I was out on all sections of the course today and wanted to give folks an idea of what to expect, as it looks as though all legs are going to be slightly different than the initial maps show - updated maps should be up by monday.
SKI - it looks like there is still enough snow to keep the ski course more or less intact, with only a few minor changes to the route to avoid bare spots. it may be a bit icy if we don't get more snow, but the inch we received the last day or two helped just enough. The one section that will likely be unskiable (or difficult enough not to warrant using skis) will be an approximately 100 meter section just after crossing Lincoln park drive and before getting to the groomed track that runs along the greenway bike path. It is likely that we will create a 'ski free zone' here, a place where racers are allowed to proceed without their skis, so long as they put them back on before leaving the zone. Racers will pass through this area on the way out and on the way back. There is a slight chance we'll be able to find a way through this section with the help of a groomer, but based on what i saw today i just thought i'd give skiers the heads up so that if you find it difficult to remove and put on your skis, you have a chance to practice a bit before race day.
BIKE - There are significant changes to the bike course. The bike path is now plowed and runs cleanly under the Demers bridge, so cyclists will simply follow it north cleanly without any need to jump off their bike and run under the bridge. You'll take the bike path all the way past gateway bridge until you see the chute guiding you to the snowmobile trail. the course will proceed as shown on the original map until you cross the pedestrian bridge where it will turn onto the snowmobile trail once again. you will now take the snowmobile trail almost ALL the way Demers bridge, following the chute to rejoin the bike path just before the bridge. Cross the bridge on the north side walk (you will never have to cross a street on the bike course!), turning right immediately after leaving the bridge and heading down the stairs (walking or riding your bike as necessary - we had folks riding it easily during the preride today, but some may find it challenging - it's only about 100 feet however) to rejoin the bike path and proceed back to lincoln park the way you came. The overall length is pretty much unchanged, but instead of three quarters of a mile of snowmobile trail, there is about 2.5. The reason is two fold - 1) the trails are in ideal condition and so much fun- extremely hard - great riding for just regular old mountain bikes. sure they're a bit more difficult than riding pavement, but the difference is similar to the difference between pavement and gravel road, rather than pavement and sand (which is how it can feel with softer snow); 2) the bike path has lots of ice patches. some of these aren't bad - short sections on straight aways - but there are several longer sections. The worst of these will be well marked with and/or have volunteers warning bikers to slow down and/or have flagged routes around them. however there is still the possibility of falling. by using the snowmobile trail which is in great condition, we allow racers a longer section on which to push hard without having to worry about ice. If it's anything like it was today, we're hopeful that the trail sections will be a highlight of the race.
RUN - the run is pretty much as shown on the run map as well with the following minor changes: 1) there will be a very short scramble up and down a 'snow mountain' just after crossing lincoln park drive and 2) the run on top of the dike continues south for about a sixth of a mile or so from where the initial map shows it rejoining the bike path. the running on top of the dike is great - good footing, great view of the greenway! we advise runners to use caution on the bike path portion of the run as there are several sections of sheet ice that offers NO traction. Running on the grass immediately adjacent to the bike path will be allowed and may offer better traction, or pick up some slip on traction aids from Due North by Sure Foot Corporation and the ice shouldn't be a problem. The snow mobile portion is quite hard and fast, but has some uneven spots and feels alot like trail running. The total run distance was measured via GPS today and comes in at just a hundredth or two over 3 miles.