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New Snow for Korte Skiers on Friday, Birkie Kicks Off Saturday

Madeline Uraneck (front) smiles as she heads out of the start of the 29 k Kortelopet on Friday in Seeley, Wisconsin.

HAYWARD, Wisconsin — After a one-year hiatus due to low snow, the 2018 American Birkebeiner is back and set to kick off Saturday morning with the elite women’s 50-kilometer skate race at 8:30 followed by the elite men’s 50 k skate at 8:50.

But on Friday, it was all about the 29 k Kortelopet, which was held on a separate day from the Birkie for the first time this year.

Racers were met with 6 inches of new snow on Friday, making for some tough skiing in the Kortelopet (“Korte”) skate and classic races. Though the temperature at the start was ideal in the mid-20s, the snow quickly turned to a mashed-potatoes-like consistency as the course was skied in.

“It’s 26 or 27 degrees. At that kind of air temperature, it takes a while for the snow to get hard,” said American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) groomer John Fitzgerald. “We actually plowed quite a lot of snow off the course, so it was more workable, but the skiers are going to have soft conditions.”

This is the first year the Kortelopet was held on a day from the Birkebeiner; the independent dates were planned for 2017, however, last year’s rain-out caused both races to be canceled. This year, Korte racers finished on Main Street in downtown Hayward. They started at the County Highway OO Trailhead in Seeley, Wisconsin, and skied 29 k into town — 5 k longer than the old course, which started at the old Telemark Lodge and looped back into Cable, Wisconsin.

Jim Smith before racing Friday’s 2018 Kortelopet in Seeley, Wisconsin.

In a pre-race interview, Jim Smith, 59, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who has skied over 10 Kortelopets, noted the change in course would make for a slightly tougher route. “This is going to be way harder,” he said. Smith missed his goal of an age-group podium in the Korte classic race, finishing 28th, but despite the more taxing conditions, he still finished in nearly the same percentile as two years ago.

Madeline Uraneck, 70, of Madison, Wisconsin, said her goal was simply to “finish, have fun [and] not fall too many times.” She did more than that, with a second-place age group finish in 3:22:28.2.

Uraneck has been skiing since 1970, but this was only her third Kortelopet. When asked what prompted her to start skiing the race, she said, “It’s just such a famous thing about living in Wisconsin. If you’re going to live in Wisconsin, just get up there and do it.”

Birkebeiner racers might wake up to more favorable conditions on Saturday. “Tonight will be exceptional,” Fitzgerald said. Overnight temperatures are expected to about 10 degrees, hopefully allowing the freshly-groomed snow to set up. Saturday’s highs were forecast to be in the mid-30s, with a 70-percent chance of afternoon snow.

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A group of happy volunteers at the 2018 Kortelopet on Friday in Seeley, Wisconsin.

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