Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Birkie Recap

Margaret skiing with her "Birkie Pack" a couple days before the event.
If you ski the Norwegian Birkebeiner from the 20th wave, don't plan to ski it fast.    If you're in a hurry it will be 'hurry up and wait'.

However, if you're able to enjoy yourself in gridlock traffic, skiers lined up from here to tomorrow, wall to wall and stretched to the horizon - then it is definitely a ski that you'll remember forever.

From Sjusjoen, there's a 2 hour bus ride to the start in Rena.   So we were on the bus by 6:00 a.m. for our start at 9:50.     At the start in Rena, there is a carnival sized area for staging the start, as well as a ski testing track, hundreds of standard blue porta-pottis, and dozens of trucks arranged to shuttle bags back to the finish.     Everything was very well organized and intuitively arranged, but on a huge scale.

An abundance of blue huts meant that the lines weren't long.
Conditions for the Birkie were pretty slow, but good snow.     New snow on Friday left things soft and loose, and tracks washed out a bit especially for the later skiers.    "Maxtime" (aka "Mark Times", a measure of performance based on % back from age group leaders) were typically a half-hour slower than most years.

I was skiing with bib 14,144 and that's like starting behind all of the field from the USA Birkie times 4. There were 3700 finishers at the American Birkie this year, if you'd like to use that for perspective.

We had very good skis.    I tested grips on Friday and picked a new Start grip wax ("01932 Racing Extra -2/-8").     It had excellent grip and durability.    I didn't have to touch the skis through the event, and both of us had enough wax to ski 25km on Sunday without touching them up!     It's tough to get free-running skis for the whole race (while also having good grip), since Rena and the plateau are very different.   The plateau is open and dryer and about 1600 feet higher.    Both of us were running on the "i5" grind, which was good for the conditions.   Excellent skis really make the experience more fun.

Margaret got her "Mark" diploma (meaning that she finished within the prescribed % behind the winner), which is commendable with bib 14,000+.   She gets bonus points, since she also was skiing with an upper respiratory infection.      Margaret had back surgery 18 months ago to install an artificial disc, and the Birkie trip was both a celebration of her recovery, and training motivation - a carrot - for the past year.    She was really happy with the entire experience (except for being sick during the trip, which was a bummer).

My day was pedestrian as intended, and it was my longest ski of the year by about 25km.   Having said that, it was a motivating thing but there is simply no hope of skiing fast from Wave 20.    But it was a blast - super fun.

Perfect corduroy on the day after the Birkie.
Funny...   ...the front of our wave ran into the back of Wave 19 within 2km of the start!     Then it was a matter of standing at the bottom of each steep section to queue up for the walk up the hill.   Even where it's 10 lanes wide, you're still having to double pole on the margins and between lanes.   Life would have been much easier in an early wave.

Also, the big descents in the last 15km were a real mess - they looked like the site of a demolition derby for monster trucks.   Huge berms and ruts and no sign of anything resembling tracks.   Yard sale crashes left, right, and center.

The finish is in the Olympic stadium, from the '94 Olympics.   That is pretty cool.   After 54km, it's still wall-to-wall skiers and resembled a cattle drive.

Overall, it was a super experience.    Everyone who has ever said,  'Every skier should sometime ski the Norwegian Birke', is absolutely correct.

Now I'm trying to figure out if I can get back there next year, start in an earlier wave, and take a shot at skiing it at speed.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Just another day in Norway

Sjusjoen is a tiny village, but is surrounded by 6,500 ski cabins.

How far to Lillehammer?
Today was another great day of skiing.   Temps were a little warmer, and the tracks seemed a little greasy.     After a relaxed morning ski, checking out  the downhills from Sjusjoen down to Lillehammer, followed by lunch, I went out in the afternoon and did some ski and wax testing.

Although there isn't a big variation in temperature in the area, the tracks vary somewhat within a radius of a few km's from the hotel.   

