Birkie Wax (don’t panic)

The American Birkebeiner is a phenomenon. As an event it clearly transcends the category of “ski race”. It is a major moving force in the lives of thousands of people, and in the ski market. Like other major citizen races around the world – the Norwegian Birkebeiner, the Vasaloppet, the Marcialonga, the Engadin – it generates reverberations felt by all skiers, and precipitates the kind of panicked frenzy that is usually reserved for Christmas shopping. It’s like black friday with waxing.

It’s that waxing part that seems to fuel a lot of the panic, and I understand it. After years of working on skis, I’ve learned how to not panic about the wax. The answer is testing. And the problem is that Birkie skiers don’t have an opportunity to test. I think some panic is warranted. If I were signed up to do that race and had no ability to test in the days leading up, I wouldn’t be able to sleep with only 108 hours until race time. I would be obsessing about wax.

I’m here to help you try to sleep.

Even at the highest professional levels, long distance racing service is a whole different thing than World Cup service. It’s a game of safe calls and best average solutions. In the past few years we’ve taken a family vacation to Lillehammer during Norwegian Birkebeiner week, and we’ve managed to ski the course the Friday before the big event. That’s the best way to test for a marathon! Go ski the course the day before! But since you can’t do that, you can remember the lessons that skiing the course can teach you. You’re going to see a lot of different stuff out there, and it will be different at the end than at the beginning, and ski performance is likely to vary. What you want is a safe solution that works well.

The upcoming Birkie is not going to be one of the more challenging ones – the super cold, dry, fresh snow that won’t compact, or the even more fearsome slushfest. The course is well packed and well refrigerated. The grooming plan is to hit everything Friday night, and be off it by midnight (according to our spies). The Korteloppet events on Friday do offer the possibility of some softening in the second half, but based on the current conditions the locals (Jeff Tumbleson, our spy) expects a hard and fast tracks (standard disclaimers apply for later waves). Jeff thinks it’s a good year for record times.

Overnight low temps are looking moderate, and daytime highs just just crest the freezing point. The safe calls, sitting here in Vermont on Monday evening, are:

HF blue range paraffin (Star VF6, Vauhti UF Cold, etc).

Vauhti LDR powder.

We could make this a lot more complicated, but it’s not necessary.

Kick wax is also pretty basic. The snow is a bit abrasive, but nothing that a standard well-applied binder and a ski with some carrying capacity can’t handle. I would recommend:

Vauhti Super Base

A cushion of Rode VO (length dependent on your pocket shape – put the VO in the high part of the pocket)

Rode -1/-7 (now called B17) kick wax.

For the Korteloppet on Friday I would recommend much the same. The classic events on Friday run a bit later, with starts from 10:40 to 11:15. But the overnight lows ahead of the race are much colder, and the daytime high is a bit lower.

For both days, if the snow is older and kick is looking tricky, then a cushion of Start Oslo Blue is a good bet for really strong kick. Oslo blue is seldom really fast, but the klister ingredient in there can provide a lot of security. I would still cover it with the -1/-7.