Posts from February 2009

My 30th Birkie!
Posted February 24, 2009

It was a great day to ski. It started with all the usual pre-race tension and ended with one heck-of-a-party!

Here's some of the story mostly in pictures.

Photos by Jennifer Gruber except where noted.

We awoke at 4:30 and by 5 were in the main ballroom of the hotel having breakfast. Then pack up and head for the start. Once there we took care of various personal needs before making final preparations for the big dance.

Skiers included Kyle Bantz (#9767), Steve Bantz (#6280) and myself (#5008).

First to start was Richard Pierce and Jeff Cummingsford (left and right) who played the roles of Torstein and Skerveld, Birkebeiner Warriors who carried Prince Haakon to safety in 1206. Lyndsey Lewis dressed as Inga from Varteig, mother of Prince Haakon, while her one-year old son Piercen assumed the role of the cherished prince during the last 200 meters of the course.

At 8:20 AM the elite wave of skiers began their race to Hayward's Main Street 50 kilometers away.

The rest of us started in later waves. Kyle was in the 9th wave, Steve in the 6th and I was in the 5th wave. My daughter Jennifer was one of our fantastic photographers capturing most of the images in the Birkie day posts.

Some of us walked over to watch the Elite Wave start while others rested in the van. The time soon neared for waves 5 and 6 so Steve and I headed over and posed for one last pic.

I'm in the center of this photo waiting to enter the "coral" or staging area behind the start.

Moving into the start position.

The mass of skiers starting in the Wave 5 Skate group.

I'm in there somewhere!

Wave 5 heads into the forest.

Wave 6 leaves the start area.

Steve almost gets taken out when several skiers go down.

Kyle joins hundreds of other skiers heading out in the Korteloppet Race. This shorter 23 km race starts with the Birkie and follows the same course for 9 kilometers before heading back to finish at Telemark Lodge.

I had been nervous right up to the start because I felt my conditioning level was not good enough. I was pretty sure I could finish the course but I really didn't want to spend more time out there than was necessary.

The first few kilometers are flat but soon I reached the Power lines where there are several steep uphills. Steep ups and downs continue all the way to Hwy OO at 22.8 km. Jennifer mentioned the week before that the first half of the trail is either up or down and there are no level spots. Once into the Powerline section that is pretty much the case. I managed to maintain a steady even pace though and the kilometers began to race by.

Somewhere around 7 km though I fell on a twisty downhill. The course had been scraped clear of softer snow by previous skiers and what was left was an icy surface. I got around the first corner and started to move left. I had no choice because that's where the ice and my skies were taking me. Reaching the second corner I spotted a skier in front of me who had fallen. I desperately tried to move right and just managed to avoid him. In making that move though my skis turned sideways to the hill and I went down on my right cheek.

I knew other skiers were flying down this hill behind me so I quickly crawled to the side of the trail and began to get up. Someone asked me if I was OK. I replied that I was fine and got back to skiing down the rest of the hill.

The fall had taken some of the "starch" out of me and I was a little wobbly for a while. Fortunately none of the next downhills were icy and I managed to stay upright. By the time I passed the next feed station I was feeling back to normal and regained the nice steady pace I had before the fall.

In no time at all I passed some of the milestones in the first half. Fire Tower Hill and Snowmobilers corner were now behind me and I began the climb to the Hwy OO road crossing. Once past the feed stop at Hwy OO I knew the next 10 km were much easier.

10 more km went by and I was at the Gravel Pit feed station. Another unfortunate thing happened at Gravel Pit. The Cliff Shot Blocks I was eating to replenish electrolytes and provide some energy had gotten quite cold. They were now firm and very chewy. In trying to chew several of these I managed to pull off one of the crowns in my mouth. I felt the hard crunch of something and knew it wasn't the shot block. So I had to spend quite a bit of time trying to get the crown separated from the food. I finally got the crown out of my mouth and into a pocket. Man, that seemed to have taken forever.

