January 2011 Reader Athlete – Paul Bierman

Sky Barsch Gleiner
Posted January 8th, 2011

Age: 49
Residence: Burlington
Family: Wife, Christine Massey; daughters Marika, 11, Quincy, 7
Occupation: Geology Professor at UVM
Primary sport: Nordic Skiing
VS: Why do you compete in the TDBank Craftsbury Marathon?
PB: I guess it’s a personal challenge. This will be my 10th one this year; I’ve done it every year since 2002. I guess I did it on a lark the first year. Our first daughter had just been born, or maybe she was about a year old, and I just thought I would do it. It took me five and-a-half hours. My goal was to be faster than the previous year, and I’ve done that each year.
VS: What’s your training like?
PB: I swim a lot and rollerski as much as I can. We have a great bike path in Burlington, so usually I get a couple days on the rollerskis each week, a couple days swimming, and a couple days weight training at the Y, after a few friends recommended weight training.
VS: Do you like the course better as a clover leaf, or did you prefer to the end-to-end route?
PB: I guess I like the conditions on the cloverleaf, but I like the scenery of the end-to end route. I certainly understand why they went to a cloverleaf. But when it was point to point, it went by the back yard of our Greensboro house. The kids would camp out and cheer there.
VS: The tour has been separated and has its own date now. How do you feel about that?
PB: I think it’s a nice compromise. The tour is still point to point. My daughter Quincy turned 7 the day before the 25K last year, and both kids did it. It was her first time doing something that long.
VS: What is the most grueling portion of the race?
PB: The climb up to the Common. When you don’t have that much wax left and don’t have much left in your legs, you’ve got that climb. But overall, it’s my favorite race; it’s incredibly well run. It’s fun to ski what is essentially a home course. We probably ski 30 or 40 times a year at the center and another 30 or 40 times a year on the Highland Lodge trails and surrounding trails.
VS: You’ve been involved in many research projects through your work at UVM. What is the farthest you’ve traveled for a project?
PB: Last summer I was in southern Namibia, Africa, for 10 days. Another time I went to Australia to meet with some colleagues and write a research proposal, and I skied there for a couple days. I’ve done the ski marathon down there—the Kangaroo Hopet—it’s a 42-kilometer skate. It’s great fun—it’s completely off-season and at about a mile-high elevation. It’s about the same size as Craftsbury, about 1,000 people, and it’s almost all above treeline skiing. When the weather is great, it’s fantastic. When it’s awful, it’s … incredible. One year there was a storm and you couldn’t see 30 feet in front of you, and at the end of the race, a thunderstorm came through. They cut it to 28 kilometers.
VS: What has been your favorite research project?
PB: Greenland. Greenland’s an amazing place. We were looking at the times in the past when the ice sheet has either gotten much smaller or disappeared. It involved a lot of hiking and a lot of helicopter time. That’s probably been the most way out place I’ve been for fieldwork. We did bring a set of skis and skied on an ice sheet, at midnight, under the midnight sun, just for fun.
VS: Have you seen any significant threats to our ability to ski in Vermont in the near future?
PB: We have. I had a Master’s student last year, who studied precipitation and runoff records for the Winooski River Basin. There has been a 15 percent increase in the last 75 years in runoff, and slight increase in temperature. It’s definitely getting wetter, and it’s not quite as cold as it was. If it’s going to get wetter, there may be more snow, but there maybe more rain on snow.
VS: What do you enjoy doing with your family, beside skiing?
PB: We like hiking and other kinds of exercise. We also like putting old houses back together. Our house in Greensboro is 150 years old, and we also have an old Victorian in Burlington.
VS: You’re taking a sabbatical next semester. What do you plan to do?
PB: Finish up a textbook I’ve been working on, Key Concepts in Geomorphology, and skiing a lot! I hope to do four or five marathons as well as some shorter races, and really work on my technique since we’ll be at the Craftsbury Center at least several times a week with the kids, who will be training with Pepa Miloucheva and the BKL group.