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Posts from February 2008

A Beautiful Birkie!
Posted February 26, 2008

The 35th Subaru American Birkiebeiner Race was one of the best ever. Trail conditions were perfect. The snow was perfect. The weather was perfect. 6,900 skiers put their skis across the start line! The volunteers were wonderful. And the crowds on Main street were huge. What a great ski it was.

I'll bring you a few views of this great even over the next few posts as well as provide updates an additions to this post. So be sure to check back soon for more.

Photo by Juliane Bantz.

For starters lets see old friend Steve Bantz and myself at the start area. We generally arrive early and "hang out" until just before our wave lines up.

There are always interesting things to see around the start area. Here are a few.

Above Left: Everyone lines up to take care of some last minute details.
Above Right: There is an unofficially "ski sale" in front of the warming tent.
Photos by Juliane Bantz.

Two skiers were chosen to represent the Norwegian Birkiebeiner warriors who carried the little prince to safety over 800 years ago. It is this feat that is commemorated by the Norwegian, American and Canadian Birkebeiner ski races. The warriors warm up before the start and eventually ski the entire distance and finish on Main Street in Hayward with the rest of us. Photos by Juliane Bantz.

The start area really comes alive as the time approaches to begin the race. Skiers drop off clothing bags which will be taken to the finish while other skiers are waiting to enter the starting waves.

Finally it's time to go. Skiers are sent out onto the course in large waves every 5 minutes. Freestyle skiers lead their wave followed in 5 minutes by Classic skiers.

Above is the start of the Fifth wave. I'm in there somewhere.
Photo by Juliane Bantz.

In the photo above I'm in back of a gal with a pink outfit and turquoise skirt. The top of my hat is blue. See if you can spot me.
Photo by Juliane Bantz.

Off we ski. The first 2 km are fairly flat and the course is wide. Skiers spread out and loosen up. All too soon we make a hard left and enter the "Powerline" section of the trail. We go straight up and down several large steep hills. At the top of the highest of these is a group of drummers banging out a loud rhythm that urges us on and up.

Food stops come and go. So do the hills. The hills never seem to end. Up, up, up we go. Then fly down through the forest and around the curves. Watch those other skiers. If one should fall there might be some interesting avoidance maneuvers required.

Around 13 km we hit the highest part of the course. Don't think it's all downhill from there though. There are plenty more hills to climb.

Snowmobilers typically gather at one interesting spot. The trail bends left and begins to descend. Just as you pick up speed there is a sharp right tune with a steep drop off. This tricky hill gathers in more than a few skiers who fall and slide down the steep hill. The snowmobilers send up loud cheers every time some one bites the dust.

Once past the "snowmobilers hill" and up over another climb skiers enter a long stretch where the hills and easier and the skiing faster. Another food station and another easy stretch brings us to Mosquito Brook. I always get plenty to eat and drink here because two big climbs come close together.

Leaving the food station we ski easily though a flat area until we cross the bridge over Mosquito Brook. The we begin the first climb. We go up and up but it quickly appears the trail will level out. It's a trick though because the trail turns left and climbs even steeper. I saw some skiers standing at the top leaning hard on their poles in submission

It's now 39 km into the race. A short stretch later we come to "B" hill. A long open straight up climb that saps whatever energy one might have left. Up and Up we go. Soon the big Bees are spotted and the boom boxes are heard pushing out a driving beat to get us to the top.

Another easy stretch with a long fast downhill brings us to a couple of quick climbs. This repeats itself a few times but in just a few minutes we ski along the edge of a big field, cross Highway 77 and get one last feed.

Then it's up one more big long hill at the top of which I spot Lake Hayward. Down the hill, across Wheeler Road and out onto the lake we go. I follow long line skiers on the lake. There's is only 3 km to go. The lake goes on and on but I finally see skiers going around the Market Place store. From there it's easy. Ski between the Market Place and the Bank, turn right on Main Street and race as fast as possible between throngs of cheering spectators to the finish line. Wow! Another Birkie in the books - my 29th!

The announcer called my name but it was too late for Juliane to snap a pic of me skiing in. This one was taken about 20 seconds after I crossed the line. I look tired but not as bad as the guy on the right hand side of the photo. As you can see I picked up some "power beads" along the way.
Photo by Juliane Bantz.

Steve started one wave after me and my pace was just a little faster. So I had a little time to get a quick drink and some dry clothes. Before long though, I spotted the easy skiing V-2 style of Steve coming down Main Street. Juliane was so excited she took a few pics when Steve was too far away to be seen then she ran to the finish area to meet him.

Steve Bantz at the finish line after finishing his 13th Birkie. He's still looking pretty chipper.

