I’m not what you would call a sporty person. Unless it is a race to the nearest bookstore, baby animal, or worst possible scenario, I’m unlikely to go anywhere in a hurry. I didn’t really even attend any sporting events in my youth unless you count the Ice Capades.
When I met Chris, he was an alpine skier and coach and canoe instructor. While I do remember becoming pretty fond of canoeing (probably because you can sit down while doing it), I can’t remember once going to one of his college ski races. I just greeted the clunky Northland College van when it arrived back on campus and helped the students pile out with all of their gear.
A few years later, Chris had taken up cross country skiing and racing. So what else was a new bride to do on the weekends but get the warm clothes out, grab the dog, and head out to the race course to cheer on my favorite skier.
Somehow, over time, spectating at the ski races had turned into almost more of an event for me than for him. I started stopping at multiple spots on the trail, carrying poles, supplies and water, making sure not on a downhill, away from other skiers, the dog was behind me in the woods, and several other rules that were apparently important to a tired racer during the event. I got quite good at my “weekend job,” so much so that several friends asked me to hand up food and drinks to them as well. Not sure what their partners were doing at the time (probably enjoying a good book and a cup of tea), but I took my role very seriously on behalf all my skiing (and biking) friends.
Do you have a spouse, friend, or relative skiing one of the Birkie events this year? Do want to help them out on the trail or just have the inside scoop on a great spot to see the race? If you aren’t racing but you want to do more than run to the coffee shop for a Nordic Waffle while the waves are out on the course (wait…that’s a choice?!?), read on for some tips from an expert spectator (me!).
Here are some things to think about before heading out.
Plan out your timing and don’t skimp. You don’t know if there will be traffic, bad trails, if you’ll have to park far away, if you have to hike far down the trail for a spot, so always add some extra time between spots into your estimates. It is not fun to have to run on the side of the trail in deep snow with lots of stuff to get to your racer in time.
Consider leaving your dog at home. I brought our dog to plenty of races, but sometimes it was too busy or too cold or just too much of a hassle. You don’t want your dog or racers to have to worry about what might happen if he/she gets loose or the leash wraps around someone’s poles.
If you are bringing little ones, make sure they stay by or behind you in the deeper snow. You don’t want to have to pull them off of the classic tracks at the last minute. They’ll have more fun making snow angels in the woods until their racer passes by anyway. And, bring snacks…and cowbells!
Be willing to miss the start in order to get to some other choice spots along the trail.
Be careful about driving down fire lanes and forest roads. Many access roads actually double as snowmobile routes and may have a foot or more of firmly packed snow below your tires. You don’t want to get stuck when you have a racer counting on that last bottle hand up.
Be prepared to park and walk…a ways. Depending on the parking, it may be quite a hike to the perfect spot where your racer can slow down and gather the things he needs from you.
And, if you need to get to the next spot, once your skier passes, get off the trail ASAP and head out. It always feels better getting there early than late!
Make sure to take hydration and snacks for you, too. Pastries and a good cappuccino are great choices. You are important to your skier’s success, so take care of yourself.
Where to watch
Aside from the Birkie start and finish, there are 5 main spots for good spectating (of the long race).
Heading south, the first, low-hassle spot would be Boedecker Road. Skiers may be slowing down for the food station here, and it is a fun spot to watch the classic and skate skiers merge. You should have 4-wheel drive or good snow tires for get to this one, though, and it is quite narrow, so be careful when turning your vehicle around.
Next is Hwy OO. This is the traditional spot to watch the long race. It is full of spectators and very busy, in a good way, with a lot of stuff going on. You may have to park a way down OO and/or hike down the trail to find the perfect spot. Insider tip: get to the OO trailhead from Hwy. 77 and Pederson Rd. instead of OO. You can usually park closer than you would coming from Hwy. 63 in the other direction.
Mosquito Brook is the next stop. Skiers are often coming fast down the hill and sometimes don’t slow down at the crossing. But, it is the last important spot for racers to take nutrition, so it might be a good place to hand up some sustenance.
Rosie’s Field is a picturesque place to view the race. You can get close to the crossing, and you can ski the skiers coming over the hills and into the field. This is a great photo op. Plus, the flat terrain makes it easy to help out your skier.
Finally, if you are bold, drive out onto Lake Hayward. This is my favorite spot. You can back your car right up to the groomed trail, hang out and tailgate, listen to the radio broadcast, and get ready to see the helicopter over the contenders. And, if it is too cold, just wait inside the car! Photos are also great here, as you can see so far down the trail and the sun and sky offer some great effects. I get chills when the bells ring out from downtown that the finishers are coming—this is a really special spot!
Supporting Your Skier
So you want to go the extra mile for your loved one? Admirable. Sometimes I feel more worn out than Chris after his long day skiing the race—I like to say this a lot to him even though he rolls his eyes at me 😉
Here’s what you might consider bringing with you. Whatever his or her chosen nutrition is. If you are bringing a gel or something in a packet, tear it open and be ready to hand it over. Make sure to keep in in your coat or pocket so it is soft and easy to eat/chew. Water or hydration and/or a fresh water bottle if they are using one. Again, make sure the nozzle isn’t frozen. Dry gloves, Dermatone, and kick wax are also good. Poles are even better! Can you imagine the relief of getting a pole after the prospect of skiing half of the Birkie with a broken one?
Also, you may want to consider bringing something extra for others in need. Some water, extra Gu packets, even poles with your email and phone # on them so they can be returned. New Moon collects poles here at the shop from thankful skiers who were given a loaner on the trail. Inside tip: if you don’t want to share, you may want to not be so obvious with your supplies (i.e. hide) . I’m not so good at saying no, so I would keep my extras close until after Chris passed by, then I would hand out what I knew he wouldn’t need. I would also lay down the extra poles in a snowbank. Sneaky, but essential for someone like me who would be wearing only a base layer and 1 boot by the time Wave 3 passed by.
Some other things to consider when supporting a racer.
Find a place to stake out about 100 yards before or after a food stop away from other spectators—this minimizes confusion as your skier pulls to the side of the trail. The ideal spot would be at the top of a gentle hill. This way, the athlete will naturally be slowing a bit and when they start up again, they can regain momentum quickly on the downhill. A flat spot is a decent alternative, but the skier may have to snowplow to slow down and work harder to continue. Avoid downhills at all costs! Choose the outside of a curve rather than the inside, as skiers will often cut these close. Most of all, be mindful of other skiers who may be slowing to readjust their gear or get a helping hand.
Hopefully, these hints will help you feel more confident supporting your athlete or more adventurous when picking a spot to watch. No matter which you choose, the skiers love to hear those cowbells in the distance welcoming them to a crossing, they are energized to hear your words of support and encouragement, and they are thankful to hear your cheers and applause no matter where you are along the trail.
Be sure to download the Official 2018 Birkie Events Guide. It’s loaded with all of the essential detail for this year’s events including maps, schedules, rules, and other great information.
To all New Moon’s friends, customers, and loved ones, I’ll see you on the trail…and if you’re nice, I might even share one of those pastries with you! Visit us at the shop and the expo and have a fun, safe, amazing Birkie 2018!