American Birkebeiner Outlook and Recommendation

If you just want to skip directly to the recommendation, scroll to the bottom. Otherwise, grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy my prose as I discuss how this recommendation was generated…

Our Guy in Hayward

BirkieTestingWhen we first moved back to Vermont and started up the most recent iteration of Caldwell Sport, one of our most engaged and loyal customers was a guy named Jeff Tumbleson, who lived in southern Wisconsin. Jeff gave us great feedback on skis, and we started to consider him one of our more reliable sources of feedback and information. A couple of years after we started working together, Jeff and his wife Cheryl made the lifestyle-driven decision to move to Hayward, and Jeff approached us about doing some testing and some brand ambassador work for us.

If you’ve paid any attention to our facebook stream in the last five years, you’ve seen Jeff’s contributions. Anytime there is a report from the Birkie Trail, it’s coming from Jeff. He’s a poorly supported contributor – we send him some test product free of charge from time to time, but for the most part he buys everything, and then generates about 50% of our social media content and information specific to the Birkie. Pretty good deal for us!

Jeff doesn’t have matched test skis. Actually, he does, but it’s a set of cold grind test skis that we sent him for testing on the Birkie trail, and those don’t help much with controlled wax testing. So he gathers information over time by continually putting wax jobs out on different skis, and comparing results. It’s a difficult way to gather really precise information about exactly what each variable is contributing. But it’s a fantastic way to figure out what wax jobs work over time, and to keep up with trends in the snowpack and the best practices for preparation. We lean extremely heavily on Jeff’s local knowledge. He lives on OO, and skis on the Birkie Trail every day. And he tests product every day.

This year is a bit of an exception. Jeff had ACL repair surgery in January, and is in for a long recovery. His rehab is going very well (his bike fitness will be scary this summer), but he can’t ski yet. So he’s recruited some of his local pals to put his carefully prepped skis on snow and test for him. He’s had Terry Tansey out there, and likely some others that he hasn’t mentioned directly. The point is, he’s still out there testing product, and sending us reports. So the following recommendation exists only thanks to Jeff’s serious dedication to the cause. Everybody say thanks to Jeff. Thank you Jeff!

Conditions & Weather Outlook

The coming week is starting to come into focus in terms of weather for Birkieland. Wednesday there is a very strong chance of accumulating snow. Temperatures for the remainder of the week look moderate to mild, with another low pressure system passing through the area Friday into Saturday. What is least clear is whether the weekend system will result in fall snow during the race, and whether it will establish enough overcast Friday into Saturday to prevent typical overnight cooling into the low single digits, as we’re accustomed to seeing up that way. Overall, this isn’t setting up to be a brutally cold Birkie. And overall, you’d be a fool to assume that it won’t be cold.

Cold isn’t the scary side of the forecast. Everybody will be ready for cold. But if the current forecast misses to the warm side (which would mean the low pressure system tracking just a couple hundred miles north of what’s currently projected… then the warm air incursion on Saturday could bring things into plus degrees and possibly… rain. OK. That’s a long shot. But let’s just keep an eye on things.

Overall, there is little doubt that the snowpack heading into Saturday will be untransformed, and well refrigerated. The groomers have been blading snow to bring up deeper cold snow and integrate the snowpack in order to try to build a firm base. They’re not exactly hoping for a lot more snow, because they’ve got plenty, and the bigger challenge is getting it all to set up hard. In general it’s a better bet to lean to the cold end of things in your Birkie build-up, and that sentiment is reflected in Jeff’s recommendation.

