Slow Skis at The Birkie
I skied the Birkie this year on what felt like the SLOWEST skis in the world. Looking up at about 2k, I realized that the entire field had glided away while I struggled to get the slightest bit of glide. Honestly, it felt like someone had sabotaged my skis by adding peanut butter to the last layer. My skis quite literally stuttered down the hills as I’d slow to a near stop. It was so exhausting skiing with no glide that I was a full 10-13 minutes behind skiers I usually ski with! It was frustrating since the trail conditions were actually quite good. Could you please advise me on what WOULD have been a good combination of ski selection/structure/wax for this year’s Birkie conditions?
signed, “Allergic to Peanut Butter”
Dear Peanut Butter,
I had this same conversation all night at the Sawmill after the Birkie.
Andre Watt had good skis. He doesn’t know what they went on, but I feel it has way more to do with flex and structure more than anything.
Some other skiers who shall remain nameless for reasons of ski sponsorships and anti-defamation-of-ski-brand had bad skis too and definitely should have been more in the mix. I don’t think it was "brand" and I think brand in general is less of an issue of ski fit and ski selection for those skiers who have a lot of skis to choose from.
But how could so many have such bad skis? I think the answer lies in this order: 1. Dirt, 2. Ski structure, 3. Wax used.
I’m going to answer in 3, 2, 1 from here on out.
3. I am not going to defame a wax company with the following statements because I think every brand has its day. I advised my college skiers for an all-Swix wax job, based on the forecast, which is the way 99% of everyone racing the Birkie waxes their skis. In order to do better than wax-by-forecast, you need to get up early the day of, have a set of test skis, and test. It’s that simple. My hunch is, many others were on Swix as well, and because the snow didn’t fall as expected, I would have to say that my wax recommendation was completely off.
Swix has a huge advantage in new snow. In fact, I don’t test it nearly as much when it is old and dirty snow. The fact that the new snow didn’t fall, and that Swix is arguably the most used wax in the world, tells me that the wax was missed by many. When it snows, go Swix. When it doesn’t for a long time, don’t. I don’t know what Andre had on, but I have a hunch. For those of us buying wax, I think Holmenkol was probably in the mix, and if you didn’t have Holmenkol, ToKo had a better chance of running than Swix, but 1 and 2 are also much bigger factors.
2. Most people don’t have multiple stone grinds to choose from, so we have to assume that most people were on a factory grind. It was fairly warm so most people who had a choice of say a warm base and a cold base probably chose the warm. Chances are, that factory grind is more aggressive. In fact, I think that even while the warmer grind might actually be better over the entire course WITH CLEAN SNOW, it was probably worse Saturday for the next reason.
1. Anyone looking at the first 2km would have to say that was some of the dirtiest snow anyone who skied this Birkie has ever skied on. I’ve skied on worse in Europe, and I missed an Olympic team almost entirely due to my skis picking up dirt. That peanut butter feeling you’re talking about? Yeah, that was my final race at the 1998 Olympic Trials.
The ski I used that day was not my own. It was provided to me from my rep while I saved my best skis from massive rills for what I thought would be my first Olympics. What that grind did with the water was spectacular. What it did with the dirt was not!
In that race, I was skiing at the front of the field for 2.5km and then I started feeling the effects of what the dirt in the wet snow was doing on my base. Basically, the aggressive stonegrind had a non-linear aspect to it, and the grind was fairly deep and aggressive, giving dirt a very nice place to adhere itself. The dirt was repelled by the fluoro I had on at the time for a few kms, but it was no match for the dirt, even over just 10km.
Ultimately, if you look at the first 2km of the Birkie this year, it was horribly, horribly dirty. You can battle the dirt with fluorocarbon waxes, but the ones that do it the best are ones that are not readily available at your local ski shop, and if you have access to them, they’re spendy. They are European based companies catering almost entirely to the World Cups. But, some folks like Andre did have decent skis, and my sense is that it stems almost entirely from the stonegrind. I think Andre had a grind that picked up less dirt in the first 2km than most people in the race.
So, the synopsis from my perspective is that most of the field with dog skis had a grind that picked up a good amount of dirt because their stonegrind and wax was not optimal for repelling it. Unfortunately, the solution is neither easy nor cheap. It would take more options of stonegrinds, and a really, really expensive wax job that most hardly have access to.
Wish it was simpler than that, but I don’t think it is. Just hope for snow next year!
[Chad Salmela is Head Coach of the College of St. Scholastica Nordic Ski Team and the co-owners of the Midnight Sun Adventure Co.]