Harris Dirnberger, St. Scholastica junior, catches air at the 4th annual Bjorn Bakken Ski Championships of America. Skiiers from CSS and their friends gathered on Saturday, April 2, 2016 in the "ski haus" backyard. Photo credit to Maggie Grob.

The Bjorn Bakken Ski Championships of America — A Ski Team Tradition

DyAnna Grondahl

‘Twas four years ago on a beautiful and snowy Saturday that one of The College of St. Scholastica’s prized traditions was born. The Bjorn Bakken Ski Championships of America is a backyard nordic ski race put on annually by the ski team where the question “what are you wearing?” takes on new connotations.

The tradition humbly began with an audience of perhaps 40 individuals including mostly skiers and their significant others, and has now grown to draw in crowds of up to 250 individuals.

The event is named after St. Scholastica’s first NCAA qualifying skier and member of the original CSS ski team, Bjorn Bakken.

The race took place in the ski house’s backyard on a narrow course manufactured with leftover snow from the CSS parking lots that was carried in by truck. The rules of the Bakken are minimal in comparison to the average ski race. Bib switching is encouraged and a racer wouldn’t be disqualified for cutting the course.

“If there’s a quicker way to do get through the course, go for it!” said Dan DeLestry, a freshman on the CSS team who helped prepare for the event.

The Bakken is an interval start race with a bracket like that of March Madness with one round elimination. This year’s male winner and defending champion is Krystof Kopal from the Czech Republic. After Kopal’s victory, spectators gathered at the foot of the course’s jump to record the Northern Michigan University student’s front flip. The female winner, also a student from NMU, was Nicole Schneider.

It is perhaps concerning that the CSS skiers can not even win a race they put on themselves, but one need not worry. Ryan St. Clair, a freshman on the CSS ski team, gave Kopal a run for his money with a solid tie in the semi-finals. The seriousness of the race itself could be questioned.

“The race is serious,” said DeLestry, “it just doesn’t mean anything.”

One cause of question is easily noted: costuming. In an interview, Chris Parr, senior Biology major, stated that individuals can wear whatever they choose. A person may not be surprised to find out Hobbit capes and Teletubbie costumes don’t serve well in the aerodynamics department, and potentially damage a racer’s chances. Skiers showed up to the 4th Annual Bakken in everything from pumpkin suits to business suits.

“So glad I went,” said freshman Alora Rands. “The ski races were great, but the costumes were unforgettable.”

While the seriousness in ski dress was minimal, the sponsors were comically opposite. Large product donations were received from Red Bull, Jimmy John’s, Continental Ski, Ski Hut and George’s Liquor, for those of age, of course. Grandma’s, Qdoba, Chilly Billy’s and several other businesses were mentioned for making donations.

“It’s out of control, we have too many sponsors,” laughed Chris Parr, an organizer of the event, “it is stupid.”

Some of the donations, including a pair of skis, were used as prizes, and others were simply given out to attendees.

The day involved intense and rigidly serious races seasoned with comic relief. Harris Dirnberger was noted in an interview with senior Kyle Hellmann and Parr for his immense effort during a race in which he lost a ski and proceeded to finish with only one. Dirnberger was also credited with catching the most air on the courses.

Bjorn Bakken was unable to be in attendance at the 4th annual race. His presence was replaced with a phone call over the loudspeaker that was also used for an impromptu starting buzzer. Another facet of this event is the comical, yet unnecessary, registration spreadsheet in which each racer puts their own spin in their entry and is allowed a column just for smacktalk. The document is available for browse on the Facebook Event page for the 2016 Bjorn Bakken Ski Championships of America.

“The Bakken is the best ski event everrrrrr,” interjected Katie Wieliczkiewicz, a member of the CSS ResLife staff, during an interview with DeLestry, “make sure to spell that with a lot of r’s.”