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Review of the 2011 "Dermatone" Birkie

Holy cow!  I don't know about you guys, but I thought that was a tough Birkie.  As much as a skiing fanatic as I am, I really can't say that I get all excited about skiing when the Mercury is at -4 at the start.  Usually that's not a big issue in late February since the sunlight is so much more potent than, say...early January.  But when it's an overcast day, nothing can save you.

The only reason I managed to survive was due to the toe warmers that I'd bought at Farm and Fleet (seriously, we need Farm and Fleet to sponsor us...that's the best store in the universe).  I brought three and gave one pair to my mom and used another on my toes.  Just before I went outside, I figured I might as well use the last set of toe warmers, so I ripped them open and stuck them on my thighs between my tights and long underwear.  My thinking was that sometimes your thighs get really cold on a below zero day, and I wanted something to cut out the wind.  However, the result was absolutely amazing.  I was actually toasty warm standing at the starting area and I think I might be investing in about a thousand dollars worth of toe warmers to carry around with me next year.  When you come right down to it, can you honestly say that you ever had a bad race because your feet got too warm?  I don't think so.
Although my feet were fine, something definitely needed to be done about my hands.  Life's been gobbling away at my training time and I wasn't able to get the marathon distances in that I'd wanted to this year.  Doing the Pre-Birkie really would have helped...but oh well.  Anyway, the result was that I was skiing pretty well until kilometer 35 and then it became a death march.  It got to the point where I was going so slow that I couldn't pump the heat through my body well enough to keep my hands warm.  I was really suffering by the time I hit the lake, but the promise of being done (plus the flatness of the lake) allowed me to pick it up for the final few K and, miraculously, my hands were thawed back out and comfortable by the finish line.  Still, if this had been a 58 kilometer event, I would have been in trouble.

Honestly though, you can't complain.  The course was in tremendous shape which is pretty remarkable considering the number of people that were beating it to a pulp.  The power lines felt like concrete even though I was in the 5th wave, and it wasn't until the snow started to fall that things began to slow down a bit.  The Birkie truly is a world-class course and the groomers deserve some major props.

The other important part is finding your bags at the finish line, and that too was well organized and easy to navigate.

My only complaint is that there were no Bitches on Bitch hill this year, but maybe the cold had something to do with that.  Oh, and one last rave review...THANK YOU for having the bib pick-up in Hayward rather than Telemark!  If that hadn't been the case, I don't know if I would have been able to get home and wax my skis!

All and all, you were pretty lucky to survive this Birkie.  I doubt too many people had personal records (but there are always a few).  I froze my face a little bit and didn't even realize it until Sunday morning...I look like I got into a fight over the weekend.

Another Birkie's in the books, it was number 9 for me, which is a humble total next to some of you, but I hear I get a plaque next year!  I'm looking forward to another year of training, we're all at square one again!

Birkie 2011 Images!

Wow, it's been a couple days since I've managed a post...Birkie Fever will do that to you!  In between finishing work and driving up to get the bibs (thanks to the Birkie Office for putting that at Hayward this year), it's a miracle I managed to get up to the race at all!

I've been putting together some photo archives from the various people I know who got pictures up there at Hayward.  If you have any more, please send them along (cyclovaxc at gmail dot com). 
Congratulations to everyone who participated.  Look for a few Birkie Reviews later in the week and feel free to send me your Birkie Stories!

Birkie Fever!

Ladies and Gentlemen, we're getting there aren't we?

As the Birkie approaches, this is always an emotional time of year.  For many of us, this is the weekend we plan the whole year around, and ironically our whole purpose is that the Birkie passes as quickly as possible!  I remember doing a marathon a couple years ago where a guy was screaming into a megaphone how everybody needed to slow down and get "their money's worth!"

The above image is the finish line in Hayward, a sight most of us are going to be craving for 50 or 54 (depending on if you're doing skate or classic) grueling KM.

The above image is from the beautiful day we had last year.  I've included a couple more just to get that old Birkie Fever flowing.  Wow...we sure had a beautiful day one year ago, I hope we have another one this coming Saturday!

Best of luck Birkie Skiers!

