2005 Birkie Stories
Waxing for the Birkie or any Long Distance Ski
Wax Table for the 2005 Birkie
My Subaru American Birkiebeiner, February 26, 2005
Quotes from the Skinnyski.com Racing Team
Results for Montanans
Nature Breaks Before the Start
Waxing for the American Birkebeiner
or any Long Ski where Performance is Important
Posted March 7, 2005
In skiing the 2005 Birkie I wanted my skis to perform perfectly. They should glide as if there were little motors in the base keeping them going. Actually I would be the motor so I wanted the skis to let me get the most out of what I had.
I also wanted the skis to continue that high performance for the entire distance. It would be a real bummer to have fast skis early in the race but have them slow as my motor ran down.
What to do then to have these fast rocket skis? Here are some important tips:
Learn a good wax system and use it all year. This will make you familiar with how your skis respond to the various waxes. I use Toko waxes most of the time. I found them to perform well and they are easy to apply. Swix and waxes from other companies like Start, Star and Fastwax are also very good. Choose one wax system and get to know it as intimately as possible. Become a pro at applying wax, ironing, scraping, and brushing. If you classic ski learn all of the grip alternatives in your chosen wax brand as well. Once you know where your system is weak you can look for alternatives in other brands.
Consider specific race recommendations. For this years Birkie the major wax companies published wax recommendations specifically for the Birkie. Some have phone hot lines you can check for latest updates. To see the wax suggestions from Swix and Toko click HERE. These recommendations suggest use of very expensive materials. Lower price alternatives with in the wax brand may also be given.
I generally use Toko waxes all year long but seldom use any of the high fluoro or pure fluoro materials. Since I have little experience with these high end products I rely on the Toko Racing Service recommendations. Both companies find their reputations on the line in the big events. The suggestions then are done carefully. Your knowledge of the wax line will be crucial though, should the conditions vary from the predicted.
Stick with the tried and true: It's a good idea to stick with what you know and are familiar with. If you never used a certain brand of waxes all year, don't use it in the Birkie just because the guy at the waxing bench next to you says it's good. If you used Swix waxes all year then use Swix waxes in the race. This is not a time for experimentation.
Use good waxing technique: Clean your skis before waxing. Iron carefully. Scrape and brush carefully and completely. Follow the manufacturers instructions. When ironing in pure fluoro materials consider wearing a respirator.
In general waxing for long distances involves cleaning the ski, applying a hard base layer, applying waxes for the snow conditions and temperatures expected, and finally applying substances on top to aid in maintaining glide.
These steps take some time. I cleaned my skies a couple of days before the race and completed waxing on Friday morning. It took me about two hours to make the skis ready. Be sure to provide enough time. Hasty wax jobs make for sloppiness and slow skis.
Some of the harder waxes (Toko HF Blue in the photo above or Swix HF 4, or 6) are tricky to apply. Once dripped onto the base they cool and become brittle quickly. One trick from Steve's Secret Wax Techniques is to dribble on a short 6-8 inch line of wax on both sides of the groove, then immediately iron this section smooth. Continue down the ski working in short 6-8 inch strips until the entire ski has the wax applied. Then re-iron so the wax is absorb into the base. Finally iron the wax as smooth as possible with one continuous pass. Once the ski has cooled completely you will able to scrape the ski without flaking off the wax.
The 2005 Birkie is over. I put in my fastest time for a full length race at 4:12:30.7. I'm very satisfied and I note that many of my contemporaries are slowing down while my race is getting faster. Montanans as a group did very well in the Birkie with Leif Zimmerman of Bozeman finishing 4th overall with a time of 2:04:12.8 only a minute behind the winner, Marco Cattaneo of Italy who finished in 2:03:14.6. For a list of all the Montanans and their finish times click HERE.
I spent the 10 days leading up to the Birkie visiting friends in Wisconsin and skiing various trails including ABR in Ironwood, Michigan; the Nicolet North trails near Eagle River, Wisconsin; Minocqua Winter Park near Minocqua, Wisconsin and, of course, on the Birkie Trail between Hayward and Cable, Wisconsin. My companions included Steve and Juliane Bantz from Milwaukee.
