Jay Wiener has filled more than 20 Worldloppet passports and has completed more Worldloppet events than any other US citizen. Each year we recap the ski season through his experiences, and this is the latest installment. This year, despite, or possibly because of, multiple setbacks, we can find thoughtfulness and inspiration in Jay’s travels. Enjoy!
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
So begins Daphne de Maurier’s Rebecca — made into the Alfred Hitchcock film winning the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1940. The Birkie and the 2020 ski season are a distant dream since confinement commenced, bringing beloved activities into abeyance.
Hopefully celebrating enjoyment isn’t nightmarish, bringing smiles, given what was lost once ski racing ceased abruptly, after risk arose.
A favorite Prince song, “Little Red Corvette”, begins,
“I guess I should have known
By the way you parked your car sideways
That it wouldn’t last”
I should have known, after numerous cancellations, that it wouldn’t last: The Northern Hemisphere Winter was warmest on record. Worldloppet marathons in Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, and Japan couldn’t commence.
I had premonition throughout Autumn 2019 that calamity was imminent. I questioned my unease absent tangible sign. Inability of competitions to proceed as planned never provoked an “AHA!” moment.
Skiers were delighted with the races held and disappointed when others weren’t. There was middle ground between inadequate snow and cancellation.
Snow was not plentiful at the Austrian Dolomitenlauf. Conditions were adequate for the Freestyle marathon in Obertilliach, where both races were held for years. A Classic marathon from Heinfels to Lienz was inaugurated for this year’s 50th anniversary. It offers as much fun as any Worldloppet race. Almost the entire loipe descends. I posted my fastest time ever; almost a quarter-century since beginning racing; when times should increase. Add that pleasure to the welcome skiers enjoy in the East Tirol: One always appreciates Austrian Worldloppet events.
The Marcialonga is no distance as the crow flies but a million miles away from anywhere in ambiance. Skiing on the southern side of the Alps allows authenticity, electricity, and energy, endearing the Marcialonga. Its staff creates racetracks when conditions could cause cancellation elsewhere. 2020 was slow. I stayed “steady on the trigger;” surprisingly finishing faster, percentage-wise, than any time since 2012; fourth best ever. I arrived exhausted at the Finish Line in Cavalese. Exemplifying the warmth of the South Tyrol, dear friends Roberta Parolari and Leonardo Scalet awaited me — having followed me on their home computer. Assessing need, they insisted that I eat at their home in Tesero. Never has dinner in friends’ kitchen meant as much. I retired rejuvenated. Otherwise I would have awakened weak, the following morning.
The König Ludwig Lauf was canceled before my arrival in the Bavarian Alps. I went anyway since hotel costs could not be recouped. The first day, I skied in Seefeld — across the border in Austria from Garmisch-Partenkirchen — with Canadian Worldloppet skiers Robert Palliser and Basil Delaney. I was delighted to visit the fabled venue. Afterwards we skied at Ettal. Notwithstanding inadequate conditions, they were insufficiently so to warrant driving forty-five minutes to Seefeld, where the terrain and tracks approximate Ettal and Oberammergau.
Race organizations’ future requires locating substitute racecourses when the usual loipe is unusable. The König Ludwig Lauf could have been held in Seefeld if a German Worldloppet event in Austria is not verboten. Garmisch-Partenkirchen cross-country tracks near the border offer an additional alternative.
Robert, Basil, and I, joined by a third Canadian Worldloppet Master, Grant McLeod, returned to Italy, on Friday, January 31, 2020, and skied the Toblach marathon from Dobiacco (Toblach) to Cortina d’Ampezzo, the following day. The race recorded its most participants, occasioned by König Ludwig Lauf’s cancellation. It was more fun than can be communicated. The race course follows a decommissioned rail bed, much of its distance. It climbs the first three-quarters. The final 12-kilometers descend into Cortina d’Ampezzo. The racecourse is the most beautiful that I’ve skied. The day was equally stunning. I wondered whether I was dreaming while descending the final kilometers: The moment was too perfect to be true.
I commend a Dolomitenlauf and Marcialonga combination to aspiring skiers or a Marcialonga followed by a Saturday Toblach marathon and Sunday König Ludwig Lauf. The shortcoming of the latter plan is that one cannot combine a Dolomitenlauf with an unskied marathon abroad, subsequently.
If too many marathons are canceled moving forward, Worldloppet will suffer, as everyone will await the eleventh hour before planning trips; pursuing races with snow instead of anticipating Worldloppet is “the ticket to ride”.
The Transjurassienne was canceled on the day that I traveled from Germany to France. The Transjurassienne hasn’t followed its normal racecourse since 2015. The 2016 race imploded because the alternate racecourse announced — never approved by the French Government — went though an endangered bird’s habitat. In 2019, the shorter Freestyle marathon skiers were prohibited from starting, although the longer Freestyle marathon commenced and a number of those starting the longer Freestyle marathon would have followed us, significantly more tired. In 2020, decent snow allowed ample opportunities for alternative racecourses. Seemingly no motivation exists if the Transjurassienne can be canceled, since the French race organization keeps half the entry fee and saves the cost of staging the race.
The word among overseas skiers is avoid the Transjurassienne and ski the Jizerska 50, held simultaneously.
The Gatineau racecourse is not my favorite. It is as expensive to fly to Ottawa and stay as to go to Europe. The race seems anachronism — stuck in the 1980’s — not advancing while others have. The opinion might differ if one can drive to Ottawa.
