Birkebeiner trail conditions are ideal for record race fieldWhile snow in the Twin Ports has been virtually nonexistent this winter, the Hayward area has had its share, leading to ideal conditions for the 39th running of the American Birkebeiner on Saturday. Activities in Hayward kick off today on Main Street.
By: Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune
The American Birkebeiner has dealt with extreme weather issues several times since the first cross-country skiing marathon took place from Cable to Hayward in 1973, and folks in Duluth might think that is the case again this year.
While snow in the Twin Ports has been virtually nonexistent this winter, the Hayward area has had its share, leading to ideal conditions for the 39th running of the event on Saturday. Activities in Hayward kick off today on Main Street.
“Outside, as we speak, they are laying snow on the road, and it’s quite beautiful,” Birkie media coordinator Susan Kendrick said Wednesday night. “The snow is dry, there is a ton of it, and the skiing has been spectacular. The full race is on. Everything is in great shape.”
People in Duluth might find that hard to believe, but rather than dodging weather bullets, Hayward was hit by them this winter.
“It could have been very, very different,” Kendrick said. “There are a lot of times where it seems like everyone is getting snow but us, to the south of us and north of us, but it hit just right this year.”
Birkie race crews also have become more adept at working with Mother Nature over the years as well. Snow reinforcements are stockpiled in wooded areas during the winter and brought out just before race time, and the course gets so compacted during the season that it is able to withstand extended periods of warmer weather.
Birkie officials say the current base is between 3 to 6 inches of compacted snow, but even the latest trail report acknowledged potential disbelief.
“There is enough snow for Main Street in Hayward, (and) Lake Hayward has the best ribbon of snow in five years,” the Tuesday report stated. “Whatever you have heard, this is fact: The trail is in very good to excellent condition for its entire length.”
Ski coach Jason Cork of the Hayward-based CXC team agreed.
“I know the grooming crew has had to do some shoveling to fill in some south-facing hills, but I think we’re in the clear now,” Cork said. “Despite the weak winter, the trail is in good shape.”
A record field of more than 9,400 skiers is registered for the 50-kilometer American Birkebeiner and its support races, the 23K Kortelopet and 12K Prince Haakon, the third straight year a record has been set.
Having separate classic and freestyle tracks has undoubtedly helped draw skiers, but the appeal of the big-time event with small-town charm hasn’t waned, Kendrick said. The Delaware native is in her first year working on the Birkie staff after racing the event five times since moving to Hayward in 1991.
“It’s kind of fascinating being on this side of it,” Kendrick said. “I remember the first winter I was here, I went downtown and stood on the street and just watched it. I was completely taken with it.
“I could just not wait to be a part of it, and I remember my first time coming down Main Street. Besides having my kids, it was probably one of the most astounding experiences of my life. Just huge.”
A fitting tribute
Laurie Landgraf, the widow of Birkie “founder” David Landgraf of Bloomer, will light the Birkie torch at 5:30 p.m. as part of today’s opening ceremonies on Main Street in Hayward. Landgraf, who was killed in a car-bicycle crash last summer at age 62, was one of three men to have skied every Birkie. On Saturday, his children, Emalea and Cole, will wear his founder’s race bib as they ski the course in his honor.
Landgraf also is featured prominently in “Beyond Birkie Fever.” Author Walter Rhein will be signing copies of the book at Redbery Books in Cable from 5-7 p.m. Saturday after the Birkie.
Special edition “Landgraf hats” also are being sold, with all proceeds going to Emalea Landgraf and her Ski Strong foundation.