K2inCanada's Blog

February 15, 2018

Across Country Skiing Part 1 – Birkie Weekend

Filed under: Canada, Ski, Travel — K2 in Canada @ 10:09 PM

This year Jeff and I are putting an A in front of our cross-country ski trips. This past weekend we traveled to Edmonton, Alberta, for the 2018 Birkebeiner. The main event is a 55km cross country classic ski race where you carry a 5kg pack (representing the soldiers who skied an infant Norwegian prince to safety — the story behind the historic origins of the Birkebeiner). But they also offered a 55km lite, no pack, which Jeff signed up for and a 31km short cut version, which was more to my liking. I was dreading this weekend a bit since Alberta has been in a deep freeze for some time, low temperatures and windchill of -25C to -30C was not uncommon. A week ago the forecast for the loppet day looked quite promising with -2C but throughout the week it dropped again and by the time we left home the forecast looked like this – brrr:


We took Friday off work and left Vancouver at 10AM by plane to arrive an hour and a bit later in Edmonton. Unfortunately, neither Jeff nor I had checked how far the airport was away from the hotel, the Radisson Hotel and Conference Centre on 76th St, and the taxi cab bill was a bit of a shocker. In hint sight we should have rented a car, it would have been much cheaper. Turned out the hotel was in the middle of an industrial area, far away from the Edmonton downtown buzz (not sure there is such a thing). Mind you, the room was nice and the hotel had a pub, restaurant, pool & hot tub, etc, just nothing to look at within walking distance. Well we did walk to the bib pick up, about 4km away along a busy road. There was quite a bit of snow in town and most of the sidewalks weren’t really cleared, if there were sidewalks. Once or twice we ended up walking the road for a bit right beside traffic. Surprisingly, nobody honked at us or tried to run us off the road. I know what you are thinking – who on earth would want to walk in Edmonton in the winter at -20C. But hey, it was sunny and I needed to stretch my legs and get acclimatized to the cold. We left Vancouver at +11C. At the end we had a nice walk, picked up our bibs and timing chips, checked out the merchandise and sampled some free Albertan beer. Alley Kat Brewing Company, apparently the oldest craft brewery in AB. The Salty Caramel dark beer was VERY good! We managed to avoid walking on the road on the way back. Had dinner and more beer at the pub in the hotel, watched the Olympic opening ceremony on TV and went to bed early.

Race Day – up at 6AM to catch breakfast at the hotel restaurant – nice buffet – but we didn’t really wanted too eat too much. I checked the temperature on my phone and it said -22C (not including windchill and it was supposed to be windy). But temps were forecasted to warm up to -7C with sun turning to overcast and light snow in the afternoon. So what to wear? Blue ski coat, black lifa and my grey T-shirt on top, double layer long underwear and ski pants on the bottom and a toque and buff on the head and lobster gloves on my hands. Balmy! To get to the start line, we did not have to worry about transportation, a van came to pick us up at 7AM. There were 9 other hotel guest we shared the shuttle with. Most of them from the US. It was about a 45-60min drive to the start of the point-to-point course at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village. From there the race course was winding its way along the east edge of Elk Island National Park and through the scenic Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area:

Map (Medium)

It was barely getting light when we arrived and it was cold!!! Luckily they had a big barn where we could stay warm while waiting for the start at 9AM. Actually my start time was supposed to be 9:30AM as I signed up to start in wave 3, the methodical skiers :-). The start area was on Goose Lake and the wind was howling at 25-30km/hr across the open area. I did a quick ski to test my wax and had tears in my eyes it was so cold. A good reminder to put on my goggles for the race. I watched Jeff’s 9AM start, listening to the National Anthem and 5min of speeches. By then the sun had come up and made it all a bit more bearable. Apparently it was -12C at the start (not including windchill). Jeff lined up near the front and he was double poling the whole race – brave man.