Birkie Trail Map

I took this picture on my very first ski of the year which was back in early December I think.  I'd heard there was snow on the Birkie trail, so I jumped into my bruised and battered Subaru sport and made the long and lonesome drive up to Cable to jump on "OO."  I skied for 2 hours on a 4 km loop, and I haven't been able to get back to the Birkie trail since.


Normally that's a recipe for disaster, but I'm hoping the fact that I did the Pepsi Challenge is going to save me when I hit those horrible Powerline hills (at this point there's not reason to worry about it since the training is done and it's just a waiting game).

Anyway, on that first ski of the year I snapped this image of the ski trail map that was rising from the earth at one of the trail junctions.  There are all kinds of trails up at "OO" these days.  It's a skiing Mecca!

Actually, I have to give a shout out now to the groomers at "OO."  My mom mentioned that she had been skiing up there on two different occasions and the groomer took the time to pull up next to her, open his door and tell her where the trail had set up the best.  Honestly, if I was out grooming the trail, I doubt I'd be stopping to chit-chat with skiers.  It's totally awesome that they do this!

Well, we'll all be appreciating their handiwork soon, so I'm glad they just got another big dump of snow to mold into beautiful corduroy perfection!

Foreign Brushes

I was over at Lindsley's house waxing my skis and I couldn't resist taking a picture of this brush. As you all know (at least those of you who read this page on a daily basis and have done so for more than a year), Lindsley went over to Falun, Sweden last year along with Landgraf to race in the Master's World Championships.  At the time I thought it was sort of hilarious because only a skier from Wisconsin would take a vacation in mid-January and go to a place where it's even COLDER with even MORE snow!

Anyway, while there, Lindsley found himself without a ski brush, so he bought the one in the above photo for the bargain price of 100 Kr (whatever that means...also note that the brush is "extra pris"...which kind of sounds like something on a menu Charlie Sheen would order from).

There was also some story that Lindsley mentioned about everybody plugging their awesome waxing irons into outlets that were wired for 220 or 440 or 1000 only to have them all spout out the dreaded white smoke of electrical death.


These are things that you have to consider when traveling internationally and skiing!  It's awesome to have collections of equipment with weird labels and price tags in foreign currency on them.  That's half the draw of skiing for me.

SKI TRAIL PROFILE: Jay Cooke State Park

51k of pristine classic tracks await you at Jay Cooke State Park!

Just south of Duluth, MN is an under utilized gem of a ski trail.  Many of you may know Jay Cooke State Park for it's great hiking and summer time camping.  You should also know it as a premier classic ski trail!

Jay Cooke State Park is nestled just south of the planets biggest body of fresh water - Lake Superior.  The raging St. Louis river flowing through the park valley, comprised of horizontal slabs of volcanic rock, eventually flows into Lake Superior.  Being in Jay Cooke State Park is certainly a memorable true north woods experience!

Recently, we checked out Jay Cook State Park's trails and were thrilled to find absolutely perfectly prepared classic tracks covering the extensive 51k trail system.  There is much fun terrain in this park, but the trails are laid out in a way such that they flow very well and are a joy to ski.

Skiing over the suspension bridge from the trail head to access the trail provides a great view of the extreme glacial and volcanic terrain of the area.
Following are the basic things that you need to know about the trails at Jay Cooke State Park:

Location: Just south of Duluth, MN off of Interstate 35.  Exit Interstate 35 at the town of Carlton and go east on Hwy 210.  Click HERE for the Google Map.
Trail Distance & Technique: 51K of trail, all groomed for classic skiing only
Terrain: There is a wide variety of terrain within Jay Cooke State Park - ranging from extreme glacial terrain to flat fields.  The trails are laid out very well such that even the hilly loops are easily skied by any skier.

Grooming:  Grooming is done by the Minnesota State Park Service.  Generally, the trail is prepped to be in prime shape for weekends, which are the park's highest traffic days.  However, the trails are maintained for mid week users as well.  The park employees here are obviously passionate about skiing and taking their time to perfectly sculpt the 51k of classic tracks within this park!

Lighted after dark: No lights

Fees: No trail fee is required, but you will need either an annual or day Minnesota State Park vehicle sticker.

Birkie Snow Watch Has Begun!

