Instead of featuring an individual for this week’s Birkie Countdown, week 6 will highlight the famous Firetower Food Station. Located 150 yards from the highest elevation in the race, only the original foundation remains of the actual (original) Firetower. Sitting just 50 feet off of the classic race trail, the foundation serves as a reminder of the area’s storied past.
The Firetower is the “most remote food station we have,” according to Ned Zuelsdorff. Zuelsdorff worked as the Birkie Director for 8 years, and remains involved with the Birkie through trail work, cleaning up Main Street, and “filling in where needed.” During the interview, Zuelsdorff was cleaning up the trail following the Midwest’s streak of nasty weather, and not so coincidentally was at the high point of the race, walking towards the Firetower Food Station. Zuelsdorff emphasized the importance of logistics when organizing the Firetower Food Station. Also used for the Birkie Trail Run and Fat Bike Birkie, the only access to the station is via a dirt logging road. The 30 to 40 volunteers must carpool (parking is limited) and coordinate with race directors about transporting food and water to the station.
Despite its recognizable name and history, Zuelsdorff explained the the Firetower Food Station may be one of the least visited by racers. “I don’t think many people spend a lot of time here…It’s just past the high point, and into an area where there is a lot of downhill. It’s still a great resource, but more people stop at the OO or Mosquito Brook Food Stations,” Zuelsdorff said.
While the Firetower Food Station has remained a concrete and constant part of Birkie history, Zuelsdorff feels that the biggest change he has seen is growth in all three aspects of the Birkie (skiing, running, and biking). One reason he believes there has been massive growth in the Birkie ski race is the addition of the classic trail. First fully completed in 2009, the use of the classic trail has gone in tandem with the total number of racers moving from 6,000 to 10,000–More than 1 in 3 people race the Birkie classic style. Further, the trail run has gone from 150 participants to around 1,000 since it’s beginning, and the bike race has grown from 150 participants to 500.
Zuelsdorff maintains that the explosion in numbers is also directly correlated to the wonder of the resource. “What is really special to me is that the races bring a lot of people to our area, and a lot of people to our trail. It is a fantastic resource in our area, and it helps people stay active and remain healthy,” Zuelsdorff concluded.
As usual, next Wednesday we will continue with the alphabet onto letter “G”! Looking for some entertainment before next Wednesday? Head on over to Annie-Hart.com for updates and stories from the life of a professional skier!