Crossing Gravel Pit Road a quick little climb took me up into what Steve calls the "Valley of Death." I never seem to have problems with that part of the course though and I continued my pleasant ski to Hayward.

Coming up over a little rise right before the Mosquito Brook feed station I heard someone yell my name. I barely recognized Bruce as I skied by. He, Kathy and Tara were watching for me oping to get a pic. They barely managed to get their camera turned on before I was past. They caught me at the feed station and offered some encouragement. I soon said "See you in Hayward" and skied away.

The next part of the course is tough. There is along uphill after Mosquito Brook. Once over that hill you only get a brief rest before seeing Bitch Hill rise high in front of you. This hill always tells me if I'm having a good race. If I get to the top fairly easily the race is a good one. I quickly reached the top of that monster and skied on without stopping.

A swift long downhill brought me to a steep and painful uphill near the Fish Hatchery. A few more ups and downs and I began the long climb over the Hwy 77 hill. This is often called the forgotten hill because skiers usually don't ski that part of the course during training. I knew it was coming though and saved enough energy to get over the top.

There is one nifty little down and up in that part of the course where you fly down a steep hill only to glide right up to the top of the next uphill. I wish they were all like that.

A left turn brings you to the crest of a ridge. From there a great panoramic view spreads out in front of you. The finish line is at the far end of that view. Fly down and over the Wheeler Road Hill, cross Wheeler Road and Duffy's Field then ski onto Lake Hayward.

The wind was really kicking up on the lake but I managed to draft another skier all the way across. This saved me a lot of energy. I was able to push hard around the bank and onto Main Street for a fast finish.

There was a pretty good crowd on Main Street as I skied toward the finish line.

As soon as I hit the street I could hear the loud school bell that Marie Blunk was ringing to encourage me on.

Another pair of Main Street photos by Kathy Posus and Bruce Bartle.

I was so fast at one point on Main Street that Jennifer got a shot of me chasing myself.

I joined Steve at the finish line. He had a very good race as well finishing in about 15 minutes less time than me.

Another Birkie, my 30th, was over. It was one heck of a deal! We took a few more photos, enjoyed some liquids to replenish electrolytes and lost fluids then started the celebration.

It's Party Time
Posted February 24, 2009

One of my goals in each recent Birkie has been to finish well and be able to enjoy the post race camaraderie. This usually involves some different kinds of liquid refreshments and the traditional Wisconsin bratwurst.

Back at the motel Bill and Marie Blunk presented me with some Gentlemen Jack and we proceeded to toast to the 69 Birkie
Finishes that were represented by those present.

After some rest and showers we continued the celebration at the Angry Minnow Brew Pub..

And I really did eat all those hot wings.

Skiing with Bjorn Daehlie
Posted February 24, 2009

Saturday February 21, 2009: The Birkie is here. Time to ski!

This Birkie was special in many ways. One of the greatest treats of my skiing career would be to ski with Bjorn Daehlie, the greatest cross country skier in history.

Granted I would not actually ski next to, behind or in front of Bjorn. But it was very gratifying to know I would be skiing the same race at the same time with this greatest skier ever.

Bjorn Daehlie, unquestionable the greatest cross country skier in history. Photo by Jennifer Gruber

Bjorn Daehlie came to the Birkie to help raise money for MS. His mother suffers from this disease and he is campaigning for a cure.

Shortly after we arrived at the start area Bjorn stepped out of a vehicle and began preparations for the race. He was skiing Classic style and would be in the first wave.

Bjorn Daehlie warms up just prior to the start of the American Birkiebeiner. Photos by Jennifer Gruber.

After warming up and checking his wax, Bjorn returned to his vehicle to keep warm. Before long though he was off to the start.

The start of Classic Wave One. Bjorn Daehlie in the lead pack right out of the starting gate.
Bjorn is in Norway's Bright Red with a white hat and blue bib number 300. Photos by Jennifer Gruber.