It's still a few days until the Birkie, and conditions are bound to change a fair bit, but it is a good exercise to compare skis and fiddle with a few wax combinations.

It's no surprise that Swix Blue Extra (V40) has such a following here - you can make it work almost all the time.     Today it wasn't the best - a little bit of drag under the foot - but you could still make it work.     A couple other waxes seemed to have better grip and easier glide.      But the Blue Extra was still getting it done for those skiers with just two sticks of wax in their pocket.

Quick Lunch!     The grocery store is a cultural experience.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pretty close to ideal.

Sod roof, and of course, Norwegian Wood.
Skiing here in Sjusjoen is everything you've heard about skiing in Norway.   Deluxe.    We skied almost 3 hours this morning on VR40, at -5C and lightly falling snow.    There are trails all over the area.    This tiny village is surrounded by 1000km of trails, and I'm pretty certain that I could ski all the way to Stockholm (if I had enough time and energy and places to sleep along the way).

I'd like to give a big Thank You to Mike Myers for loaning me a nice pair of Rossignol Xium classic skis today.    My skis haven't arrived here yet, and Mike's skis were great!     Mike used to live in the USA and was part of the Rossignol ski team; now he lives in Sjusjoen and is part of the family at the Rustad Hotell

A few of my favorite things, all in one place:
Rode, Maplus, Start, Swix, Toko, Rex.
We skied a big circle, heading south-east from Sjusjoen, and skiing through the valleys and over high hills, before heading north and looping back, finishing on a few kilometers of the Birkebeiner trail.     It happened that the Half-Birkie was taking place today, so we skied along with the racers for a few km (staying out of the way, which isn't hard when there are 6 sets of tracks).     It was just the perfect finish to a great morning of skiing, and definitely got a bit of pre-Birkie ski stoke going.

Skiers are everywhere here.    Young, old.   Teenagers.    Teenagers skiing with other teenagers, with no coaches supervising.    And they seemed to be enjoying it.      When we can get that mojo going in the USA, then we'll really have succeeded in growing our sport.   

And they ski well.   Mostly.    But what seemed most striking to me was that everyone simply looks comfortable on skis.

off track...
Our clothes and skis have arrived at the Oslo airport, and are supposed to arrive here at the hotel late this afternoon.    With a bit of luck we'll be on our own skis on Monday afternoon.

Speaking of Monday...     ...We'll be visiting Per Wiik at Madshus ski company in Biri bright and early on Monday.      

Okay...   Naturally you can watch the World Cup cross country ski races live on the television here (on two different channels, I might add), but it was in Norsk or German.     Dang, no british eurosport!    If that's the most that I can complain about, then life is pretty good.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Arrival in Sjusjoen

We flew from Seattle on Friday morning, and arrived in Sjusjoen on Saturday afternoon.

It was over 24 hours of traveling and Margaret & I are both excited and tired.

The bad news is that the skis and one clothing bag did not arrive with us.   Hopefully it will arrive tomorrow. There will be plenty to do for one day without the skis if necessary.

Sjusjoen is a small village about 15km from Lillehammer, and it is absolutely packed with cross country skiers!

Being further north, it immediately struck me that the sky looks like our home in the middle of January, even though it's mid-March here now.    The sun still seems pretty low in the sky.

The snow is terrific here - cold hardwax conditions - Rode blue multigrade, I'd guess.

More later, and photos, too.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Schedule - Off to Norway!

Nordic Ultratune will be closed from March 10th to March 22nd.     My wife and I will be traveling to Norway for the Birkebeiner!

Service work that arrives during my absence will be taken care of as soon as I return.   Don't worry - FedEx and UPS will still make deliveries while I'm gone, and the skis will be give careful attention as soon as I'm back in the shop.     If you have any questions, just send an email - I should be able to send replies from the road.    

Sunday, March 6, 2011

More Atomic HT Skate info - and Schedule Info

A few weeks ago, I wrote a review of the new Atomic HT (hard track) skate ski.    Click here for that review.

