Highs and lows are a big thing for ski racers.  To keep myself sane, I often find myself trying to match a “high” to every “low” in a day.  I look at course profiles, figuring out how many pole plants to get to the high point, and more importantly how many seconds in a tuck until the low point of a course.  You’ll hear people talking about “high hands,” while maintaining a low center of gravity.  Highs and lows also are good for records.

I’ve been at training camp for 3 weeks, with the last week taking place on snow in Canmore, Canada.  Due to the (lack of) phone reception in Canada, this week’s ABCs of the Birkie will be a quick look back at some of the highs and lows of the Birkie.  I’m traveling back stateside today, so be ready for a USA filled post next week!


The 1974 Birkie took place with the thermometers dipping near -13 degrees Fahrenheit.  Makes the 2011 Birkie look balmy at a -10 degrees Fahrenheit.  And the 2005 Birkie looks tropical at -4 degrees Fahrenheit.

On the flip side, the 1981 Birkie took place with temperatures in excess of 60 degrees.  And the 1996 Birkie started with a 51 degree reading on the thermometer.  Just to put some things in perspective, the temperature range for the Birkie is roughly 73 degrees.  That’s a lot of degrees, and a lot of layers.


Maybe more important than temperature, snow variations can greatly impact the race.  Yet despite mother nature’s best efforts, the entire Birkie has only been cancelled once, in 2000.  1998 was also a low snow year: the Birkie course was shortened to 25 Kilometers, and race directors got creative and turned the Barnebirkie into a running race.  2007 also saw a shortened Birkie.

Last year was a big snow year.  The skies dumped 10 inches of snow the night before the race, giving many skiers a pre-race warm up of elevated heart rates from shoveling out their cars and driveways.  It also slowed the race down a bit, although workers shoveled the course to optimize skiing conditions.  2001 also saw 8 inches of new snow between midnight and the morning of the race.  Better too much snow than none at all!


Temperature and snow conditions can greatly change race tactics and times.  Regardless, claiming the fastest time is a proud accomplishment.  Caitlin Compton Gregg holds the women’s record when she skied to victory in 2011 with a time of 2:16:07.  The men’s record was set just one year earlier by Italian Fabio Santus in a time of 1:56:58.  The slowest time?  One brave skier was on the course for 1o hours and 41 seconds in 1983.  That’s dedication.  And a perfect example of what the Birkie espouses–it doesn’t matter how fast you go, as long as you are getting out there, being active, and having a good time.


The Birkie has seen massive growth since it’s inception in 1973.  54 participants (35 Birkie and 19 Korte entrants) completed the race in its first year.  Jump to 2013, and there were 10,300 entrants.  That is 10,246 more entrants. Or five-times the current population of Hayward.  Five-times!


Time for me to hop on a plane, check back in next week for the letter “I”! 


Posted October 29, 2014 at 10:00 am