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Birkie Announces 35th Anniversary Changes & Highlights

Thu, Nov  15, 2007 - By Leslie Hamp

HAYWARD, Wis., November 7, 2007 – Organizers of the American Birkebeiner cross country ski races, scheduled Feb. 21-23, 2008, have a lot to do before the 35th running of the event that annually attracts 9,000 skiers and 15,000 spectators. Big changes are in the works to make the 35th anniversary one for the books.

“The year has been very exciting and busy for us as we prepare for the 35th anniversary,” said Ned Zuelsdorff, Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF). “We just completed a successful fundraising campaign raising over $200,000, we purchased a new Pisten Bully grooming machine, and we completed another section of the new Birkie Classic Trail which will be used for the 35th anniversary race.”

Zuelsdorff said skate and classic skiers could expect better race day conditions thanks to the new Pisten Bully groomer, which will help maintain the trails in the best possible condition that nature will allow.

“In addition to the new groomer and new Classic Trail, a major change for Birkie 2008 is the introduction of separate, smaller, 5-minute alternating skating and classic wave starts to ensure a better race day experience for all Birkie and Kortelopet skaters and striders,” he said.

Once out of the starting gates, skiers will skate or stride onto the Birkie or Classic Ski Trail. Skate and classic skiers join at the 15 kilometer point and continue together to finish the race on Main Street in Hayward. This year skaters will ski a 51-kilometer course while classic skiers using the longer Birkie Classic Trail will end up completing 53 kilometers.

“The new Classic Trail will benefit all skiers with better tracks for classic skiers and an additional skate lane for skaters on the Birkie Trail,” Zuelsdorff said. “Those changes, coupled with alternating 5-minute wave starts, should guarantee a better event for everybody.”

Zuelsdorff said another highlight of the 35th anniversary is the Welcome Ceremony to commemorate the vision of race founder Tony Wise.

In the 35 years since the inaugural event, 189,285 men and women have strapped or snapped on skinny skis to participate in the 51 kilometer American Birkebeiner and its sister event, the 23 kilometer Kortelopet. Thousands of others have participated in shorter races and events catered to youth, teens, families and recreational skiers.

Founder Tony Wise knew once skiers stepped into their boots and glided onto the Birkie Trail that something remarkable would happen. Skiers would leave the hubbub of the world behind. They’d slide and glide through the forest. They’d hear the sound of their skis and the rhythm of their breathing, and they’d be hooked on cross country skiing and the Birkie forever.

“Tony Wise launched an extraordinary event that has inspired thousands of everyday folks to live fit, healthy lives,” Zuelsdorff said. “We’ll celebrate that vision, along with the lifestyle and ski community that emerged, during Birkie 2008 from February 21-23."

“We are encouraging skiers to commemorate the 35th anniversary by wearing traditional clothing and participating in a ski up Mt. Valhalla during Friday’s Welcome Ceremony. We’ll award prizes for attire, and we’ll unveil an historic musical DVD to observe the evolution of the race and the spirit of Birkie skiers.”

Birkie 2008 will also feature the re-enactment of the historic rescue of Prince Haakon (Hō-ken), the baby who became one of the most popular kings in Norwegian history as well as the inspiration for the American Birkebeiner ski marathon.

Three skiers will take on the roles of warriors Torstein and Skervald and mother Inga. The finalists, to be announced in early December, will dress in historic attire, ski on wooden skis, and serve as “ambassadors on the trail” encouraging both skiers and volunteers. The warriors will carry a baby doll along the course until Main Street where they’ll pick up a real infant “Prince” before they and Inga ski the last two blocks to the finish line.

“Birkie 2008 will be a fantastic tribute to Tony Wise, a recognition of the Birkie’s historic roots, and a celebration of all the skiers, sponsors, volunteers and businesses who have driven the event for 35 years,” Zuelsdorff said. “We encourage new skiers, long-time skiers from the U.S. and abroad, and spectators to join us for a really great week.”

More than 7,000 skiers are expected to register for the 35th anniversary American Birkebeiner and Kortelopet. Another 2,000 are expected for shorter races and events. To learn more about North America’s largest and most prestigious cross country ski race, log on to http://www.birkie.com, email birkie@birkie.com or call 715/634-5025.

Birkie 2008 is sponsored by Subaru, State Bank of Drummond, Cable Chamber of Commerce, Johnson Bank, Sawyer County Record and Superior Publishing, and other businesses throughout the region and country.