I was exhilarated returning to northwest Wisconsin, seeing friends of longstanding, and reliving good times at the Birkie. Like my fifty-year-old Chevy sports coupe, the Birkie is all American, raring to go. Like the fuel injector recently retrofitted onto my Super Sport V-8, improvements at the Birkie ameliorate it.
The flight from my hometown, Jackson, Mississippi, to Minneapolis-St. Paul — via O’Hare — was easy. After an effortless drive to Hayward, I dropped skis at New Moon for waxing and picked up my race bag, on Thursday evening.
After visiting Mary and Jim Krook, with whom I stay, I dined, then walked. Friday, we brunched at the Delta Diner and went to Hayward, before a long walk and dinner.
Saturday morning dawned bright and beautiful. It was a race day on which one knew that everything would cohere before reaching the start.
An American adventure sandwiched between marathons abroad was manna from heaven. It was the weekend of Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the Democratic Caucuses in Nevada, events as American as my Chevy. As in Nevada casinos, “You pay your money. You take your chances.”
One chance at ski races is new skiers, clueless about etiquette and protocol, colliding with other skiers as if bowling balls striking bowling pins. Perhaps first-time skiers at mass start races ought wear distinctive race bibs — signaling to avoid them “like the plague”. Detailed do and don’t lists should be provided.
2020 witnessed worst case scenario. A skier failed to maintain appropriate distance on a short hill. He stepped upon my left ski, causing me to fall. I got up and took two steps, after which my left ski pole snapped in two.
The collision occurred between kilometers three and four. I skied seven kilometers before obtaining a replacement pole (unlike at the Marcialonga, where a metal tip snapped when I cleared compacted snow from a ski boot binding, and I promptly exchanged both poles for two identical ones). Skiing with one pole was exhausting.
Poles were few and far between. Many feed stations had none. When I obtained a replacement, I could only receive one. I use a 145 pole for classic and a 165 cm. pole for skating. I received a 140 cm. pole for the wrong hand; skiing with a 140 cm. right pole and a 165 cm. right pole.
At OO, the 140 cm. right pole was swapped for a 177 cm. left pole; again imbalance but better. There was an advantage climbing hills with the longer pole.
Chip Moreland, another San Francisco skier, passed me briefly, offering enthusiast greetings. Smiles and kind words from familiar faces are uplifting. Chip made my day.
I relaxed as I traveled further. Chances of not completing a marathon diminish as one approaches conclusion. Apprehensions about cutoff times cease.
After the final feed station, I increasingly found energy reserves, passing skiers left and right. I overtook Canadian Grant McLeod — with whom I skied the Toblach marathon, three Saturdays earlier — on the lake. Although Grant was on classic skis and I was on skate skis, finishing in approximately the same time made lost minutes bearable.
Mary and Jim welcomed me at the 90-degree left turn behind The Marketplace, where one skis a brief distance before making the 90-degree right turn to climb the overpass and descend onto Main Street. I predicted that I would finish significantly earlier. Mary and Jim followed me online, arriving as I did. Additional smiles urging me forward were a godsend. They reported that I looked happy, relaxed, and strong, although I felt anything but.
I “put the pedal to the metal”, passing people on Main Street. Another Wisconsin friend, Lori Steinbach, was distributing medals at the Finish Line. The chorus from Tina Turner’s “Typical Male” allows,
“All I want is a little reaction
Just enough of to tip the scales
I’m just using my female attraction
On a typical male, on a typical male”
Being a typical male, I was elated by the charms, hugs, and kisses with which Lori greeted me.
As Hank Williams — buried a stone’s throw from my Alabama maternal grandparents, in Oakwood Cemetery, in Montgomery — sang in “Why Don’t You Love Me?”,
“Ain’t had no lovin’ like a huggin’ and a kissin’
In a long, long while”
“[A] huggin’ and a kissin’” is welcome on arrival — even when “a long, long while” is a marathon’s duration.
GU powered me during the demanding day. Energy replacement after exhaustion occasioned by incompatible ski poles was Lori Steinbach’s “using [her] female attraction on a typical male”. Thanks, Lori!
Mary and Jim accompanied me to the Birkie Office, where friendly staffers lifted spirits. Mary and Jim then took me for delicious Northwoods Whitefish, before returning to their house.
I slept, drove to Minneapolis-St. Paul, and flew home to San Francisco for a whirlwind eighteen hours prior to departing for the Vasaloppet.
The Vasaloppet was held Sunday, March 1st, after which the world changed unrecognizably: The Engadine and Birken Marathons were canceled owing to COVID-19. Return flights became difficult to arrange. San Francisco was in lockdown within hours of my arrival.
Hopefully a COVID-19 vaccine is marketed before next ski season. Otherwise we might not race until 2022 or 2023. Who knows what that timelag would mean?
For now, we can cherish Carole King’s words in “It’s Too Late”:
“There’ll be good times again for me and you…
“Still I’m glad for what we had and how I once loved you”
Stay safe while awaiting significant training on skis and returning to mass start racing.
Birkie organizers: Please use the intervening interval to amass matched pairs of replacement poles. The point is to possess more than can conceivably be required at every feed station. I speak for everyone confronting the conundrum on the Birkie Trail on Saturday, February 22, 2020.
Regarding the broken pole, the absence of appropriate length replacement poles, and the COVID-19 pandemic, Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” is apropos:
“It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to, cry if I want to
You would cry too if it happened to you”