It's that time of year again!  The time of year where we find ourselves waking up with night sweats over whether or not there is going to be a Birkie.  Over the last few days here in Chippewa Falls, we've had temperatures consistently up in the mid forties and even low fifties.  Suffice it to say that the local snow cover has been disintegrating rapidly.

However, although the snow is in a terrible state here, the fact is that it's essentially a whole different climate zone up in Hayward.  I don't know if Highway 8 is some sort of mystical force field, but the second you cross that threshold it's almost as if you're arrived at the arctic circle.  In fact, if any of you wonderful CyclovaXC readers happen to be living up in the Hayward area, would you mind taking a snapshot of the local scenery and sending it my way at Cyclovaxc at gmail dot com?  I want to see all that marvelous white stuff!

As you can see above, I grabbed the forcast for the next few days up in Hayward.  For the most part it's acceptable, with days below freezing, but Thursday is something of a concern.  Even the forty degree day wouldn't be so bad, but the fact that the forecast says rain should have all the skiers out there tossing and turning.

Warm weather kills ski trails, but it's a slow death.  Rain makes ski trails evaporate overnight.

Well, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope for the best.  Remember, it's not without precedent that we get a major blizzard on or before Birkie day.  Don't fret too much yet!

Don't Staple your GUs--Use a Safety Pin

Here's a veteran move that I thought all of you should know in light of all the marathons that are coming up.

For a long time, people have thought it's a good idea to staple their GU packets to their bibs.  In theory, it seems like a great plan.  You grab your bib, give it a quick staple, and off you go!  But in actual practice, stapling your GU packets kind of sucks.

The reason?

The staples just don't hold the packets in place the way they should.  I remember stapling my GUs one time and having the GUs fall off before I even got to the starting line.  I don't know, maybe I just have a bad stapler, but it only took about one or two utter stapled GU disasters for me to switch permanently to another method.


Folks, you will NEVER have a GU packet fall off your bib if you safety pin it in place.  Staples have the further disadvantage of leaving little sharp ends on the back that can dig into the fabric of your ski suit...that won't happen with safety pins.

Honestly, I don't recommend putting your GUs on your bib either, I think you're much better off safety pinning them to your water bottle carrier.  When you put them on your bib, they bang against your chest for the whole race.

Oh, and get all of this safety pin/GU work done the night before.  It keeps your hands occupied while you try to burn off that extra energy (you need something to do...it's not like you'll be sleeping before the Birkie).

Toe Warmers--An Essential Ski Bag Item

Back in the old days I never used to use these things...but I was young and stupid back then.

Up at the Pepsi Challenge, as Frank and I were preparing to confront a -10 start (or whatever it was), Frank saved my life by whipping an extra pair of toe warmers out of his pocket.

"Here...do you want these?"


There was a time when I would have turned him down out of the misplaced notion that I'd ski faster if I were cold.  Well, there is some truth in that. If you overdress then you just can't go as fast as you can when you're essentially naked.  Dressing is the real trick in skiing.  You want to be freezing your butt off at the start so you're encouraged to hammer like it matters.

The cold is like the snapping whips of your slave masters.

In all honesty, I can't say that I've ever been frozen at the end of a ski race (well...maybe there were one or two occasions where I was ready to get inside).  Your body generally finds an equilibrium between pace and warmth, and you finish without too much trouble.

But even all that is a complicated equation, your feet are never really the problem.

I mean, can you say that your feet were ever TOO warm in a ski race?

No, I don't think so.

So go ahead and slap the toe warmers on and feel that extra degree or two of comfort as you're standing there shivering before the gun.  They only cost a dollar or so each at Farm and Fleet!

On the Road to the Pepsi Challenge

Here's Frank on the way up to the Pepsi challenge.  You probably remember watching our awesome video from a couple weeks ago.  Anyway, in this picture, Frank is recovering from chowing down on a egg and sausage plastic gut bomb with extra grease that he procured from a nearby Holiday gas station.

I guess it's partially my fault since I wanted to just sleep in and eat Mickey's donuts for breakfast instead of go look for some decent eggs somewhere.  Frank went along with the idea, but as we were leaving, we decided to stop at the Holiday and Frank emerged a moment later with one of those plastic wrapped monstrosities that was already soaked through and transparent.

