Saturday, March 3, 2012

Birkie Nostalgia by Jan Guenther

It is hard to describe all the emotions that go into my Birkie experience. For me, the event is so wrapped up into everything I love about the sport of skiing, the three decades (yikes!) worth of skiing friends from Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota and my career of owning a ski business for over 27 years in both Illinois and Minnesota.

I do feel a bit guilty about becoming so immersed in an “event.” But, it is a benchmark of my kid’s growth and their ski interest (thank goodness there is a Barkie Birkie!); of snowfall; of business and the shop energy spiked by enthusiastic skiers; of my fitness and the nostalgia of years gone by. All are mixed together in one big emotional pile.

For the past two years Gear West has added to my “Birkie (retail) Fever” by organizing a now-growing wax service (over 220 skis!) and managing the ever expanding Swix / Gear West Expo wax booth. The fun of enjoying, supporting, educating and laughing with Birkie customers associated with our services fuels my excitement for the weekend and love of this business.

It’s the humor of the skiers – customers and our very own Gear West folks - that I enjoy so much. Such as our Brian Knutson, Master Ski Selector, Wax Person and Gear West owner who pours his soul onto every kick zone that he prepares for his personal classic race ski customers, or the shoe guy, Speedy, who almost “owned” the 8th wave classic age group due to his early morning diligence of skiing in tiny, continuous circles on the manmade Wirth Park loop. Our wax service bus and mail order guy, Tom Carlson, had the fun of piloting the big ol’‘Barth’ bus transporting hundreds of customer’s skis to Hayward, tearing down the Expo Friday night, recovering from a casted broken thumb, and managed to chop 45 minutes off his previous year’s race. Jenny Beckman, our Marketing Director and Co-Head Coach of Orono High school ski team frantically tried to make the credit card machine work in time for the expo start, and was on her feet selling wax, tools and race enthusiasm to all who needed it for 12 whole hours on both Thursday and Friday. Josh Doebbert, the guy who does the behind the scenes web work while secretly training to beat his boss (me!), yet did not because he lost leg strength on the lake (Josh has not worked at Gear West long enough to develop retail /expo leg muscles. Ari, our quiet but ever so knowledgeable retail sales guy and Hopkins Assistant Ski Coach, now-turned-young-father, encouraged his wife to participate with him in the classic race. Sven, our unflappable mail order man had struggled with thyroid problems in previous years and had concern about it this year, along with the responsibility of making sure the correct waxes left the store and made it to the expo. Finally, my dear friend Lynne Cecil (ancient Birkie winner) who threatened to sabotage my skis, petition me into the second wave, and feed me bad donuts, but I secretly know she would give me the pole off her arm just like CXC's Santi Ocariz did for our Elite, Olympic hopeful employee Matt Liebsch - who continues to break poles and have amazing finishes!

The Birkie makes me appreciate life. It’s the good health and fortunes that we all share, which allow us the time, energy and ability to love, laugh and participate in something that makes us so happy.