Too hot, too cold: when it comes to the Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Festival, Mother Nature has a tendency to make things difficult — and 2019 is no exception.
In 2016, the Birkie was cancelled due to low amounts of snow and icy trails. In 2017, it was almost cancelled again because of weather conditions.
Finally, 2018 brought “perfect” conditions thanks to a late snowfall and an ideal temperature of about -10 C. But the weather is swinging in a decidedly different direction this year.
Alberta is expected to remain in the grips of a deep freeze through next week, which means the 30th annual cross-country ski festival on Saturday and Sunday has cancelled or adjusted some outdoor events and scaled back routes.
The longest route — a 55-kilometre course from the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, along the east edge of Elk Island National Park and to the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area — has been modified to 40 kilometres, with the Blackfoot and Islet loops removed.
This is for safety reasons for both skiers and volunteers, organizers said.
The temperature on Saturday is expected to be around -16 to -20 C, and a couple of degrees warmer on Sunday.
The Birkebeiner says it does not cancel unless it is extremely cold — generally below -25 C — although there are variances for wind speed and direction, sunshine and projected warming through the day.
The long-course events will also have a later start time.
“At present, we are anticipating a start of 10 a.m. at the earliest, so follow us on our website and social media for updates,” the event said in a news release on Tuesday.
The 31-kilometre course will remain as is, with possible minor changes. There’s also a 13-kilometre event, plus a new 4/8 km loop event.
All skiers can transfer to a shorter event without additional fees.
“Skiers are advised that taking part in this event at very cold temperatures requires some planning. While we have a lot of support on the trails, the decision to ski is personal,” the Birkie said.
“We all want to have a safe Birkie this year.”
Photo from a previous Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Festival.
To avoid the risk of standing around getting cold on Goose Lake, the opening ceremonies will be held inside the Red Barn at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village. Then skiers will be free to head down to the lake, ski across the timing mat and begin their race.
There will be no wave start, the clothing truck will be in the parking area, and organizers say there will be no structures on the frozen lake.
The kids’ events — Ole’s 2/4km — have been cancelled and will take place instead in Edmonton on Feb. 17 at Hawrelak Park, as part of the Silver Skate Festival.
The Nordic ski event, east of Edmonton, attracts participants from not just across Alberta and Canada, but also the United States.
Skiers range from beginners to the experienced, and from those seeking a pleasant day of social skiing to those looking for a rigorous challenge.
Participants are reminded to dress for the cold by wearing layers, bring extra clothes, cover bare skin, stay hydrated and well-fed, and most importantly, know your own level of fitness. Other tips are available on the Birkie’s website.
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