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Skiing in the American Birkebeiner was a Learning Experience

By Jill Winegar, YWCA of Minneapolis Fitness Director
March 2, 2012
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Beth, Jill and Ryder

My 15-year-old son, Ryder, and I had such a great time doing the Birkie Korteloppet last weekend, it makes me wonder why I haven’t been doing this for the last few decades. When my high school friend Beth posted on Facebook last Fall that she was going to do it and invited others to join her, I immediately said “Yes.” I had thought about it in previous years, and just needed the push. Better yet, when I asked Ryder if he wanted to do it with me, he said “yes” too. Wow, having a teenage boy doing anything with his mom at this point is truly amazing!

Despite having been on skis for less than ten hours this winter, I got really psyched to do this the day or two before. The day was perfect, the weather gorgeous, our wax just right, and we dressed right so that none of us was too cold or too hot. Because this was the first official race for any of the three of us — with no timed race history under our tights — we were put in the last wave, which seemed full of people who just bought skis the day before and thought doing the Korteloppet would be a good time to try them out.

There were people using wood skis, skis with fish scales, people wearing jeans — all were well represented in the ninth wave. When you go out the shoot with 150 or so of these people  shoulder-to-shoulder, five tracks across, it’s a bit like lemmings jumping off the cliff into the sea. You  cannot move at all for 30 to 40 minutes. Ryder was far more aggressive than Beth and I, and shot through, yelling “track” to claim a space, so I never saw him again till the end. (That’s my boy!)

It wasn’t until we got to the first big hill that some of the herd was culled. There was a line of people waiting to go down the hill, and half of those people were taking off their skis and walking down the hill. The other half were snowplowing down, and most of them fell in a pile at the bottom. I think I stood in line for almost ten minutes. But now we had some room to breathe, and all I could think of for the next 15 kilometers was to go as fast as I could so that, next year, I would not be in that wave!

Ryder finished in just under two 2 hours at 1:59, and I came in at 2:24. Beth finished about 15 minutes after I did. Just to give you a frame of reference:

  • There are a total of 9,500 skiers for all the races
  • 1,079 men and women do the Classic Korteloppet, the race we did
  • In Ryder’s age/gender group, there were 37 skiers
  • In my age group, there were 86
  • Ryder was 30th in his age/gender group and 246th in the overall Classic Korteloppet field (all men and women) and the winning time for his age/gender group was 1:16
  • I was 24th in my age/gender group and 455th in the overall Classic Korteloppet field (all men and women) and the winning time for my age/gender group was 1:32

I’m hooked! I’m already planning how to take 30 minutes off my time next year, and my first strategy involves not standing in line on top of hills for ten minutes!

To learn more about the American Birkebeiner, visit their site.