The American Birkebeiner is a 4 day ski event held every February in the Hayward and Cable Wisconsin areas. Though there are several ski races for children and adults of all skill levels, the two main events are the 50k freestyle and 54k classic cross country ski races from Cable to Hayward. Every February since 1973, thousands of skiers from throughout the world have descended upon northern Wisconsin to take part in this race, which is known as the “Birkie.”
Here are some interesting facts about the American Birkebeiner:
- It was started in 1973 by Telemark Lodge founder and promoter Tony Wise.
- The race is affiliated with both the Worldloppet ski circuit (15 international marathons) and the American Ski Marathon (13 total races).
- The Birkie commemorates a famous event in Norwegian history; the smuggling of Norway King Hakon Sverresson’s illegitimate son from Lillehammer to Trondheim in the year 1206.
- The Birkie is the largest cross country ski race in North America.
- The event typically attracts around 10,000 skiers for all the related races, as well as over 20,000 spectators.
The Birkie Lifestyle
For many participants and fans of the American Birkebeiner, it is far more than just a ski race; it’s a way of life. The “Birkie Lifestyle” is marked by a commitment to being healthy and fit year round. While Birkie enthusiasts look forward to the annual thrill and excitement of clicking on the skis and racing with thousands of other like-minded folks from around the world, the race also serves as a test of the overall physical fitness and endurance.
Because of the insatiable hunger from fans for all things Birkie, a whole cottage industry has formed around it, giving enthusiasts countless opportunities to get their Birkie fix well in advance of the next February race. From the Birkie store, you can purchase bells, mugs, posters, T-shirts and other clothing. Fans can also get deeper into the Birkie lifestyle through:
The Premiere Race
After 2 days of buildup, the American Birkebeiner 50k/54k races start out on Saturday morning at around 8:30 am in Cable, Wisconsin. Skiers in this race are of varying skill levels. Some are in it to win it, while for others the goal is just to finish the race. To keep the skiers thinned out along the course, organizers have them depart in waves of up to a couple hundred each. A new wave departs about every 5 minutes (alternating between freestyle 50k and classic 54k racers) until the final waves are launched around 10:00 am.
The course itself is considered one of the most difficult in the world. The first half of the course has a lot of hills to climb. The highest of these is called Fire Tower Hill. At 1730 feet above sea level, Fire Tower Hill is almost a 400 foot climb from the starting point of the race. The second half of the course has fewer hills, but there are still some challenging sections to conquer.
Completing one of the longest and most difficult ski courses in the world is an adrenaline rush that only a Birkie enthusiast can fully appreciate. Completion of the race is the successful culmination of all the hard work and training that’s been done throughout the year. Time to celebrate for a little while, but before long it’s back to work getting ready for next year. . .
[Image: Courtesy of Flickr user ais_t]