Only three hours later Bjorn Daehlie would finish his race on Main Street in Hayward and I would be following hi on the Birkie trail.

Our Birkie Wax Job
Posted February 24, 2009

Friday February 20, 2009: The Birkie is now only 1 day away! And it's time to prepare our skis.

Steve Bantz is a waxing professor. He has experimented with different ways to prepare skis and looks into all of the newest products. No matter what the conditions it seems you can always count on Steve to come up with fast skis. This year was no exception.

Steve began with the glide wax recommendations from Toko. We both have been using Toko wax products for several years and found them easy to use and very good. There was no reason to switch now.

Steve's main concern was the suggestion by Toko to use JetStream Blue as the final layer. This is a pure fluoro product that usually works best in moister or older snow. We knew the race course was mostly transformed older snow but we were unsure how much new snow would fall on Friday and Friday night. Assuming new snow would fall Friday night Steve decided to forego the JetStream and apply Helx Cold instead.

He was also concerned about the very cold night time temperatures on Wednesday, Thursday and possibly Friday nights. Having experimented with Toko Nordlite Cold Powder additive and finding it very good under cold conditions he decided to add that to the mix.

Our final ski preparation then included the following steps:

  • Brush the ski base lightly several times with a copper brush.
  • Iron in a layer of Toko System 3 Blue, let cool only slightly, then scrape and brush.
  • Iron in a layer of Toko Low Fluoro Gray Moly mixed 1:1 with Toko Low Fluoro Blue, let cool then scrape and brush.
  • Iron in a layer of Toko High Fluoro Blue and while still hot sprinkle in Toko Nordlite X Cold Powder. Let cool then scrape and brush. Since this was a very hard wax we made a few light passes with a copper brush in addition to using nylon and horse hair brushes.
  • Finally spray on the Helx Cold, let dry thoroughly then buff with a Helx buffing pad.

The process of preparing the three pair of skis (one pair each for Steve, his daughter Kyle and myself ) took almost 4 hours.

Whenever preparing skis for something as important as the Birkie we always feel better if we can try them out after waxing. This provides the confidence that they will work well and let's us make changes if needed. We tested the skis at the Hwy OO crossing of the Birkie Trail and found them very smooth and fast. No changes needed.

Race morning we awoke to a couple of inches of fresh snow. This new snow resulted in slightly slower conditions for the front runners but it also made for perfect conditions for the wax choices that Steve made the day before.

Our skis were like rocket sleds on the trail. It is always a delight to start down a hill next to someone and end up much farther up the next hill than they got before having to begin poling again. Thanks again Steve for my fast skis!

Birkie Waxing Recommendations
Posted February 19, 2009; Updated February 24, 2009

The Birkie is now only 2 days away! Here are the suggested waxes. Forecast conditions are for a low of -1 F Friday night and a high of +20 F on Saturday. Expect a hard frozen transformed base with a bit of powder on top or mixed in.

Toko Glide Wax: Apply LF Moly/LF Blue 1:1, scrape and brush, then apply HF Blue, scrape and brush with copper and then horsehair brushes. Finish by rotocorking JetStream Blue, brushing with a dedicated nylon polishing brush, and polish with a Thermo Pad.

Toko Grip Wax: Toko will make a call for the grip wax as soon as they think they know hat it is. It might be Green Klister covered by Carbon White or Carbon Blue for later starters. Update: Toko finally decided to suggest a grip wax on Friday afternoon. Toko suggested building up a very thick pyramid of Toko Base Green. They recommended applying it in many, many layers and corkingeach layer from front toward the center and from the rear toward the center o as to create the pyramid of wax. Toko said the wax should be thick enough after application to make the ski base take on the green color of the wax. I did not talk to anyone who actually used this wax suggestion so I do not know how it might have worked.