Today I found a video in which Roman Toferer describes the Atomic HT in detail.      It's definitely worth watching.    Take a look!

Want some?
If you'd like to pre-order some of the Atomic skate skis, either the new World Cup HT or the all-around ST version, just send an email and you'll be added to the pick list for autumn 2011 delivery.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

NIS Xcelerator Wedge - Details and Photos

I got my hands on a pair of the new NNN/NIS Wedges that are designed for use with the Xcelerator skate bindings.       Here are some details and some photos.    You can click any of the pics for a bigger view.
Profile of the Xcelerator Wedge on a 2011 Xium WCS skate ski.
Wedges have been showing up for a few years on Salomon bindings.   Also they've been seen on screwed-down NNN bindings.    The NIS bindings were difficult to adapt, so Rottefella made an adaptor for skiers who want to use the wedge.

Unlike the Atomic and Salomon versions, the Xcelerator Wedge is only under the front part of the binding, and the heel plate sits on the ski in the normal position.    The effect is the same.

The Rottefella NIS Wedge is a molded plastic piece and outlined to match the Xcelerator's  shape.
The Rottefella Xcelerator Wedge is injection molded plastic (my sample has a mold date of Dec 2010, so it's pretty new).    The photos make the wedge look red, but let me tell you, they're PINK.    They almost look like promo items for Fast & Female.       They're functional and stand out brightly against any ski.
First adjust the wedge fore/aft on the NIS plate, then install the binding.
Interesting to note that the fore/aft adjustment takes place with the interface between the wedge and the NIS plate.     The binding-to-wedge attachment locks in to a single location.     Thus, when you want to adjust the position of the binding, you first adjust the position of the wedge, then install the Xcelerator binding on top of it.    Very simple, no redundancy.
There is approximately 3.4mm rise in 145mm run; an angle of about 1.3 degrees
The very front tip of the binding sits about 8mm higher than the NIS plate, but it's a little less further back under the middle of the foot, of course.  I did a little trigonometry to measure the rise angle on the wedge - it's about 1.34 degrees.   For those of you who haven't played with binding wedges yet, the wedge places the rise in the FRONT of the binding, not in the back.       Children of the 1960's will laugh when I compare skiing with a wedge to the feeling of skate skiing in Earth Shoes, although less pronounced (more angle on an Earth Shoe).
At Nordic Ultratune, I do a lot of measuring.
The Rottefella Xcelerator wedges aren't available in shops yet, but I'm sure they'll be available for the 2011/2012 season.     If you've got a sharp eye and look closely at the pictures, you'll see them on a few skis at the World Championships in Oslo.

I've discussed wedges in previous articles.  (Look HERE and HERE).   On snow, the Rottefella Xcelerator wedge has the same feeling as other wedge versions, but it's set up to use with NNN boots and especially with NIS plates.   The effect, while skating, is that the wedge lifts the toes very slightly, which encourages weighting of your foot a bit further back, unless you consciously roll further forward on the foot.

For me, after using them for a few days, I don't notice them any more... ...but for a few sessions they feel different under the foot. For a skier who is accustomed to making continual adjustment of their position on the ski for optimum performance, I personally don't feel that they offer a huge advantage.

However, if you get used to them, then you'll probably want them installed on most of your skis (if not all of them) so that they will have the same feel under your feet.

Overall, just like the wedges for Salomon bindings, you might like them or you might not.     But you should try them for yourself to see if you feel like they help you.

One nice thing with the NIS version - if you decide to remove them, or try them on another pair of NIS skis, then it's a quick fix. No screws, no glue, no muss, no fuss. Click-click! All done! With the NIS bindings, you can try them forward, or further back, and now with or without a toe lift.    Customized, optimized. With no screws and no drilling. This is definitely a good thing.

Odds and ends.    The wedge doesn't affect how you get in and out of the binding.   The wedges do add a bit of weight.        I've discovered that in a pinch you can use one as a door stop.