Our next action are pretty traditional. Change clothes. Get some electrolyte replacement drinks in us and then head to Anglers. The brats are cooking on the grill and the bock beer tastes great. What better way to begin the celebration?

We celebrated well this year. After our brats and beer on Main Street Steve and I rested some, showered and were joined by Juliane, LaNora, Kathy and Tara at the Angry Minnow. The Bourbon Barrel Beer flowed freely there for sure!

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Counting Down to the Birkie, Feb. 23rd
Posted February 11, 2008

The big American flag waves proudly as the Elite Wave hits the trail in the 2006 American Birkebeiner gets under way.
Photo by Mark Milford, American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation.

Within minutes skiers are climbing the powerline hills in the first 4 km of the 2006 American Birkebeiner
Photo by Mark Milford, American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation.

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Race in the Rain
Posted February 11, 2008

Seems like I'm stuck on weather reports this month. I continue to be amazed at the variety and rapid changes of the weather we are experiencing this year. The Birkie is less than two weeks away and I feel I'm not ready for the challenge.

Early in the week we had more cold weather with wind but this let up by Friday allowing for some fantastic skiing. Snow depths were an inch short of 7 feet and the grooming was impeccable.

Expecting more of the same I left home Sunday morning. It was -9 F. I drove through Browning around 8:20 AM. It was snowing lightly with light winds and temp was around -10 F. I turned west on US 2 and began to climb the hill to go over the railroad tracks. About halfway up the hill I hit warm air and my windows instantly froze over preventing all vision. This has happened to me before and it is a truly unnerving situation. I drove blind, slowed down and put the defrosters on full. It was no help. So I took a chance and squirted windshield washer fluid onto the window. I could then see through a small hole. I discovered I was on the wrong side of the road. I corrected quickly and kept going.

About halfway to East Glacier I crested a hill at 60 mph and hit snowdrifts on the road that were over a foot deep. Almost lost it there. Coming over the next hill I was going slower and encountered more snow drifts along with a vehicle buried in the snow up against the guardrail. I stopped to help them dig out and get back on the road. In East Glacier the snow was slushy and wet.

The next objective was to drive over Marias Pass. The wind picked up and blew the falling and fallen snow into a pure white out. I could barely see the hood of my truck. Jen looked out the right window and noticed I was close to the snow bank. I looked out the left side and saw the same. Hmmmm! The drifts were closing down US 2. We kept going because there was no where to turn around.

Once over the pass the snow let up and the road got better. A look at some elk feeding in nearby aspens help calm the nerves. We arrived at Izaak Walton to find it was raining hard.

Skiing was tough in the slush. The rain pelted us hard and we were chilled to the bone quickly. No matter how hard we tried we could not get warm. There was a race in progress on the trails so we stopped to take a few picks then headed in for lunch. We decided to head 'em on home. So I try to back out of my parking spot and find I'm stuck in the slush.

Above: Leaders in the 7 km Freestyle Race crest the hill after a long grueling climb.
Below: The next group comes up quickly.

No post next week. I'm heading for Wisconsin for my 29th consecutive American Birkebeiner 51 km ski race. I'll be skiing the Birkie Trail the weekend before the race and putting in appearances at ABR, Eagle River Nordic and possibly a few other locations. I'll tell the whole story when I return February 26th. Wish me luck, I'm really going to need it this year.

Days of Joy
Posted February 5, 2008

The weather can and often does change quickly around here. This was the first sentence of last weeks posts and it surely holds true again this week. Following the rainy day ski Montana experienced tremendous surges of cold air and deep moisture. These combined to dump snow on the Northern Rockies. While temps fell to -20 F or so the snow came out of the sky in buckets. Over 40 inches fell at Izaak Walton Inn and up to 70 inches of new snow blankets some of the higher peaks.

Skiing on Friday was tough as the groomers were working to firm up the trails and remove a few trees that had succumbed to heavy snow loads. By Sunday and Monday though conditions were better than perfect. Here are a few photos.

Jen Gruber skating away at Izaak Walton Inn.

Driving over Marias Pass was also a treat. The mountains were pure white in their heavy winter blankets. The road was like a canyon with cliff like plow berms on either side. Trees were heavily flocked as well.

Jill Owen skiing along Essex Creek with a big smile!

Skiing on days like this is such a joy. The snow clad trees muffle all outside sound. It is immensely quiet and only the swish of skis through snow, the sound of breathing and the rustle of lightly falling snow reaches your ears. These are the days of winter than will be remembered when it is 100 F next summer. These are the days of joy!

Birkie: One more skiing week before I leave for the Birkie. The excitement of my 29th run through the forests and fields of Northern Wisconsin is beginning to build. Snow is better there than last year and I'm getting pumped. A few more days to polish up my technique and it's off to the big dance.