Swix Glide Wax: Start with a base wax of Swix HF6BW or HF6 then scrape and brush. For the race apply FC7BS Turbo Solid. Rub on layer and lightly cork in. Rub on 2nd layer. Iron in with iron at 150 C using one pass the length of the ski. Let cool 5 minutes then brush with a Wild Boar brush and finish polish with blue nylon.

Swix Grip Wax: If surface has new snow iron in a generous layer of VG35 and let it cool. Apply two layers of V40 Blue Extra and cork in each layer very smooth. If surface has no new snow or very little new snow apply a layer of KR20 Base Klister. Or try the new KB020 Base Klister Spray. Let that cool outside then apply two thin layers of VR 40 corking very smooth between each layer being very gentle.

For the top race wax apply either VR40 or alternating layers of VR40 and VR45 ending with VR40. Apply a total of 6-8 layers corking smooth after each layer. Be sure to cork from the front and rear of the wax pocket toward the center to build a "pyramid" of wax under the ball of the foot.

The Lake: For those of you skiing the Birkie and concerned about the snow conditions on Lake Hayward I took a look at the trail across the lake this afternoon. There is plenty of snow over the ice and skiing on the lake should be fine. Expect frozen granular snow over the entire course. The fore cast is uncertain as to whether any new snow will come on Friday.

Skiing the Birkie Trail - North End
Posted February 18, 2009

The Birkie is now only 3 days away! We've had 5 fantastic days of skiing and are now resting in Hayward, Wisconsin waiting for the big dance on Saturday.

Saturday February 14, 2009: To get to this point from the previous post we relaxed and enjoyed our ride on the train. Amtrak's Empire Builder arrived on time in Minneapolis Saturday morning at 7:00 AM. in Minneapolis. We retrieved our luggage and skis then headed east into Wisconsin. Our goal was to ski the Birkie trail from the North End Cabin to Hwy OO, a distance of about 18 km.

The warming Cabin at the North End Trails. This cabin is near the 5 kilometer mark of the Birkie trail. From there you can ski the Powerline section or continue south toward Hwy OO.

Snow had been good all winter but a thaw just the week before created some doubt about conditions. We found the trail to be in great shape, well groomed and covered with a little fresh powder.

Jennie nearing the top of the Firetower Hill. This is the highest elevation reached by the Birkie Trail.

The downhills were "frighteningly fast" according to Jennifer and the ups were as tough as ever. The ski was a good one and we pulled off the trail refreshed and happy.

A Visit to the ABR Ski Area in Ironwood, Michigan
Posted February 18, 2009

Sunday and Monday February 15-16, 2009: To continue our ski adventure we headed to Ironwood, Michigan. This was a slight change of plan and we had no reservation for a room in town. Because it was a holiday weekend the motels were full. After stopping off at four or five places we finally found a room at the Hurley Inn.

It was definitely NOT top notch! Broken glass littered the floor behind the table, there was a hole in the bathroom wall and the towel rack there kept falling to the floor. The room did have beds -- but the sheets were too short and left the mattresses exposed some.

The warming Cabin at the ABR Ski Area Trails. The "cabin" has a ski shop and plenty of places to relax after skiing.

Jennie skiing way out on the Hautanen Highlands trail. There are several old cabins and
hunting shacks in the forest along the trail..

Jennie and Ralph skiing Cherry Dairy.

Left: Juliane on the River Trail. Right: A section of the Hemlock Classic Only trail.

The skiing at ABR (which stands for Active Backwoods Retreats) Ski Area was fantastic. There was a solid base with some fresh powder on top all groomed very well.

Enjoying Friendship at Eagle River Nordic
Posted February 18, 2009

Tuesday February 17, 2009: After two days at ABR we visited LaNora Kleerup of Eagle River Nordic. LaNora treated us kindly with great food and conversation. The evenings were filled with talk and laughter while our days included more skiing.

