I never knew Rod Lundberg but I looked forward to seeing him every year. Rod was a lifelong Hayward Wisconsin resident, athlete and educator but for a group of skiers Rod was a little more than that. Rod was the leader of a group that performed the ski marking for the Elite Wave at the Birkie; you had to go see him before you got to ski in the front.
Ski marking is normally found at high level races but almost never at Citizen events. The racers skis are marked, typically with a stencil, stamp or marker to ensure that the skis you start the race with are the ones you end with. It may sound insignificant but I have been in plenty of races where I would have changed skis had I been able to. For most skiers ski marking now is a sticker that is more ceremonial, something to be applied to your skis as a badge of honor yet at high level races it is part of the protocol that racers know and train for.
At the Birkie being in the Elite Wave means you did the work, proved yourself fast enough and have had some good luck as well before you get to lead the race. The Elite wave is a tenuous start at best. You can only get there by finishing in the top 200 (50 for women) where the underlying current is “what have you done…lately” You are only as good as your last race. Most skiers do not care if they ever get there and realistically it is not that much fun but rather just really hard work. There is one intangible however that for me always made it worth it. I got my skis marked by Rod Lundberg. Rod and his crew used a simple method of marking. They would check your bib number to make sure you belonged there and then with a Sharpie write “RL” and the number of that particular year on the tips of your skis. Rod would say something like “now you are fast” and send you off. There is no way he could have possibly remembered all those skiers from one year to the next but he sure made it seem like he did.
Most skiers will not notice the little writing on the tips of the skis but to those that have been there it means buckets. They know that it is not just given out and that you are the real deal yet it can easily go unnoticed. Rod passed on a few years back but today the marking crew still puts the little “RL” on the skis as if making a link from the present to the past. I hope younger skiers know how important those letters are and they strive to do their best, as they line up for their generation of Birkies.