Sunday, February 25, 2007

The American Birkebeiner

If you are a xc skier there is one quinticential race you must do at least once in a lifetime, and in my case, once every year. It's really more than a race, it's a celebration of the whole sport. So I drove on Thursday to part take in the Friday and Saturday festivities. Having friends that are elite semi-professional skiers, on top of working for a retail establishment that distributes ski equipment, I got a bit of an insiders view of the whole event and a lot of freebies.

My particular adventure began around 6 pm Friday night. My friends and I were eating dinner courtesy of a ski pole company representative, when another of our store's (the one I work for) wholesalers of skis and equipment showed up with a black ski bag and discretely motioned to us to come take a look at what he had. Now this business fellow is not your typical salesman...I would consider him like a ski gangster; pulling skis secretly out of his trunk, adorned in bling, and sharp tongued with a Chicago type accent. In fact he is so unusual I will describe him no further in fear of my life.

So we approached, as he unzipped his bag pulling a pair of skis and boots out of his bag. On the skis was an unusual binding. It was meant to adapt a clap skate design for speed skates, to a xc ski binding. It used a boot that clipped in more like a bicycle shoe...and it centered your weight much more in front of the skis balance point compared to taditional bindings. So with interest, we debated about the design. It became more clear that this wholesaler was looking for some what to ski the race on this new Italian invention. My friends declined due to commitments to other ski companies or expected to be competitive in the race and could not take any risks on new equipment. And then there was me...nothing to lose.

In the past days the snow conditions had deteriorated. The conditions were so bad that the race was shorten to half of it's normal 51km distance, and non-elite skiers were not timed. I awoke the next day and walked out the the start line with my flashy boots and crazy bindings, eliciting puzzled looks and questions. When the race had begun I found myself trudging through 3 inches of sugar snow the color of sand, having dirt mixed in it. But as the race went on conditions got better, the snow became cleaner, and the crowds of thousands of skiers thinned. Unfortunately the night before I didn't have time to wax the new skis, which put me at the disadvantage of having slow skis. The bindings ended up being marginal...not really better or worse, but very heavy...another disadvantage. Lastly, I lost a contact in my right eye leaving me to do the race half blind. However, despite these difficulties I still was able to ski well and surmoutning the difficult hills of the Birkie trail. So after all was said and done the Duluth News Tribune was there at the finish for an interview (click here to read the article in Duluth New's Tribune)I was satisified.... a good race, a relaxing weekend, and a great adventure.

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