The Birkie day began with a 4:15 wake up call. We had applied some Toko Helx Cold to our skis the night before and this needed a final polishing in the morning. I'll post more on waxing for this years race in a day or so. That done we loaded the skis into the van and headed off to breakfast.
After eating and accomplishing a few other mandatory tasks we drove to the Birkie start area near the Cable airport. It was a clear cold windless morning with the temperature at sunrise at -9 F. The Elite Men were scheduled to start at 8:20 AM. I was waiting to watch them zoom out onto the trail. Anticipation was high.
At 8:18 a bunch of skiers tried to jump the gun for an early start. They raised the banners on the far side of the course and skied under. Race officials immediately called them back but just as they were getting organized the giant howitzer boomed and the race began. Unfortunately for those that tried to jump the gun, the banners at that end did not lift and those skiers were held back (see photo below).
After watching the Elites head out I went back to our van for some last minute preparations. A quick snack on a Cliff Shot, some water and one last nature break and I was ready. Steve and I posed for a photo. Every ten minutes the cannon boomed again sending another wave of skiers toward Hayward.
||Ralph Thornton (5007) and Steve Bantz (6369) at the start of the 2005 Subaru American Birkebeiner.
The first digit of a racers number demotes the wave assignment. This is based on qualifying times from previous Birkebeiners or other qualifying races.
The normal bib color is white as seen on Steve. My purple bib signifies that I am in the Birchleggings Club. Membership is awarded to those who have completed 20 or more birkebeiners. The round patch on the upper right corner of my bib has the number 26 indicating that this is my 26th Birkie.
Start to OO
My race would begin at 9:10 am with the start of the Fifth wave. I headed into the staging area then moved up to the start line. A few good lucks to those around me and then it got quiet. The howitzer boomed, the banners raised and we were off. Steve would repeat this in another ten minutes as his sixth wave followed mine. The temperature at the start had warmed to +3 F.
The first kilometers are wide and flat. The wave quickly begins to thin out. There was plenty of room to ski and I saw no one fall.
At the 2 kilometer mark the fun begins. A sharp left hand turn leads to the first of an endless series of hills on the "Power Line" section of the trail. The ups are demanding and I begin to breath heavily. Sharp downhill sections separate the uphills as the trail begins a relentless climb that lasts 10 kilometers. The total elevation gain is about 400 feet but I have to climb that several times because of the intervening downhills.
The steep drops begin to claim some skiers. The call of "Skier Down" echoes across the course and we all begin evasive maneuvers. On one downhill a tricky little bump claimed more than one race but I managed to fumble my way across without miss hap.
At the 4.5 and 9 kilometer points there are much needed food stations. At each I down some energy drink, a couple cups of water and a Cliff Shot. The nourishment and brief rest make me feel better but soon I'm climbing the hills again.
The highest point on the course comes at the top of a long steep climb at the 12 K point. From there I'd like to think it is all downhill but I know better. Dazzling twisting descents lead to more steep climbs. Snowmobilers regularly gather at one downhill that features a sharp left turn halfway down. They congratulate those that make it and raise a riotous cheer for those who display the ultimate in style by crashing on the course.
I got safely but these hills and settled into a steady ski knowing that before I got to the 23 K mark I would have 2 more stupendous uphills to climb over.
Highway OO at 23 K came quickly. Another feed station and then a longer 9 K of more gentle trail before the next feed.
OO to Bitch Hill
My goal is to get to OO with legs that feel fresh. I took is easy on the big hills so now I could ski faster on easier sections of the trail. Just past OO the Fischer Ski Company had a special feed for skiers on Fischer skis. As I cruised by I was handed a nice warm energy drink that really helped me stay fresh.
Now the race began to be a lot of fun. I began passing slower skiers. I skated the downhills trying to maintain as much speed as possible to the next up. There were some ups in this section but the flatter stretches provided some recovery.