"Man, this is going to be good!" he smiled as he gobbled it up.

The guy's stomach is cast iron.  

It reminds me of the time back in Ashland when I accompanied Frank as he did the Whistlestop marathon. In the morning, Frank ate the Gut-buster super special with extra sausage. I just chuckled as he chowed it down, and then I leaped into the car to try and catch the moment where Frank would be hunched over in a ditch bringing it back up.

Alas the moment never came.

Sigh...why can't my stomach be like that?

SKI TECH: Structure Profile of the Warm Universal Stonegrind

A close up image of the Cyclova XC Racing Service Warm Universal Stonegrind Structure - photos don't do it justice...

Most Nordic skiers would agree that the best skiing of the winter is late in the winter, when there is ample snow, comfortable temperatures., and the snow if fast.  It is these days that the "Warm Universal" structure is right at home on the snow! 

The Warm Universal grind is often classified as a moderately coarse, cross-hatch structure cut to a relatively shallow depth. It is an ideal structure for the late season races in the Midwest, (such as the Vasaloppet, Birkie, Sleeping Giant Loppet, etc) particularly those races that start out cold, but then warm up dramatically.  The Warm Universal grind is also the most typically used structure in warmer climates such as New England and the Pacific Northwest.

In short, this structure has a huge performance range!  It is fine enough to perform surprisingly well in very cold dry conditions yet coarse enough to get some moisture movement (breaking moisture surface tension) going when the temperatures get warm and snow gets wet.  It is not a slushy snow structure, nor is it a spring corn snow grind - but Cyclova XC does have grinds for those specific conditions.

Following are some details around what makes the Warm Universal grind such a great late season performer with a huge performance range:
  • Pattern:  The Warm Universal grind uses a moderately biased cross-hatch pattern cut into the stone by a Nordic specific custom tuned Wintersteiger dressing diamond.  This type of non-linear structure achieves notable moisture movement (breaking of surface tension) under the ski base while gliding.
  • Depth:  The Warm Universal grind is a medium depth structure cut by the above mentioned diamond.  Being a deeper structure than the colder grinds like the Cold Super Fine or Cold Universal, there is more surface area to this grind due to the hills and valleys on the ski base.  Simply put, this means that this grind will be slower in very cold and dry conditions.  However, as moisture becomes present in warming snow conditions, this grind really comes into its own.  
  • Gauge:  Medium.  The Warm Universal is much coarser than the Cold Universal, in fact, the gauge of the grind is nearly double that of the Cold Universal.  In plain language, the hills and valleys of this structure are nearly double the distance apart as compared to the Cold Universal Grind.  While cutting the pattern into the stone, 2 passes with the above mentioned dressing diamond are made with the diamond at different stone & diamond speeds on each pass.
  • Quiver Optimization:  If you have a quiver of skis dedicated to different conditions you'll definitely want a pair with a Warm Universal grind on a pair of skis.  In colder climates like the Midwest, most racers like to have a Warm Universal Grind on a pair of skis suited for hard packed conditions.  The reason for this is that when temperatures fluctuate as they do late in the season, the snow is likely transformed and firm (or even a bit icy).  The Warm Universal grind is also very effective in warm, freshly fallen snow, particularly snow that is falling at or just below 32'F.
For more info on Cyclova XC Racing Service's world class stonegrinding service, check out our SKI SERVICE page.

When Work Costs You Skiing Time

Man! Today is the Mora Vasaloppet, one of the greatest ski races in the universe, and I'm not going to be able to head out and do it, or even spectate. The fact is that I'm just swamped with things to do lately and I have been scrambling like de-clawed cat on a frozen pond.

I couldn't make it up there to do the Pre-Birkie (which is one of my all time favorite races) and I'm starting to be a little bit concerned over whether or not I am going to finagle the Birkie as well.

Don't be too concerned about that last one, somehow the Birkie generally finds a way of being.

Still, it's disheartening when you put in all the hard work in the sub zero races of January, only to have all your time evaporate when skiing actually starts to be rocking fun in February.  But that's life, sometimes it gets in the way.

