-town trails in Boulder this evening. The sun and temperatures in the 30s had melted a lot of the snow, but the trails were still skiable (they were probably fantastic this morning, as they were groomed last night and it was 10 overnight). Still, coverage was continuous and except for a couple thin spots across sidewalks and a frozen, rutted puddle, it was fine for skating. And the scenery (see pictures) is very hard to beat. It's only a k and pretty fast, but also only a mile from Boulder.

Tomorrow calls for a trip up to Eldora (after hours—the guy at Eldora said "well, all I can say is 'they don't lock the gate, if you check my drift'" and the folks at Boulder Nordic Sport said "oh, yeah, people go up there after work all the time") so I'll have a report from there tomorrow, hopefully.

Here are the sweet pictures from the day today:

The Flatirons on my morning run to WFR class. It was gorgeous, but the icy roads were not meant for bicycling. Tomorrow, though, I get to ride Boulder's sweet bike trails (they are mostly concrete, so would not be great for rollerskiing. I think that's what the roads up the canyons are for—one can be skied up and you can then take a bus—the same bus that goes to Eldora—down.

And few were attempting to do so.

The trails were just okay, but the views were amazing.

The Flatirons, again.

Yeah, there was a lot of snow, but it was melting fast. This tree, however, had a lot of snow on its northern flank.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Street skiing was not meant to be

It's absolutely dumping in Boulder, but since it was in the 60s up until yesterday afternoon, the streets are staying very slushy. Being at the equinox doesn't help as some solar radiation gets through, too. If it were colder, it would probably be primo street skiing conditions, as it were I only skied a few blocks down to Boulder Nordic Sport and then a bit further to check if the bike path was plowed (it was). Oh, well, I've also found out that Eldora doesn't really mind people skiing their trails after hours. And it's light until 8! Plus, they groom a k in town that's a mile from where I'm staying, so bike-skiing will take place this week.

Boulder: part 1

Travels have taken me to Boulder, Colorado. When I arrived last night, it was in the 50s, with clouds building over the mountains. It's been near 70 this week. Here's the view out my friend's window this morning. We're in store for somewhere between 10 and 20 inches of snow; it's coming down. The roads are too warm for street skiing right now, but hopefully will freeze up as it is quite cold.

Nevertheless, they are grooming in town, and I've joined Boulder Nordic's facebook page to see if I can social network my way in to some skiing. We'll see if Eldora is cool enough to let me ski there during the evening, since it is light until 8. (Although, $19 for a trail pass, gosh!) And I am two blocks from Boulder Nordic Sport.

Yeah, I think my timing was pretty darned good. Reports will follow. Get your saliva glands ready.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A ski-centric weekend—without much skiing: Writing for the Loppet

The last in a three-part series

As late as Wednesday, I was wondering what I was going to do all weekend. It turned out I had way too much on my plate (and never got around to my taxes). I got an email on Friday from John Munger at the City of Lakes suggesting that maybe I wanted to write a City of Lakes Loppet race report, and perhaps focus on some interesting people there. Yeah, that might be fun. Then I got a call from him saying that I had been volunteered to do so.

Okay then.

I got the contact information for all the winners (classic and skate, male and female) as well as some other assorted dignitaries. And to their credit, everyone responded to me. Props to Andy, Audrey, Matt, Kristina and Caitlin for that. I sent out an email asking them to email or call me please on Saturday after I got back from Wirth. By the time I woke up Sunday I got an email from Andy Liebner, the classic winner. Then I got a call from Audrey Weber, who also won the classic race. I had about 500 words—what John wanted at a minimum, and figured that if none of the other skiing superstars called back, well, I'd have something.

