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Birkie Outlook

February 18, 2017

There is a lot of angst floating in the air these days as Mother Nature has cooked up a nasty February treat for us.   Weather forecasts, as of Saturday evening, are calling for above freezing weather all the way through Wednesday in the Hayward area.    So we tried to take a look at the bad news, good news, and consider some options for the upcoming Birkie week.

The Bad News

A little history - A look back at three tough Birkie years does not offer a lot of hope.   We dug into NOAA historical data, pulling out daily summaries for the Birkie week using numbers from the Hayward Ranger Station.

2000 The Rainout

In 2000, there was very good snow cover the week before the Birkie.  On the previous Sunday, 15" of snow depth was reported, with a high of 35F.  First the heat came in, Monday 43F, Tuesday 51F, Wednesday 59F, then rain was added - Thursday 47F and 0.14" rain, and the death blow on Friday, 54F and .35" of rain!   The snow depth at the reporting station went from that 15" on Sunday down to 9" Thursday, 5" on Friday, and zero by Saturday.  A shockingly fast destruction of the conditions.

2002 The Squeaker

The 2002 Birkie was almost cancelled.  On the Sunday before the Birkie, there was only 7" on the ground and highs were above freezing.  Things got worse before they got better -- Monday and Tuesday saw highs of 47F and 48F with the snow depth dropping to 2" by early Wednesday.  But then the savior, a snowstorm on Wednesday into early Thursday dropped 7", boosting the depth back up to 9" and the temperatures moderated in the mid 30s, allowing the race to be held.

2007 The Ice Rink

Snow conditions in 2007 were not good to begin with, and only got worse.  On Sunday before the race, 4" snow depth and cool temps.  Monday began a warming trend, with a high of 34F, then 40F Tuesday, 51F Wednesday, 51F Thursday, which basically cooked an already thin trail down to a hard, ice pack.   In fact, the reporting station logged a snow depth of zero by Thursday.   Organizers were able to scratch the surface of that ice pack, but due to the very hard surface, the determination was made that it would not be safe for the vast majority of the skiers to race.   An elite wave race to Hwy OO was held, and the concept of the Birkie Tour was born as skiers were invited to come out and ski some of the trail, in an untimed fashion.


This year is shaping up to be very similar to 2000 and 2007, as the warm temperatures continue to cook the base and the forecast calls for rain on Monday.  This leads us to believe the chances of running the full Birkie are quite slim.


The Good News

Birkie Trail at Hwy OO, February 18, 2017 (Photo: Mark Hooley)

As of Saturday morning, the entire trail was largely intact and could be groomed for a race.   The grooming crew has been stockpiling snow at several road crossings, waiting to push it out onto the trails when the temperatures cool.   And Lake Hayward has safe ice, and crews have worked up a windrow of snow that can be groomed out if the race can get to the lake.   

If you live in the Midwest and watch any television news or listen to radio, then you've undoubtedly already heard about a possible "major winter storm" coming in for the end of this week.   As of Saturday evening, some of the snow models were suggesting 3-5" of snow.

But there are many problems with this scenario:

  • Long-range models are highly inaccurate -- you wouldn't bet your house on them.
  • This model has been trending more southerly with each day.
  • The snow arrives very late, almost too late, to plan around.
  • Snowfall forecasts, even those issued the day of the event, can still be highly variable.   A forecast of 3-5" inches on Friday morning might still materialize to 1" by Friday night.

However, there are some things you can bank on...

The Birkie will host events this weekend -- that is the fact.   All the preparations for the race have been on-going for months now including race supplies, awards, prizes, food, etc.  In fact, this is a big part of the reason most ski races don't issue refunds; nearly all the registration money has already been spent in preparation and materials for races long before the starting gun goes off.   So be assured, the Birkie folks will host some events this weekend, even if there isn't enough snow to hold ski races on the Birkie trail.   And that's the worst case scenario.

Organizers are looking at a huge number of variations and options for running the race.   Just a few of the possibilities that they may consider could include:

  • Finishing at an earlier end-point.
  • Running races on the northern half of the Birkie trails (north of the Hwy OO crossing).
  • Moving the Korte and Birkie back to the same day.
  • Moving the races to Sunday.

But keep in mind all of these variations require some serious juggling of efforts, schedules and resources, and with further research, some of those options may not be feasible.   And some major decisions will impact these options.  For example, the installation of the bridge for the Main Street finish takes several days to complete (and additional snow to cover), and commits the organization to a downtown finish, including the set up of tents and resources that again, take several days to complete.   So if that card is played, it removes the option of being able to move the races to the northern half of the trails.

For those armchair quarterbacks, there is at least one option that is likely off the table:  the event will not be rescheduled to a later date.   The sheer logistics of moving to a new date, avoiding conflicts with resources and volunteers, especially given the Fat Bike Birkie just a few weeks later, make it all but impossible.

The Birkie officials are planning an extensive update on Monday, including discussion about what options might no longer be available.   We'll continue to post updates as warranted.

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