It was a disappointing week for hopeful participants of the 2019 Canadian Birkie Ski Festival.
With temperatures expected to drop below -40 C in Strathcona County on Saturday (Feb.9), the Canadian Birkebeiner Society (CBS) has been forced to cancel the event. According to their guidelines, the weather is deemed too dangerous when the temperature reaches -25 C.
"The snow conditions are perfect — there's lots of snow, it's beautiful snow, the trails were going to be fantastic. It's the best snow we've had for probably a decade or more, but it's just too cold," said CBS president Dave Cooper. "It's frustrating. We're sort of devastated by it."
As one of only three Birkebeiner festivals in the world, the Canadian cross country ski event has been around for 35 years. Participants who take on the full Birkie course end up skiing 55 km, either weightless or with a 12 lb pack. There are shorter options as well, including course lengths of 31 km, 13 km, 8 km or 4 km. For kids, there is a 4 km and 2 km course.
This will only be the sixth time they've had to cancel the event. In 2016, it was called off due to a lack of snow.
More than 1,000 skiers were registered for the festival, with some coming from Europe or the United States to try and complete all three Birkebeiner events. There were also 500 volunteers signed up to help.
Anyone who registered before November 30, 2018 will be automatically entered into next year's Birkie at no additional cost. However, the organization has a strong no refund policy for anyone who signed up later than that date.
"We're not making any money on this and we've spent money to get this thing this far," explained Cooper. "We're a non-profit volunteer group."
The CBS was unable to reschedule the adult events because of the sheer number of participants and amount of trail needed. However, the kids' events will now take place on February 17 at William Hawrelak Park.