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  • Writer's pictureJustin Eberhardt

4 MN Guys in Lillehammer

Our group includes Ben (an engineer), Matt (a physician), me (a math instructor), and Dave (another physician). Over the years, we have skied several races together, including the Vasaloppet USA and American Birkie, and about a year ago, we decided it would be a fun adventure to try the Norwegian Birken.

Yesterday morning, I enjoyed another scenic rail journey as I traveled from Trondheim to Lillehammer through forested mountains and valleys peppered with traditional farms and villages. I arrived at my destination in a snowstorm that blanketed the landscape with about a foot of fluffy, perfect new snow. Lillehammer became famous when it hosted the successful 1994 Olympics, and it has retained most of the infrastructure from those games. This was evident as soon as I got off the train at an efficient and modern transit center from which I was easily able to find a bus up to the Birkebeiner Skistadion, the former Olympic cross-country venue. Since I had a couple of hours to kill before my friends from MN would arrive, I of course headed up to the ski trails!

Lillehammer station in the falling snow.
Lillehammer Station

Olympic Ski Jump in Lillehammer

Fresh snow falling on the Birken trails in Lillehammer
Fresh snow falling on the Birken trails

The other guys arrived in Lillehammer later in the afternoon, and after several days of traveling solo, it was nice to see them again! I added my bag and skis to the gear already stuffed in their rental Peugeot and piled myself in, then we headed a few miles out of town in search of our accommodation in nearby Faberg. Our home base for the next four days is a nice little cabin that is part of an athletic complex. It’s nothing fancy, but it has everything thing we need with two levels, two bathrooms, and a kitchen. We called it an early night as the other three guys had just finished a long 26 hours of travel and were pretty worn out.

Rental cabin in Faberg, Norway
Our cabin in Faberg. As you can see, they are not lacking in snow here!

Waxing classic skis
Dave tuned up his wax while Matt looked on.

Today, we made some final adjustments to the wax on our skis and headed back to the Birken trail to get our race bags and to test our kick and glide. It’s important to get the wax selection correct since it can make the difference between having a fun day flying down the course (when you get it right) or being stuck at the back of the pack swearing you’ll never put yourself through this misery again (if you get it wrong). Luckily, my skis seemed fast with good kick, so I’ll be happy if the conditions are similar on race day. It was sunny and warm at the trail, and we had a good time skiing around and chatting with other Americans we met who are also here for the race.

Skate skiers on the Birken trails in Lillehammer, Norway
Ben and Matt testing out their skis as they prep for the SkateBirken.

Media trucks setting up near the Birken finish area.

At this point, there’s nothing left to do but rest and wait for race day. One of the last unknowns is the weather. Saturday’s forecast is right around freezing. It should be perfect, but just a couple degrees warmer could turn it into a long, difficult day on the trail. Nothing can be done to change the weather, of course, but that doesn’t stop me from looking at the forecast every 5 minutes. Our events start tomorrow with the SkateBirken, in which Matt and Ben are racing (Dave and I will go to the finish to cheer them on over the last few kilometers). Then, on Saturday, it will be our turn to tackle the 54km journey over the mountains on our classic skis in the Birkebeinerrennet. Hopefully all these months of training will pay off, my wax will be "right on", and I'll be able to keep up with the Norwegians in my wave!

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