Monday, February 02, 2009

Ground Hog Day Over and Over Again

Our groundhogs will not check to see if the sun is shining today. The event will not be televised. It’s -25 F and Alaskan marmots, cousins to the groundhogs, are buried under three feet of snow and another couple feet of permafrost. Winter will last another 9 or 10 weeks, guaranteed.

Winter’s officially half over, and ski season is heating up with most of the important races just ahead. Training is a challenge right now, but hopefully this latest cold snap will pass within a few days and we can get down to the best skiing of the year. Before that happens though, I’d like to babble some about the local race scene. The good and not so good.

Here’s our 2008-09 Schedule:
November 15 - Salcha Sprints – 5K Freestyle
November 22 - Town Race Series #1 – 7.5K Freestyle
November 23 - USSA NRL Points Race – 10K Classic
November 29 - Turkey Day Relays – 3X5K Freestyle
November 30 - Salcha Turkey Day Classic – 10K Classic
December 6 - Town Race Series #2 – 1.2K Classic Sprint
December 13 – Fairbanks Distance Series #1 – 15K Freestyle
January 11 - Fairbanks Distance Series #2 – 20K Classic
January 24 - Town Race Series Event #3 – 10K Classic
January 31 - Town Race Series Event #4 – 4K/4K Classic/Freestyle Pursuit
February 7 - Besh Cup #5 – 10K Classic
February 8 - Besh Cup #6 – 10K Freestyle
February 22 - Fairbanks Distance Series #3 – 15K/15K Classic/Freestyle Pursuit
March 14 - Sonot Kkaazoot – 50K Freestyle
March 21 Skiathon – 20K Classic

As you might expect for a community with 6 months of winter, Fairbanks has a full schedule of races. For 2008-09 the average citizen racer could enter 15 local races from mid-November through March. Elite skiers, or those somewhat less than elite but daring (or stupid/delusional like I was last year), have an extra week to enter four more races at the USSA Nationals.

A Lot to Cheer About
Other than just having the opportunity to race frequently, the races are quite inexpensive (ranging from $5 to $20 for ski club members), they are usually low key but ‘professionally’ managed mostly by volunteers, and are generally of high quality. You won’t miss a turn or rarely would you ski on trails that are not well groomed. In additon, the schedule offers a fair amount of variety.

No Whine Before Its Time
My biggest peeve is that unless you are in high school the Town Races are too short. The younger juniors ski at 1 to 3K, but it would be good to have some of the older ones (J4s and J3s, i.e. age 10-14) ski a bit longer, maybe 2 to 4K. If time is an issue, then why not mix up boys and girls in the same race. For adults, it’d be good if they upped the Town Series #1 to 10K. And I’d really like to see a longer pursuit format for Town Series #4. Let the high schoolers do their 8K, but anyone over 18 or 19 could be doing 15K.

I’d also like to see a little variety for race venue. Other than the Salcha races and one 20K at the university of Alaska, everything is at Birch Hill, pretty much the same thing every week and every year, like a frozen Bill Murray trying to get it right.

Another minor complaint about Town Series races is the insistence on gating the whole damn stadium as if this is a World Cup or Olympic event. I’ve read other reports comparing the Birch Hill scene to a concentration camp. Now I wouldn’t go that far, but my first couple years here I was totally confused by the intense crowd control barriers, which makes navigating around the stadium a challenge, especially when it’s sub zero and you have small children to manage. Then I went through a phase of outright protest and I’d do what I could to visibly annoy officials and some of the more ardent volunteer enforcers. What’s the purpose of implementing artificial crowd-control barriers when there are all of 200-300 people in the area? By now I’m used to the format and usually follow procedure like the docile bovine they want us to be. MMOOOOOOO!!

Oh well, I guess it trains us for the bigger races like Besh Cups, Super Tour, or US Nationals when some crowd management is needed.

Anxiety Relief At the Distance Series
Ahh, it such a relief when we have the once a month Distance Series. These races have a smaller and older crowd, but usually there is good competition. And best of all no cattle gates or Stasi to tell you where to go. The distance races, combined with the marathons (Tour of Anchorage and Sonot Kkazoot) are the highlight of my winter.

I wouldn’t mind seeing one addition to the schedule; let’s do a 25-30K classic at the end of January-early February, either a 'Tour de Birch' (all of Birch Hill's trails) or a two lap tour of UAF including the narrow Skaarland trails to lend an old school feel. And let’s drop the late February 30K pursuit in favor of the 30K freestyle. This would be a better prep for the March marathons.

Finally, about the -20F temperature cutoff. I’m beginning to think that -20 is too cold. I saw a lot of frostbite (at least 10% of the skiers) out there last Saturday when they were racing at -18. FIS says -4 but to Nordic Ski Club Faribanks it's -20. How about a compromise at -14 or so? This is supposed to be fun, remember!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great, and interesting, report, Roger! I need to check in more often.
Although I'm wicked jealous of the race/ski community you have (and friends here in NH have just a few hours' north), I'm learning to just love the great snow we're having, and the ability to just ski-ski-ski.
Easily our best ski winter here (Concord, NH) in at least 10 years.
Maybe a little too much! I'm taking a rare mid-week day "off" today. Every ski muscle is delightfully wuped.
Jim Graham

2:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim, glad you're having a good winter. Hope that you can squeeze in a couple races, but if not, it's all about just getting outside anyway.

As you've been hearing we've been having a bit too much of a good thing. Considering that we still had snow the ground in the first week of May, a very short wet summer and early winter (beginning late Sept), on top of just being cold the entire time I gotta admit to being a bit burned out it all.

10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a much smaller way, I feel hints of the never-ending winter thing, too. Should be about -10F when I head out tomorrow a.m. No wind (I hope). I bet we've had more sub-zero readings than in about 20 years this year. No wonder why I'm always the only one out there!
A break in the pattern is expected this weekend, with temps climbing into the low to mid-30s through next week. Ut-oh... Give me snow!
I wish I had a few warm-up early-season races so I could go for it in some of the late/fun ones. I know I'm more ski-fit now than in years. But still, nothing beats racing to put an edge on it.
Good to be in touch, Roger. Oops, my son's calling... gotta go!
Watch the frostbite, and stay warm.

4:21 PM  

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