The Renowned American Birkebeiner

February 6, 2008 by  
Filed under features

The American Birkebeiner (otherwise known as Birkie) is considered to be North America‘s largest cross country ski race. At 51 kilometers, it is also one of the longest races, with participants skiing from Cable to Hayward in Wisconsin. As in previous years, approximately 8,000 skiers from at least 19 countries are expected to participating in the Birkie, as well as related snow skiing races on the program of the 35th annual American Birkebeiner to take place from 21 to 23 February 2008.

The American Birkebeiner promises participants of all ages three days of excitement, challenges and camaraderie in a winter wonderland. The Birkie is seen as an annual celebration of fitness, endurance and enthusiasm for the outdoors. It is also an interesting cultural experience with skiers from 19 countries overcoming language barriers and sharing their common love for the sport of snow skiing in this fun event. The American Birkbeiner is counted as one of the Worldloppet Ski Federation races, along with other world famous cross country ski marathons such as Norway’s Birkebeinerrennet and Sweden’s Vasaloppet. So although the event includes loads of fun, there is also a strong spirit of competitiveness among the serious skiers.

The American Birkebeiner was started in 1973 by Tony Wise who drew on his Norwegian heritage when naming the event. The Birkie is named to commemorate a significant event in Norway’s history. In 1206 a group of soldiers, known as Birkebeiners, who supported Sverre Sigurdsson and his descendants in the Norwegian civil war, smuggled King Haakon Sverresson’s illegitimate son from Lillehammer to a place of safety in Trondheim. At the annual Birkebeinerrennet in Norway, skiers carry packs equivalent to the weight of an 18 month old child to commemorate this event. At the American Birkebeiner this is not required, but out of respect, some skiers choose to uphold this tradition.

Cross-country snow skiing is a popular activity in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and a significant number of recreational skiers from these areas participate in the American Birkebeiner. In addition to the 51 kilometer Birkie, the race day includes a 23 kilometer Kortelopet, which many of the recreational skiers participate in.

Other events planned for the three day American Birkebeiner include the 12 kilometer non-competitive Prince Haakon trail, the Swiss Miss/Salomon Barnebirkie for children aged 3 to 13 years, CenturyTel Junior Birkie, Children’s Snowshoe Nature Hike, Cheqtel 5 Km and 10 Km Family Fun Ski and the American Birkebeiner Senior Citizen Sprints.

The American Birkebeiner is an event that snow skiing enthusiasts should not miss – but be warned! Once you’ve been bitten by the Birkie bug, you will be back year after year for more.