I had an email from Caitlin, too. But that one seemed like a long shot. She was in Norway for a World Cup race and would be back later in the afternoon, could we Skype then? We could try. So instead of enjoying the sunshine, I was booting up Skype. It took us a while to get it to run correctly (I had to disable my video from trying to load, it seems) but once it did, she talked to me for more than an hour, which was beyond awesome. We each thought the other had a dog barking because of the feedback, but I got, well, way more than I needed from Caitlin. About the City of Lakes, which she won in 2008 (coming 10th overall—she said she knows she is ready for the World Cup when she is skiing with the top men in the US). About being a poor athlete in the Twin Cities. About the Olympics. Oh, yeah, did I mention that she was in Vancouver? Garrott (Vancouver) on Friday, Carolyn (Torino, biathlon) on Saturday, Caitlin today.

Anyway, Caitlin is awesome—she offered to show me a week of Olympic training this summer. Maybe I'll write that up for a local publication; I think it would be interesting. If not, it will get me in to shape. She offered to do a strength session with the Mac ski team, too. Collin says "very tight."

She finally had to go to bed in Norway, and Matt Liebsch called. He had "five or ten minutes" while he shuttled his kids around. Half an hour later I had pages of notes from talking to him too. Matt won the Birkie last year, the Mora two years running, and the City of Lakes this year. Oh, and he has two young kids. Yeah. Wow.

Finally, I called Kristina Owen, who won the women's skate race. I got some copy from her and set to writing. By the evening, I had condensed it all down to 2100 words—less than three times what John wanted, although I think the word count might be malleable—and some great stories. I'll post them here soon.

So while I had skis on for a total of about an hour, it was a very ski-heavy weekend. It was 64 on Sunday, the snow is gone (but might return later this week) and I'm off to Colorado next weekend. And it's probably the most I've thought about skiing—without actually skiing much—ever.

A ski-centric weekend—without much skiing: Wirth kids race

The second in a three-part series

Last week on Facebook, I saw a video of the ski-ter–totter they'd set up over at Wirth:

I said, in a sense, "I want to go to there." I asked how I could and they said "come volunteer at noon on Saturday." That I can do. I am usually racing in races, so I can't volunteer for them; this is a chance to give back. And little kids skiing around are cute.

On Friday, I got an email. They were starting a bit earlier. Could I be there at 10:15? Sure! It's not like I went to Hayward the night before. So I set my alarm, woke up in the morning, and hopped on my bike for the ride over to Wirth. The ride went well with two glitches. First, when I tried to navigate the ramp from West River Parkway to 1st Street and 5th Avenue S (southeast corner), I found out that my skis were rather wider than the ramp. I got stuck, stopped, backed out, and walked my bike up the stairs.

The ride through Downtown Minneapolis (yes, down Hennepin with my skis) was fine for a while; I was not too wide for the Bassett Creek Trail spiral bridge (although it was close, and I took it very easy) and zoomed off towards the park. The one problem was that someone decided to groom the bike trail for skiing, and where it had been groomed it had not melted (everything else was dry). The Googles bike directions say it was a third of a mile, and I walked/hike-a-biked most of it. (Here's my whole route on Google bike directions; I did not follow what it suggested—hence all the waypoints—and took the Greenway home.)

Once I got to the race site, I was put to work. As the races finished up, John Swain and I set the course for the SkiX-c course. This entailed carrying V-board (well, C-board, well, painted PVC pipes) around, putting in a ton of flags, and making sure the slalom course was not too easy or too hard. Jojo Winters helped out as well. The kids had fun, no one went in to a utility poles, and the biggest mishap of the day was when I lost a ski while carrying the snow auger downhill (to put in the slalom gates). I wound up sitting on the ground with a 18" long drill bit and Ed Swain (John's dad) laughing at me as I chased my ski downhill. One of the bindings on my rock skis had broken; I spent the race trying to figure out how to put it together and finally used one of the tools in my bike bag to do so. The plastic is still cracked, but it works.