As I was watching Jeff disappear across the lake I decided no way I am going to wait till 9:30AM. I grabbed my skis instead and lined up at the back of wave 2 to start at 9:15. It was the right call after all. We had to listen to the same speeches and the anthem again. The start itself was almost too slow for me. I started passing people right away double poling with the wind at the back and managed to get past half the field by the time the many tracks narrowed to two. After we left the lake and entered the protection of the tree, the wind was less of an issue. I steadily caught up to people and passed some more for the first 10km – no I never made it to the font! The terrain was rolly – not hilly like I am used to but always up and down – undulated they call it. And after a while those tiny little ups start to feel like hard work. The fastest 55km racers from wave 1 came by me at the 11km mark. They had done about 23km by then.  Jeff came by at about 14km, having done 27km already. I had people near me most of the time – either breathing up my neck or in my sight ahead. I usually did better on the flat to small inclines were I could double pole where most people already were striding. But I suffered on the “steeper” ups and they all caught me again. It was fun though and the track setting was awesome. There were a few hairy downhill turns, for me anyways, but I only wiped out on one of those. My wax worked quite well – thanks to wax tech Jeff yet again. Only lost my footing once in the 2nd half and landed on my knees. Both wipe outs enabled the “Women in Red” I had been trying hard to catch in the first 10kms to pass me again. She definitely was a better strider than I and she got quite far ahead on the “powerline stretch” into the wind with the longest climbs. Lucky for me though she stopped at every aid station and I managed to get ahead again. The “rolliness” of the terrain seem to get bigger and bigger towards the end and I had a hard time getting up those “hills” but so did the people around me. Got passed by a couple guys but managed to catch them all again before the end. The last kilometer was once more on a lake, this time into a 20km/hr headwind. It was brutal but I caught up with one more person on it. Finished the 31km in 2hrs55min – a good time for me. Jeff came in ~15min behind me. He was 13th overall and 2nd in his age class with a time of 3hrs23min!!! He had a great race and was all smiles. Not sure how he managed to raise his arms after double poling 55km on this “rolling” terrain. All the hard training he did paid off and he so deserved the two medals, one for first time finishing the 55km and one silver. I finished 102nd out of almost 300 and was 8th out of 20 in my age class. Not too bad, given that I am used to be last or second last :-).

The event was really well organized. Our extra clothes had been transported from the start to the finish line and waited for us as we finished. They had heated change rooms. The food, soup and sausages were served in a big heated tent with lots of tables to sit down at. And most important they had more of the Alley Kat Salty Caramel beer :-). And I think it actually did warm up to -7C. Apparently they had the best conditions for this race in 20 years for this race. Over 1000 skiers participated. The biggest ski event I have been to and it looked like we picked the best year to do it. There is a short article on CBC (if you want to read about sport other than the Olympics).

We stayed till after Jeff’s medal award and then jumped onto the shuttle bus back to…well some transit station in the middle of nowhere. Another tall taxi cab bill to get us back to the hotel. Time to soak in the hot tub for a while, chatting with fellow skiers who were also staying at the hotel. A couple from Newfoundland and the American we had met in the AM on the shuttle. All of those were going to the Viking Feast which we did not sign up for, expecting we’d be way to tired to be social, which wasn’t actually the case. Who knew. Instead, we headed to the pub for a couple nice beer and a huge plate of nachos – yeah!!! Finished the evening watching the Olympics on TV – that’s about as much figure skating as I can stand for another 4 years :-). Next time we do the Viking Feast.

Day 3 – we were back to sunshine and -23C. Jeff was going to take me to the MALL, the famous West Edmonton Mall, since that is THE thing to do in Edmonton in the middle of winter. I am no shopper at the best of times and with this beautiful sunshine it kinda pained me to go inside. But as soon as we stepped out of the hotel into the frigid cold I was sold on the mall trip. Another steep taxi cab bill later we got to the mall which was on the other side of town. It’s is quite a big place. We watched the kids play ice hockey. We saw the Waterpark – a huge wave pool under a glass roof with the sun shining down into it, pretty awesome and I wished we would have brought our bathing suits along. We saw the Santa Maria. We played a round of mini golf at Prof WEMs Adventure Park – gosh I suck at that :-). We had lunch at the food court and it was surprisingly good butter chicken and freshly made naan. We watched the sea lion show at Marine Life. We did some shopping – most of it at Mountain Warehouse which offered outdoor clothing like MEC used to do before they got into brand stuff and they had a 70% sale on. And we went to Galaxyland, the indoor theme park which was much bigger than I expected and rode the Mindbender roller coaster. Been at least 10 years since I have been to rides and I was a bit unsure at first. It was a great rid though and if we wouldn’t have run out of time, I would have loved to spent more time with the rides. For $45 for a day pass definitely an effortable fun day indoors. Unfortunately, after 5!hrs in the mall, the longest I’ve ever been in one!, we had to get back to the hotel, pick up our luggage and continue on to the airport.

Overall a great trip, minus spending too much money on taxi cabs – although we made many cab driver friends :-). We were back home in Vancouver at 8PM that Sunday evening and it did NOT rain.



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