To all the CyclovaXC skiers who participated in the Mora Vasaloppet or the Pre-Birkie, I'd like to offer you a big congratulations! If you have any pictures or good stories, you know where to send them!

SKI TRAIL PROFILE: Two Harbors Municipal / Erkki Harju Trail

The home stretch of the beautiful Erkki Harju trail in Two Harbors, MN.  Note the unique lantern like trail lights!

The North Shore (northeast Minnesota for you non-locals) is literally packed with one amazing Nordic trail after another.  When you go up there on a ski trip, the challenge is not to find a trail, rather which amazing trail to go ski at!

We recently did an evening ski, just before dusk at the Erkki Harju / Two Harbors Municipal Ski Trail.  Looking on the map, I saw that it was on the local golf course, so I honestly had low expectations.  However, upon getting out on the trail, I realized that the trail circumnavigated the golf course through the beautiful north woods surrounding the golf course.  In fact, there is very little time spent out on the golf course.

This trail is a beautifully routed 11k journey on the beautiful slopes above Lake Superior.  It is groomed to perfection by volunteers and will vastly exceed your expectations of the municipal trail of a small northern Minnesota town.  This trail should be on every skier's "must ski" list!

The trail head info kiosk...

Following are the basic things that you need to know about the Two Harbors Municipal / Erkki Harju Nordic Trail:

Location:  Lakeview National Gold Course.  Just off of Willow St, on the northwest edge of Two Harbors, MN.  Click HERE for the Google Map.

Trail Distance & Technique:  11K of trail, all groomed for skate and classic

Terrain:  A wonderfully flowing mix of gradual ups and downs.  Challenging enough to get in a great workout, yet skiable for anyone. 

Grooming:  Grooming is done by a great group of local volunteers.  The trail is consistently in great condition based on the trail reports I see.  In fact when I recently skied there, over 12 inches of snow had fallen the day prior.  A volunteer was out grooming and had taken many laps and done a great job of packing down the trail.  Every lap when he saw me, he asked how firm the trail was and what I thought of the grooming.  It's rare to see a volunteer groomer as passionate as this gentleman was.  Thank you!

Lighted after dark:  Yes, a 1.5k loop is lighted with great little lantern like bulbs on the top of `4 foot posts.  Skiing after the lights turn on feels like you're doing a candle light ski!

Fees:  No fee is required, but be sure to drop off a donation in the donation box at the trail head.  Maintaining and grooming a trail is hard and costly work!

The beautifully groomed track at dusk out on the trail in Two Harbors!  Amazing!

City Of Lakes Loppet Video Coverage!

Some great footage of the 2011 City of Lakes Loppet.  Video credit to Skinnyski.com

The 2011 City of Lakes Loppet enjoyed absolutely perfect conditions with near record snow amounts in the Twin Cities.  Pair that up with warm temps and fast snow and you have yourself a perfect weekend for a world class ski event.  That is just what 9,000+ skiers found at the 2011 City of Lakes Loppet.

Bruce Adelsman of SkinnySki.com filmed and put together the above video which is does a great job of showing numerous waves of the start and the leaders late in the race and at the finish.  And yes, there are several Cyclova XC ski suits visible in this video!

Congratulations to all City of Lakes Loppet skiers the our compliments to the hard work of all the race organizers!

SKI TECH: Structure Profile of the Cold Super Fine Stonegrind

A close up image of the Cyclova XC Racing Service Cold Super Fine Stonegrind Structure - photos don't do it justice...

If you ski or race in areas where people routinely question your sanity for going out in the extreme cold, you should consider having skis stoneground with the Cold Super Fine structure.

The primary challenge in getting skis to glide in extremely cold & dry snow is dry friction.  Extreme cold dry snow is very sharp and abrasive.  Furthermore, a gliding ski generally isn't able to create the microscopic thin lubricating layer of moisture known as "melt caps" which normally allow a ski to glide fast.  For much more on what actually happens as a ski glides over snow, check out THIS ARTICLE.

So, part of the solution to maximizing glide in extreme cold is to have as fine of a structure as possible on the ski base.  An extreme fine structure has minimal "hills and valleys" and is close to being "flat".  The result is less surface area of the base in contact with the snow, which in dry friction conditions, is a key to optimizing glide.