I skied the course a couple of times—it was about the right difficulty, and took a few trips over the ski-ter–totter. Then we played ski soccer (like the game, but a bit less tackley, and with the stipulation that you kick the ball through the goal, which I didn't really like) which was fun. It was adults vs. kids and John and I were on the kids team (apparently the age cutoff was about 26, as Carolyn Bramante, an olympic biathlete and former City of Lakes champion, and the one performing the sweet tele landing off the ski-ter–totter, was on the adult team). Everyone won. Everyone was soaked. Okay, especially me; I tackled the adults.

Then it was time to clean up, switch in to the slightly-drier bike shoes, and bike home. Slowly.

But the ski weekend without much skiing (today was the only day I actually donned ski boots) was not over yet!

A ski-centric weekend—without much skiing: Birkie Movie

The first in a three-part series

Conditions have deteriorated dramatically in the last week (Wirth is skiable on the snowmaking but it's wet and slushy; I might go over for one last ski in the sun this afternoon). As I type the mercury is pushing 60 with bright sunshine. However, this does not mean that skiing is not the center of my life right now. Far from it.

Last week, I found out, by email, about a Birkie video which was being put together by Scott Brown called "A Day in February." Scott's a guy I match up against pretty well, it seems, and who skis with a camera on his head. It turns out that in addition to taking video of some races, he's also filmed training, talked to the Birkie Folks, filmed waxing, filmed stonegrinding, filmed his buddies skiing across a plowed Mosquito Brook Road and such. And after a two weeks of editing, he compiled it all in to a feature-length film. It was to be shown for one night only at the theater in Hayward. Friday night. 7:30.

I told him I'd love to come but didn't really want to drive that far and asked if he knew anyone else going up for just the movie. He did. Problem solved. So I skipped out of work, headed up Dale and 35E and met Eric around WBL to carpool up to Hayward. Traffic was free until just after Highway 8, when it ground to a halt. We rolled towards the next exit at about 10 mph, and discussed what to do. I reached back and grabbed the Minnesota DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer which was rattling around the back seat, and saw that if we got off at the next exit we could cut diagonally across to Highway 8 and get away from the traffic. "If this works," I announced, "we'll be there by 7:20." Always trust a geographer.

And it did. We rolled in to the theater in Hayward and were in the door at 7:26. There was little rush. The lobby was filled with assorted dignitaries, none of whom I recognized in street clothes. I had to ask who Scott Brown, the star of the show, was, as I'm used to seeing him with a camera atop his head. We finally found our seats by around 7:45 and the show was on.

The picture was great. For a guy who just bought a video camera, Scott put on quite a show. It had a feeling of a kind-of hokey documentary, but in a good way. It'd serve as a good introduction for those of us who take skiing a little too seriously to show to our friends and family. "See! This is what stonegrinding is! And this is how you wax." (Because of the music, Scott can't distribute the film. Too bad.)

But the best parts were on snow. Early-season on a barely-snowed-in Birkie. (I've done that.) Training at 5 a.m. at Elm Creek—below 0. (I've done that, well, not at Elm Creek.) The Loppet. The Pre-Birkie. And then the main show. Standing at the line—I felt like I was right back in Cable—was almost eerie; my heart started pounding and my stomach felt just like it did on race day, even though it was 45˚ outside and the snow was all but gone.

And the footage of the race was great. I saw myself several times (my form looks off—I should get the raw footage of the race from Scott to analyze) and confirmed that I only lost to Scott because my skis had slowed down by the end of the race, as he passed me on the last downhill. While I didn't see myself up Main Street, I did see myself go to get my finisher pin at the end.

Then the film shifted to Scott interviewing skiers at Mosquito Brook. Folks who'd finish in five or six hours (the winner was under two). The guy who said if he fell one more time he was sitting down right there. He finished. For anyone who thinks that most people ski like us guys near the front—these folks were the true Birkie skiers. I was done with my lake-on cheering by the time they came through.