There was just enough snow for some nostalgia skiing on the old Logging Road Trail of Eagle River Nordic. That trail is now part of the Nicolet North Trails near Eagle River and are groomed by the Forest Service. The recent thaw has interrupted grooming and the surface was frozen pretty hard. Fortunately there was enough powder on top to provide good skiing.

On Tuesday afternoon Steve drove Jennie and I over to Minocqua Winter Park. Both Steve and I taught there quite a few years ago. Jennie also had a wealth of skiing experiences there. It was fun to ski the "old" trails and visit with Dan Clausen who runs the ski school and shop.

Left: The Base Chalet at Minocqua Winter Park. Right: A trail marker.

Jennie explored the Base Loop, Sleigh Ride and Tornado Alley while Steve and I did a long trip out to Lake Marie. The trails were pretty icy but grooming made for good skiing in the warm afternoon.

Great track on the Cross Country Express.

Skiing the Birkie Trail - OO to Fish Hatchery
Posted February 18, 2009

Wednesday February 18, 2009: Now with three days before the Birkie we traveled to Hayward. A light snow overnight, high winds, and falling temps greeted us at the OO trail head. Our plan was to ski the 22 kilometers from OO, where we left off last Saturday, down to the Fish Hatchery which is only a few kilometers from Lake Hayward and the finish line.

This section of trail is gently undulating but it also features several steep climbs including the long grade after Mosquito Brook and B-Hill. One stretch seems to meander aimlessly and Steve always refers to that section as the "Valley of Death."

Skiing away and heading south from the Hwy OO warming cabin on the Birkie Trail. This is at the 22.8 km point.

Steve is reaching the top of B-Hill way up there and Jennie is nearing the halfway point of the climb.
B-Hill is at about the 40 km point of the Birkie Trail and is one tough hill!

Jennie skiing V-1 up B-Hill.

Reaching the Fish Hatchery trails we were tired and cold. Juliane was waiting with a warm car and before long we were moved into our room at the Hayward Ramada.

Two days of rest - then comes the big dance! Check back to see how I do in my 30th Birkie!

The Last Montana Skiing Before the Birkie
Posted February 14, 2009

The Birkie is only 8 days away now and I'm writing this aboard Amtrak's Empire Builder heading for Minneapolis. Before catching the train though I got in some great skiing here in the "home range" with daughter Jennifer and good friends Steve and Juliane Bantz from Milwaukee, WI.

Last Saturday, Jen and I headed over to Izaak Walton Inn. The trails were well groomed and the sun shown through breaks in the cloud cover. The skiing was easy and fast.

Jennifer Gruber skiing the River Trail at Izaak Walton Inn.

On Sunday I met the Empire Builder and picked up Steve and Juliane Bantz. Steve skied the Pre-Birkie with his daughter Kyle the day before then headed west for some Montana cross country skiing.

Steve and Juliane at Kelsy's Crossing on the Izaak Walton Inn ski trails..

Our whirlwind ski trip took us to Izaak Walton Inn on Monday, West Yellowstone on Tuesday and Wednesday, and included a day at Lone Mountain Ranch on Thursday. Skiing in each location was just about perfect with the bright sunny day at Lone Mountain Ranch being the best of all of them.

The trail head warming cabin on the Rendezvous Ski Trails in West Yellowstone.

Steve enjoying some great skating on Deja-View.

Juliane leads Steve at the top of the Ranch Loop at Lone Mountain Ranch. Lone Mountain forms the fantastic backdrop.

Classic skiing on the Ranch Loop at Lone Mountain Ranch.

We then drove back home to my place, cleaned up, waxed skis, washed our ski clothes, then headed for the train station in Shelby. Steve and Juliane Bantz, Jennifer Gruber and my self are now "riding the cushions" heading east. We have a date with the Birkie only 8 days from now.