The next feed comes at Gravel Pit Road (32 K). This marks the beginning of a very sneaky climb. Up and up you go. Finally you see blue sky on the trail ahead and just when you think you'll make it to the top the trail turns left and climbs some more. I needed strength here because I knew the next section of trail was called by some the "Valley of Death."
Ah, but it went by quickly. Kilometer markers were flying by now and I soon flew down a long hill to Mosquito Brook. Another feed immediately followed by a kilometer of uphill. I still felt good and looked forward to the next big obstacle at 38 K.
A sign on the side of the trail reminded us that we all had to go this way. Another group of signs said it wasn't Bitch Hill but for today it would a Beach of a Hill. And then it comes into view; Bitch Hill. A long steep climb with a nasty steeper pitch right in the middle. I was ready for it though and began my skate to the top. I got stuck behind a guy who was just a little wobbly and had to slow some.
This gave me time to watch the ladies on the beach. Near the top of the hill, where a boom box was blasting out Montego Bay, I spied a very large busted woman in a bikini. I blinked a couple of times to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. She was costumed nicely and definitely wore a bikini. A beach of a hill of sure.
Bitch Hill to Wheeler Road
At the top of Bitch hill the trail cruises on a gently ascending section and I could catch my breath while continuing to skate in a V-2 technique. There are a couple of tricky downhills though that kept my attention. Two more nice climbs and I hit Highway 77 and the last feed station at 44 K. Only 7 more kilometers to go!
There is a hill after Hwy 77. It's often called the forgotten hill because most skiers don't ski this part of the course while training. It's only a kilometer long and 100 feet high but it demands every thing I have left. Once over the top there are some nifty cruises down to Wheeler Road.
I reached the crest of the hill above the road, skated over to the set track, stuck my skis in the grooves and began to gain speed as I coasted down the hill. A red arrow painted in the snow caught my attention! The track I was in ended in blacktop at the road. I skated out of the track and heard "On your right!" from another skier. I kept as far left as I could and the two of us zoomed over the road on the sugary snow.
To the Finish
For those who make it this far with some energy to spare the last 3.5 kilometers of the Birkie are a real trip. The trail crosses Lake Hayward. The town with its tall water tower is just ahead. Spectators line the trail ringing bells and cheering you on. I began a fast but relaxed V-2 skate on the lake that I maintained to the finish.
About 600 meters from the finish the course leaves the lake, ducks around the Market Place grocery and turns right onto Main Street. A long gently ascending snow covered street lies ahead. It is lined with cheering crowds on both sides. The Finish Banner calls just ahead. My skis continue their hissing sound with every skate. Closer and closer comes the banner. I ski under it! I stop. Wow, another great fun ski on the Birkie trail is done. A few photos, a medal for my efforts and a trip to Anglers Bar for the traditional bratwurst and beer.
My good friend Steve Bantz skiing near OO (left), coming up Main Street (center) and resting seconds after the finish (right).
Left: I'm cruising up Main Street. I'm skiing so fast Juliane couldn't get the photo until I passed by.
I'm in front of the white building and have the turquoise sides on my ski suit.
Right: Just beyond the finish line. It feels real good to stand still for a minute and relax.
Above Left: Steve Bantz skiing to the finish on Main Street. Above Right: Steve Bantz at the Birkie Finish.
Below Left: Buying the traditional bratwurst at Anglers Bar after the race. Below Right: Celebrating with a Stout!
More photos and a wax tail to follow soon.
2005 Birkie Quotes from Members of the Skinnyski.com Race Team
Posted March 2, 2005
It may be called the Perfect Birkie: firm packed trails with plenty of snow, the sun shining brightly, and temperatures rising into the 20s by finish.
High expectations always seem to lead to the inevitable "bonk." With low expectations the goal is just to last. After all, the Birkie is not so much a race as a long march with victory to those left standing.
My race went well ... for about 3 seconds. 10 meters off the start line I felt a tug on my pole and suddenly I had a grip in my left hand with no pole attached.
My first Birkie and likely the most memorable! You ever have one of those weeks where you could fall into a sewer and come out with your pants pressed? I think I had that week…