After the flick, we went to the Angry Minnow for dinner and a beer. I was driving, so a beer. (Oh, also, you can by beer at the theater. I love Wisconsin.) It was a nice gathering, I got to meet the director of the Birkie, Ned Zuelsdorff, who's a real nice guy. I complimented him for his race, trail and grooming, he seemed to like my numbers. Although he said that my elevation profile had caused some uproar in their office. Well, they should publish better ones if they have 'em. Now I'm tentatively scheduled to bike the course this spring with a GPS.

After an hour or so, and a chat with Olympian Garrott Kuzzy (yup, that's who hangs out in Hayward; he was drinking 7-Up), Eric and I piled in the car for the traffic- (and deer-) free drive back to the Cities. I was in bed by the early hour of 2. Nothing to do tomorrow. Oh, wait

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The intercollegiate game

I can't really give a trail report, but Wirth sort of looked groomed. We met the U of M to play The Game out on the bottom of the sliding hill and it was pretty damn sweet. Their rules—same as ours but score by knocking over a water bottle with the ball, are interesting. The only issue is that defense of the bottle can become a bit of a cluster. But it does make the game more playable without hard tackling. We played until it was too dark to play and had an all-around good time.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Wirth (snowmaking)

Wirth is skiable—moreso than yesterday. The big puddle drained so there's not as much waterskiing, and while the snow around the manmade loop is VERY dirty, it's snow. My (luckily) rock skis had a lot of visible dirt in the bases by the end of a couple of laps teaching; they'll need a hot scrape at some point. It's pretty soft but, with cooler temperatures and not a lot of sun, skiable. However, unless you have something to train for, it's not that great. The rest of the loop looked marginally skiable for hardcores only.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Wirth (snowmaking)

Still alive and kicking (in slush).

What may be my last ski of the year (unless we play more of The Game) at Wirth today was mostly teaching a couple folks who'd skied a combined once in their lives. Getting up the hill to the start was interesting (we probably should have walked up) but at least it was warm out. The trail is getting pretty good and slushy, but is skiable. The base on the non-snowmaking trail looked quite wet and slushy/icy where it's thin, but the base on the snowmaking course is generally thick (although they'll have to make more snow next year to assure good skiing for JOs).

There was one burnout section right before the downhill before the sliding hill, and a lake at the bottom of the first big downhill out of the stadium. It made for great waterskiing (I was soaked from my thighs down) but was pretty much across the trail, and rather deep. Before snow is made next year, a pipe should be laid down in order to channel the runoff under the trail, which right now acts as a dam (we saw this happen last February).

But, it's March 7, so I can't complain. Oh, here's a picture of biking with skis. This is very excellent. I just put the boots in the bindings and inserted the boots in to my extra large Timbuk2 bag. Thus, the boots keep the skis from going anywhere. Then, cinch up the straps over the skis. It works great with poles, too; just put the straps over the high side (tips or tails) although they don't slide around anyway. And give cars some extra clearance, especially on the right. On the left, the skis extend up above the cars you pass at lights.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The race

We went up to Elk River today to host a small Macalester fundraiser race. We had a pretty good turnout and everyone had fun (I think) so that was good. It was much sunnier than forecast so the trail got petty soft, but had full coverage. That won't last long, though; there are already holes forming in several spots—be especially careful on the paved paths on the prairie loop near the start. If it freezes up it should be good, if not, it will be pretty soft. The end is near.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Game

So today, we played The Game. The Game is an old Macalester tradition that, to my knowledge, has not been played in at least half a decade. However, after contacting some authorities to make sure I had the rules down, I recruited five skiers (minimum to play is six) and we played at Como (trails were, at least near the parking lot, still in okay shape.

The Game is basically a combination of football, soccer and ultimate frisbee, played on skis. With tackling. The "field" is a rectangular stretch of snow with two end lines demarcated by cones (or ski boots, or whatever) placed about 10 yards apart. There are not necessarily any special boundaries to the field, except for these end lines, although if a team member intentionally kicks or throws the ball far out of bounds, the other team can call for a turnover.

