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I See Green! 2014 Balsam Vinterfest!

All photos by William Johnson
Saturday, January 18th was the 17th annual Balsam Vinterfest 20km ski race, and we had a blast!  This was kind of a "home field advantage" race since it was so close to our shop in St. Croix Falls, and it was great to see so many CyclovaXC skiers out there hammering the trail!  Frank and I founded Cyclova back in 2009, and I think this race had the biggest turn out of CyclovaXC skiers (other than the Birkie).  The standing rule is, if you see another racer wearing our jersey, you have to trot over and say hello!

The 17th annual Balsam Vinterfest also marked the return to racing of Dan Kann after a 25 year lay off!  It has been a blast skiing with Dan at local events.  The guy has some great skiing stories, and boasts a pretty impressive resume in terms of Birkie placings.  He's got exactly the kind of energy we like!
Frank hammering at the start
As you can see, the trail was in good shape, but there was a little bit of soft stuff on top that disintegrated especially on the hills.  It was a day for a soft flex ski (I was on my stiff pair like a moron because I haven't had my soft pair running right this year...nothing like a race to kick you upside the head and stop you from procrastinating on getting your equipment right).

This was a two lap race on a fairly challenging course.  The second lap wasn't noticeably deteriorated from the first in my opinion.  The course held up well.
Tommy K at the Start
The key in a race like this is to relax, have a clean start, and just race your pace.  This isn't the Birkie so you don't have to worry too much about getting out ahead of the group (to avoid getting bogged down in "hill lines").  The best strategy is to double pole for a hundred yards or so before slowly transitioning to a skate.  However, starting mishaps can get the best of even experienced skiers.  Greg Mikunda broke his pole within twenty yards of the starting area.  Such adversity is never accounted for in the finishing time, but Greg persevered, got a new pole, and caught and passed me on the trail.  I'll never forget the look of determination in Greg's face as he went by.  That was a heck of a race and showed a lot of character I thought.  Nice job Greg!

In the first kilometer or so, I had a guy tap my pole a couple times with his ski.  I'm starting to get in the habit of looking people in the eye and telling them not to do that during a race (I think my exact words in this case were, "hold on a sec" which is pretty restrained actually).  I understand that people get excited, but folks, you're better off sitting back and chilling out for the first couple kilometers until the group spreads out (especially in a race that only has a hundred people in it).  Everybody is being held up by the person in front of them at the beginning of a race.  There's no point in accelerating to pass if you're just going to get stuck behind the next person.  In about two kilometers it will open up and you'll be able to ski more easily.  Don't go thwacking somebody's pole fifteen times on a climb...that's rude (ski equipment is expensive).  I'll give you one because anyone can make a mistake.  If you want to pass say, "on your left" and move around, people will get out of your way.  But wait until the race thins out a touch otherwise it's not worth making the effort.

About 8 km into the race, the guy who tapped my pole eventually did pass me (he'd been out of sight at times).  He was very courteous then, and I gave him plenty of room to get by.  No hard feelings, everyone gets worked up at the start of a race, but it's better to concentrate on getting through the first two K clean rather than fast.
Tommy K on the trail
As you can see, they have a beautiful trail up at Balsam Branch (also known as D.D. Kennedy park).  If you've never skied there, there is a map on the entry form here. Balsam is one of the little known gems of the area, go check it out sometime.
Eddie "Going Big" at Balsam
Above is Steve Edling from Edling Chiropractic.  Check out his blog for a lot of great skiing and general health insights.

I also want to give a shout out to the contingent from the Woolly Bicycle club that was cheering us on (make Woolly your Imba chapter).  Kristen Velaski completed her first XC ski race and it was great to see her out there.  Her husband Keith was out on the course and gave a hearty cheer, which is exactly what you need when you're starting to feel all that lactic acid coursing through your muscles!  The cowbells at the finish line were also a treat!  Hopefully we can get Kristen to do a write up for her Gravel Shark blog!
Leske lookin' good!
All in all, it was a fantastic day!  Maybe next year we'll be able to generate another five or ten Cyclova skiers to come and do this.  Remember that these local races generate funds that go to grooming the trail.  Sometimes it's easy to overlook how expensive and time consuming trail maintenance is, so any way to help out is welcome.  I'd like to thank the organizers, volunteers and groomers of the 2014 Balsam Vinterfest for a fantastic event!  Next year, I bet we'll see Heidi and Marcus Tupy out there!  The day I see Mark Fisk, Keith Velaski, Micah Bruns, and Jeff Evans competing, my life will be complete!

For a complete list of results, click here.

Also, thanks to William Johnson for sending me all the action photos!

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