Another consideration in extreme cold is that what little lubricating moisture or "melt caps" you are able to create under the ski - you want to stay under your ski.  Therefore, any structure should be linear, allowing moisture to run down the length of the ski and enhancing the skis glide.

These considerations are the foundation of the Cyclova XC Racing Service "Cold Super Fine" Stonegrind Structure.  There simply is not a faster structure available anywhere that glides better than the Cold Super Fine grind in extreme cold conditions.

The reason that this structure is unique to Cyclova XC Racing Service is that our Customized Wintersteiger Micro 100 machine has a broader range of parameter settings when cutting new structures into the stone (specifically, the stone can spin 30% faster than just about any other machine out there), yeilding a structure 30% finer than just about any stonegrind available.

Following are some details around what makes the Cold Super Fine grind untouchable in extreme cold, dry conditions:
  • Pattern:  The Cold Super Fine Grind is an ultra fine linear pattern cut into the stone by a Nordic specific, custom tuned Wintersteiger dressing diamond.  The stone is dressed while spinning at an astounding 1300 rpm's. To ensure this structure is as fine as possible, I dress the stone twice without advancing the diamond.  This pattern ends up being extremely fine and close to a flat, mirror-like finish. 
  • Depth:  The Cold Super Fine grind is an ultra shallow structure cut by the above mentioned diamond.  This in effect minimizes the surface area of the ski base and dramatically reduces dry friction in extreme cold/dry snow conditions.
  • Gauge:  Ultra fine.  As with the Pattern and Depth, the gauge of the Cold Super Fine grind is ultra fine.  Any visible structure pattern is so fine, it is almost hard to distinguish and is as close to a mirror like finish as you can get on a healthy ski base. 
  • Quiver Optimization:  If you have a quiver of skis dedicated to different conditions and ski in extreme cold conditions, you'll definitely want the Cold Super Fine Grind on a pair of skis dedicated to soft, new snow conditions.  In many areas of the country (especially the Midwest), the temperature will plummet after a snowfall (a clipper weather system).  These  squeaky, slow conditions require a soft ski to spread out a skiers weight over the length of the ski and a "Super Fine" structure to maximize glide.
For more info on Cyclova XC Racing Service's world class stonegrinding service, check out our SKI SERVICE page.

    SKI TECH: Structure Profile of the Cold Universal Stonegrind

    A close up image of the Cyclova XC Racing Service Cold Universal Structure - photos certainly don't do it justice...

    For most North American Nordic Skiers, the "Cold Universal" structure is the consistent go to stoneground structure of choice.  If you have one pair of skis, this is likely the stonegrind structure that will best suit you.  

    The Cold Universal grind will perform very well  in cold dry conditions, yet is flexible enough to keep right on going as temperatures warm up and higher moisture becomes present.  This versatility has earned it the title of being "the Universal Grind of the Rockies", yet it is the most popular structure here in the Midwest.

    Following are some details around what makes this stoneground structure run so well in a huge range of conditions:
    • Pattern:  The Cold Universal grind uses a lightly biased cross-hatch pattern cut into the stone by a Nordic specific custom tuned Wintersteiger dressing diamond.  This type of non-linear structure achieves modest moisture movement under the ski base while gliding.
    • Depth:  The Cold Universal grind is a shallow structure cut by the above mentioned diamond, as to not create tall hills and valleys.  This in effect reduces the surface area of the ski base and dramatically reduces dry friction in cold/dry snow conditions.  This relatively shallow structure depth strikes a happy medium between the ultra fine and the warmer, more coarse patterns.
    • Gauge:  Generally fine.  The Cold Universal grind being a biased, cross-hatch pattern enjoys many of the benefits of being both a very fine and medium structure.  While cutting the pattern into the stone, 2 passes with the above mentioned dressing diamond are made with the diamond at different stone & diamond speeds on each pass.
    • Quiver Optimization:  If you have a quiver of skis dedicated to different conditions, this is the one structure that is at home on almost any type of ski.  For skiers with a full quiver, I recommend having both a pair of soft new snow skis and dedicated hard pack condition skis ready to go with this grind.
    For more info on Cyclova XC Racing Service's world class stonegrinding service, check out our SKI SERVICE page.