Two teams, on rock skis (no poles) line up at opposite ends of the pitch. One team throws off to the other. The team with the ball (a soccer ball) can then advance the ball by throwing it, soccer-style dribbling it (with their skis/boots) or gliding with the ball. However, you may not skate with the ball. A point/goal is scored when you cross the end line while gliding in control of the ball, or throw the ball to a teammate across the end line (you may not dribble the ball across the line to score a goal). If the ball is advanced beyond the end line—either outside of the markers or not in control (being caught or glided) it is still live, but must cross the end line in the direction of play to count as a goal. The ball is live at all times, except when it is thrown off, when it first must be touched by a member of the opposing team.

Strategies include passing patterns, dribbling the ball and then picking it up and gliding, and long throws to a gliding teammate. Mostly, it devolves in to carnage, but it is a fun way to work on balance, and definitely gets a workout in—everyone was shedding clothing after a few minutes today. With younger (< college-age) kids you might want to eliminate the tackling aspect, but on snow the main thing you are going to break is equipment, not people. Still, it's a good thing to do after the racing season is mostly over. (A version with only passing can be played earlier in the season and is similar to team handball and is less likely to break equipment or result in injuries.)

Game skis are generally short and old, as equipment breakage is a frequent side-effect of The Game. However, it is totally worth it.

Woodlands Trails

I headed up to Elk River to do course recon for the Macalester Spring Fling race there this weekend (Saturday at noon, tell your friends).The course should be in fine shape for the ski race on Saturday. There is good, continuous coverage around the 10k outer loop, and the snow is firm and solid. Conditions vary based on exposure, areas which have seen the sun are icy, those in the shade are still well-packed powder. The trails will be groomed Friday night or Saturday morning based on the weather (with cloudy weather, the course should stay rather firm). There are two icy spots—one on the Prairie Loop and one on Peeper Hollow, which will be shoveled or cut out of the course as necessary, but for now we plan to run a full 10k lap. Conditions should be good for the biathlon event on Sunday as well.

I took lots of pictures which will come on Skinnyski soon, here's one for fun going down the Gravity Box.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Como today was pretty okay. Right around freeze-up, it was not horrible. There are some wet/icy sections but for skating it seems to be okay. Not so great for classic, but it's not the end of the world, and the folks I was teaching seemed to pick it up okay. And klister hands! Let's see how my keyboard holds up.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Snow mountain biking

I had a bit of an interesting afternoon today. According to the trail conditions, the bike trail at Wirth, which I've seen criss-crossing the ski trails all winter, would close to snow riding this evening. So I decided that something had to be done about that, now that Birkie was over and an encounter with a tree wouldn't preempt my ski season. (Moca still has conditions as being good, though.)

It was almost not to be, however. I biked from work to the ski room. There was no van key. The person earlier had not returned it. After several calls and no answer, I reluctantly made my way across campus towards home. But one last call yielded a van key, so five minutes later my bike was in the back of the van and we (me and Hans, he was skiing) were on our way.

And traffic was horrendous. We should have taken the river but with waning daylight I was willing to risk it. Bad move. We sat on 94 through Minneapolis (four lanes wide, but with horrid merges on the two outer lanes, it's really a two lane highway, so no wonder it backs up) and the sun was sinking fast as we got through the tunnel and on to the Olson. I made the first light but stopped for the second. As we sat at the now-red light, the van shook and a Caddy, having clipped the back of the van, came by, scraping his mirror down the side of the van, and then sped through the red light. I was almost flabbergasted, but saw the guy stuck at the light ahead of us (a longer light) and, when our light changed, used all eight cylinders of the van's engine to rev ahead of other traffic and cut in behind him.

We got the plate, and I leaned on the horn. Any normal person would stop and exchange information, but apparently this guy wanted a hit-and-run. I was on the phone with the Minneapolis police, who said that I could follow him, but that it wasn't advised. I agreed to meet the cops at the Chalet (better than the side of the Olson) to give them a report.