And with that said, here it is. Tumbleson’s Birkie Recommendation, with comments by Caldwell:

Base Paraffin – Star LF8

Zach’s note: I love Start LF8 – it is quite elastic for an extremely high performing cold paraffin, and very flexible in support of a wide range of wax jobs. However, I might personally lean toward LF6 as a “safer” bet as an underlayer based on our long-term testing indicating that it’s really easy to over-harden the base. I guess, if you’ve been putting hundreds of layers of green paraffin into your race skis and the forecast really solidifies on the warm end on Wednesday, then you should use a softer base paraffin like LF6. Having said that… I might trust Jeff’s gut feeling over my gut feeling when waxing in Jeff’s back yard…

Race Paraffin – Vauhti UF Cold

Zach’s note: I can’t argue with this. Sometimes I end up feeling that Star VF6 is a bit better in new snow, and a salivate over the chance to run VF4 in warm Birkie conditions because it’s been awesome out there. But Jeff has been putting skis on the snow and the UF Cold is consistently impressing him with its performance, as well as its range and flexibility. If you have a warm pair to build-up in case you wake up to 28 degrees and warming temps on race morning, then go with Star VF4. But even with morning temps in the low 20s, I’m happy with UF Cold.

Fluoro Powder / Top Coat 

Not Snowing Scenario (2 or more grooming cycles since new snow) – Vauhti LDR Powder / LDR Liquid

Zach’s note: I recommend Ironing LDR powder at 165C, and then finishing with a felt roller. The felt finish pushes the LDR into a great performance range for overall “new” snow. No matter what happens out there, the snow will act “new” by our Eastern standards, where “packed powder” is another term for blue ice, and “moist conditions” are what comes out of an Italian Ice vending machine. So let’s call this a “new snow” application of LDR, even though this isn’t the new-snow scenario for the race. That means iron at 165 and then finish with felt roller.

LDR liquid should be applied after scraping and brushing the powder. Just let it rest for ten minutes or so, and then brush. It’ll be good.

New Snow Scenario (Snow in the air, or only 1 grooming cycle on new snow) – Vauhti Mid Powder / Mid Liquid

Zach’s note: Iron the Mid powder at 175. Scrape and brush. Apply the mid liquid, and brush it thoroughly. The Mid liquid seems to improve with some KMs of skiing. It has a wide temperature tolerance in new snow, including a cold snow surface with new snow changing to light rain (exact scenario of US Nationals Skate Sprint where Mid was on winning skis in both men’s and women’s elite races).

Pick-one Scenario (I need to wax Wednesday and can’t wait to decide between wax jobs)

Use the LDR. A year ago that would have been our solid recommendation and we would have been very confident. The addition of Vauhti’s new Mid this season has simply added some dimension on the new snow side of things, and it’s proven to be effective in conditions otherwise dominated by LDR on the Birkie trail.

Wild Card Warm (I have some warm skis I’d like to prep just in case it’s 34F and falling snow changing to rain)

Go Star VF4, and Star F20, with XF6 spray on top. F20 has been a very solid pick for quite warm new snow, and it’s the only product that has beaten the Vauhti Mid this season as long as it was quite warm. While the new F20 formulation does better in colder mid conditions than the old formulation, it’s still a warmer solution than Vauhti Mid. But it’s a specific new snow product, and in that transition to above-freezing temps and the possibility of tracks glazing to wet, it’s very hard to beat!

What About Classic?

Jeff hasn’t been testing classic for us. Based on the forecast right now, I will suggest that a thin super-base with a couple of layers of Rode -1/-7 is a very solid starting point. I would plan to have VO on hand to grab a bit more kick, and I would have -3/-10 on hand as a speed cover. These waxes have been good out there in the past, and provide about as wide a range of coverage as you can get from any simple three-wax set-up, with very good characteristics in combination (layering the waxes is simple and intuitive).

I also have a prediction. At some point this week the forecast will “trend” slightly warmer. This is almost inevitable as it appears that the potential for warmer air depends on the track of the low pressure system, which can certainly vary from run to run of the forecasting models. At some point somebody will realize that the temperature might approach freezing, and the proclamation will go out that “skin skis are the only solution that will prevent you from dying alone and afraid on the Birkie trail, with the howling of approaching and circling wolves as the final sound that reverberates in your ears as your vision fades to black and you expire from the futile effort of trying to ski on wax in temperatures approaching freezing”. This is what happens when people from cold places see a warm forecast. But, I don’t think it will be that bad. Maybe I’ll follow-up mid-week if the forecast is looking warmer with some more productive and less derisive suggestions!

In the meantime, just remember that if you don’t have skins, you’ll be like this guy:

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