Not much more than a month ago, I expressed some concern for ski season based on our lack of snow.
February alleviated that concern.
Again and again and again.
At the end of January, my preparations for the 2019 American Birkebeiner had consisted of one mile of skiing way back in early December and some running. I’m inexperienced enough at skiing though that I don’t typically count my running toward my Birkie training.
I need to be on skis to work through the falling issues that tend to plague my first couple hundred miles of skiing each year. Riding a bike may be like riding a bike, but for me, skiing is like being a newborn fawn turned loose on an ice-skating rink. I’m getting better at not ending up in the woods the first few times I try to navigate a downhill with a turn at the bottom, but it’s still nice to get in some practice.
Especially before I’m white-knuckling it down the Birkie’s Bobblehead Hill, where snowmobilers sit and watch the race and the biggest crashes get the loudest cheers.
This year, that practice didn’t happen.
We closed January with some bitter cold, and then February hit with snowstorm after snowstorm.
That took care of the concern about lack of snow, but it didn’t make it easy to get out skiing. Every time groomers would get area trails in good shape, we’d get another half a foot of snow, and they’d have to start all over.
Not to mention the fact that they were operating on top of a layer of glare ice. Twice I got out to the trails to find a hill where the groomer was putting in a good effort only to hit ice, skid sideways, and slide back down the hill. Groomers sliding down hills sideways tend to do more harm than good to ski trails.
Fortunately, we just had to wait a day or two for more snow for the groomer to be able to give it another shot. Unfortunately, winter gave me about two and a half weeks to get ready for the Birkie. The breakdown of those two and a half weeks looked like this: a third of the time, it was snowing; a third of the time, I was shoveling; and a third of the time, I was able to get out to ski. (I have given thought to counting shoveling as ski training.)
Even lining up for the start of the race Feb. 23 was an adventure.
I spent the night before the race sleeping on the floor of a church classroom in Hayward to avoid driving in the snow that was forecast for overnight and into race morning. It didn’t make for a great night of sleep, but the trade off of convenience and lack of stress made it worth it.
The new snow slowed the race down, and reports said the Birkie trail groomers were actually plowing snow off the trail from earlier in the week. But having come up 250 miles short of my 300-mile training goal, slow was what I was planning on for my race.
And it went mostly according to plan. I took it pretty easy, and felt reasonably good the whole way. There was a small incident on Bobblehead Hill, but the two crashes immediately in front of mine brought more boisterous cheers.
Then I had to race another snowstorm on my way back to Eau Claire. I won that race and then made up for my lack of sleep from the night before by sleeping through Mother Nature dropping another foot of snow.
That got me back into ski training with another three hours of shoveling.
At this rate, there’s a chance I’m going to be skiing into April. Maybe we’ll get snow earlier next winter, and with a shorter break between ski seasons, I won’t have to relearn my balance lessons.
Nate Jackson can be reached at email@example.com.