Now, of course, my hopes of riding were being dashed as the sky darkened. But the cops came rather quickly, I told them what happened, and they took a report. Hopefully they catch this guy and throw the book at him. I was more pissed off about the lack of skiing—well, biking—than the superficial damage to the van. But when we were done there was still some light, and I had a head lamp, so, snow mountain biking it was.

Snow mountain biking is a lot of fun. The trail was in good shape—packed, somewhat transformed snow—except for a few sections of ice or frozen dirt. That's not to say I had the right equipment or training to ride it. My tires spun out a lot, I did quite a bit of hike-a-bike, and never got going more than about 8 mph. Oh, and I fell in to the snow a couple times, put my foot in to a foot of snow several times, and grabbed my fair share of trees. It was dark by the end, but at such low speeds my headlamp did a fine job of illuminating the snow. Since it was still around 30, it wasn't too brisk, and it was a blast.

Oh, and the ski trails looked good, too. Aha! Trail report.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Birkie, by the numbers

Without a ton of commentary, here are some statistics about the Birkebeiner. All numbers are based on 2010 finishers, including both men and women, for the freestyle Birkie.

First, wave size. There are obviously more people in early waves than later ones, but how many more? Well, a lot. Waves 1-4, which filled this year, each had between 520 and 560 Birkie finishers, and more Korteloppet skiers, so they were even more crowded during the first 9k. By wave 8, there were only 78 Birkie skiers—surely more in the Korte, but it's still a lot smaller, especially beyond Timber Trail. Wave 10—with new skiers—was larger this year, and perhaps smaller than usual with the early cutoff for registration.
Elite Men 196
Elite Women 70
Wave 1 554
Wave 2 543
Wave 3 530
Wave 4 522
Wave 5 436
Wave 6 223
Wave 7 146
Wave 8 78
Wave 9 142
Wave 10 201

And what of Birkie regionality?
State Avg. Time # skiers State Avg. Time # skiers
S.D. 2:31:01 1 N.M. 3:33:08 5
Alaska 2:50:35 22 Wash. 3:37:14 29
Ore. 2:51:51 11 Ind. 3:37:58 3
Ver. 2:58:48 13 Wis. 3:39:02 1591
Idaho 3:01:20 19 N.D. 3:43:59 6
Mich. 3:02:11 99 Ark. 3:46:44 1
Maine 3:05:40 9 Penna. 3:46:46 8
Wyo. 3:10:12 7 Ill. 3:47:58 154
Int'l 3:16:44 52 Nev. 3:59:20 1
Mary. 3:17:32 3 Ariz. 4:00:46 6
Colo. 3:17:56 102 Calif. 4:01:05 30
Utah 3:17:59 22 Mo. 4:08:10 3
Conn. 3:18:49 2 Ken. 4:14:07 2
Ohio 3:19:37 10 Ga. 4:30:33 1
Mass. 3:19:49 22 Kan. 4:34:30 3
Mont. 3:19:52 25 Fla. 4:37:44 4
Minn. 3:22:01 1254 Texas 5:08:34 4
N.H. 3:23:35 11 Va. 5:16:07 6
Iowa 3:30:04 42 Neb. 5:50:44 2

Well, obviously the most finishers come from Wisconsin and Minnesota, which account for about 75% of the skiers. Beyond that, big states include Illinois, Colorado and Michigan, with sizable contingents from most other states with some decent snow. But who has the best times? Where do the fast skiers come from? Well, the one skier in South Dakota was a first wave qualifier, finishing in 2:30, but he didn't have anyone to drag him down. Alaska, Oregon, and Vermont—all states with development teams (APU, XC Oregon, Craftsbury ) come next, with international skiers following. Of the larger states, Michigan beats out Colorado (and Illinois) and International skaters do well.