It definitely seems that the party has begun but it has nothing to do with the race. We just returned to our bedroom from the winte tasting event on the Empire Builder. We sampled four wines and four different cheeses. To finish txhe session the dining car steward presents some serious trivia questions and those with the first correct answers win what's left in the wine bottles afer the sampling. I won a cabernet sauvignon, Juliane won the 14 Hands Chardonnay and we also picked up a half bottle of Two Vines Shiraz that our table mate didn't want. We are partying hearty and we haven't left Montana yet!

We plan to ski the Birkie trail on Saturday if conditions permit. Hopefully our trip will also include visits to ABR Ski Area in Ironwood, Michigan and some other old stomping grounds in Wisconsin. We are especially looking forward to a visit with our great friend LaNora Kleerup at Eagle River Nordic. Check back later in the week for an update on preparations for the big race.

Juliane almost gets run over by the powerful Genesis engine of Amtrak's Empire Builder..

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Countdown to the Birkie!
Posted February 6, 2009

The Birkie is the big dance but it also means skiing and renewing old friendships All that begins this weekend with the arrival in Montana of Steve and Juliane Bantz from Milwaukee. We plan to ski Izaak Walton Inn, West Yellowstone and Lone Mountain Ranch before heading to Wisconsin for the BIG ONE. Check back frequently for updated posts.

Over 7,000 skiers will line up at the start of the American Birkebeiner events on Saturday, February 21, 2009.
Photo by Mark Milford.

Instructor Level II, III Certification Exam
Another Festival of Skiing!
Posted February 4, 2009

This past weekend I assisted Herb Davis, Director of Skiing at the Ranch and Chief Cross Country Ski Examiner for the Northern Rocky Mountain Division of the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA-NRM) in evaluating a proficient bunch of ski instructors during a certification exam. PSIA-NRM trains and certifies ski instructors to a national standard to insure the same high quality of ski instruction no matter where in the United States a skier may travel.

The Level II and III Exam was a three day festival of skiing held at Lone Mountain Ranch at Big Sky. Eight candidates shared their knowledge of cross country skiing through informal discussions, formal presentations and demonstrations of high levels of skiing and teaching both in the classic and skate techniques.

Synchronized Classic skiing at Lone Mountain Ranch. Tom, Brenda and Mark lead the way.

Zack leads Heidi in a synchronized skiing one on one session.

We began with some warm-up synchronized skiing in the classic technique. The Joy's Loop trail at the Ranch provided the venue for several laps of continuous skiing. The trail had some uphill, downhill and flat sections requiring a variety of techniques. We cliniced , skied and shot video for analysis during the evening sessions.

Following the Classic session we switched to skating gear and shot more video for the evening session.

Brenda and Tom on V-1.

The participates were able to work on advancing their skiing ability all through the event. Meeting and skiing with a diverse group of instructors brought a variety of ideas and concepts together to broaden everyone's skiing and teaching experiences.

Candidates demonstrated their knowledge of the technical aspects of skiing through fifteen minute presentations on a variety of topics. It was a friendly and supportive group. They all worked together very well and everyone learned from everyone else.

On Saturday Herb recruited some students for lessons. Each candidate had one part of a normal 90 minute on snow lesson to present while the rest of the candidates watched and the examiners filmed and evaluated. It was a difficult experience to teach skiers while being watched so closely by peers but everyone did a great job.

Katie gets a beginners group introduced to skiing.

Mark works on body position for the coming downhill control part of the lesson.

We Finished the event on Sunday with some pairs classic and skate skiing along with some demonstrations of downhill control and turns. The highlight of this day was to work on smooth transitions between techniques. The end result of the exam was that everyone achieved their education and certification goals. Our group was smiling bunch of great skiers enjoying the camaraderie of skiing in one heck of a great setting.

Brenda, Katie, Gene, Zack, Mark, Tom, Kevin, Herb Davis, Heidi and myself.

I congratulate everyone on the high level of performance demonstrated during this event. It sure made for a fun weekend for me.

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