However, the most important statistic is who does best between Minnesota and Wisconsin, and while there are more Wisconsinites in the race, the Minnesotans are faster. Apparently, the Gophers beat the Badgers. It would be fantastic if there were a competition between the two states in the next Birkie. Team competition to the max! (Although, to be fair, Chris Cook came 3d, the first Wisconsinite across the line, while Minnesota's first, Matt Liebsch, was 8th.)

Now for some charts! In all the charts, the red dashed line is the elite qualification time (for men). A few things to note: wave 3 is spread out at the top more than wave 2 or 4, as senior citizens (over 65) are allowed to start in wave 3 regardless of their time.

Here are all Birkie skate finishers, sorted by bib number (and thus, by wave). Note how much bigger waves 1-5 are than the rest, as well as the spread of the waves. It looks like they've done a relatively good job seeding skiers.

You can also view this chart by time. Note a couple of things. First, how spread out wave 3 is. Second, how there are contingents in waves 1-7, which are most pronounced in the latter of these waves, which are seeded with lower numbers but slower overall. These are Birchleggings skiers, which get bibs under 200 (i.e. below 1200 or 4200) and generally, since they're older, have lower times. Especially in the smaller, later waves, there is a big gap between the Birchleggings folks and the rest of the skiers, who start at bib 200.

And here is a chart of all the skate finishers in the race, sorted in to five minute categories. A bell curve with a long tail, it seems.

Now, we come to some more fun. Here is the chart above, but sorted by starting wave.A few things to note. First, that, since the elite wave is based on a number (top 200) and not a time, its tail has a different shape, as it drops off much more quickly. The first and second waves look like rather normal curves, although the third wave, owing to the older skiers in it, has a second peak. Beyond that, the fourth and fifth waves, while still rather normal, are much more spread out, since they have the same number of skiers finishing in longer times (with the fast snow, the modal finish time was 3:10 this year). And the color doesn't show up well in the legent, but the light yellow of wave 10 has a very flat curve.

This can also be shown by charting time versus place in wave—to look at the times for each wave. The large waves, 1-4, are not surprisingly quite flat—only a few minutes separates the first and last finishers, although there are, of course folks at the back whose times skew up. A few things to notice are the old folks in wave three posting long times, the fact that almost everyone in wave 1 finished in under 3:30, and almost everyone in wave 2 was under 4:00, and that the front of wave 4 was actually a tad faster than the front of wave 3 (the line is slightly lower on the chart). A couple more interesting tidbits: wave 9 is faster than waves 7 and 8, and even than the start of wave 6. The fast pieces of waves 3, 4 and 5 are all about the same speed (perhaps because everyone got stuck in the same traffic jam on the hills).

These data can also be shown by comparing the place in the wave to the overall place. The trends are similar: elite wavers avoid relegation as long as they stay near the second point of inflection, the early part of the fourth wave beats the early third, which is comparable to the early part of the fifth, and the 7th through 9th waves don't really line up as expected. There's more variability in later waves, too. Most first wavers finish within the first 850 or so and will be right back in the first wave. Second wavers mainly finish between 750 and 1500. But there are quite a few wave 5 skiers who will qualify in to the top two waves, even as most of their co-wavers ski wave 5 times.

Finally, we can plot all of the finishers. I'm not sure what the inflection point here, but the curve is very flat from about 2:40 to 3:50—where most of the skiers finish.

It's pretty minor, but there seem to be points of inflection around 100th place, and then a very minor change in the slop right around the elite qualification mark. I have no idea what that means. Probably nothing. Then there's avery constant slope from about 400th place to 2400th place, before the stragglers come in.

These charts are fun and don't tell us much, but they definitely confirm Birkie wave creep (everyone tries to, and often does, qualify in to the top waves), but this is also due to the fact there is not much of a difference in time between a wave 1 skier and a wave 2 skier (see all the overlap in the "bell curve by wave" chart). So, yeah, unless you're in the elite wave, or wave 6 or higher, you'll have a lot of company on the trail.