Skip navigation

9,500 Skiers Bound for 36th American Birkebeiner Races

Mon, Feb  9, 2009 - By Cherie Morgan

The countdown is on for the 36th running of the American Birkebeiner from February 19-21 in Cable and Hayward, Wisconsin.

In the 36 years since the inaugural event, over 190,000 men and women have raced the American Birkebeiner and its sister event, the Kortelopet. Thousands of others have participated in shorter races and events catered to youth, teens, families and recreational skiers.

Now, in the final days leading up to the three-day event beginning Thursday, February 19 and culminating with the American Birkebeiner on Saturday, February 21, organizers are pulling out all the stops to make the 36th anniversary a celebration of a ski race that changed a regional community and created a worldwide ski community.

More than 9,500 skiers will join the colorful pageantry. While over 7,000 skiers set their sights on the the 50 kilometer Birkie Skate presented by Becker Law Office, 54K Subaru Birkie Classic, 23K Kortelopet presented by Premier Physical Medicine and Wellness Clinic or 8K Johnson Bank Prince Haakon, another 2,500 are bound for the shorter races and events that dominate the three-day event.

For some, it’s serious business. The Birkebeiner is part of the Worldloppet, a circuit of 15 Nordic ski races held on four continents. The Birkebeiner—named after an historic Norwegian rescue on skis— attracts a top cadre of professional racers including Olympians from more than a dozen countries.

For many thousands of others, though, it’s an annual celebration of personal endurance and outdoor enthusiasm. Since its inception in 1973, the Birkie has grown into the largest cross country ski marathon in North America. While pros may complete the course in about two hours, legions of weekend warriors soldier on for triple that time. Citizen skiers will compete in the full race or sign up for 23- or 8-kilometer options.

Making the 9,500 skiers and 15,000 spectators happy is important to businesses in Hayward, Cable and the surrounding area.

"These visitors have a huge impact on our economy while also providing us with a rare opportunity to showcase the beauty of the northland to the world,” said James Bolen, Executive Director of the Cable Area Chamber of Commerce. “The Cable Area Chamber is honored to sponsor and put together the first American Birkebeiner Spectator’s Guide and to welcome thousands of guests to our community."

Governor Jim Doyle commended organizers, area residents and skiers alike for shaping the event into a vital piece of the northern Wisconsin landscape and lifestyle.

“The Birkie brings thousands of people from around the world to Wisconsin to experience our hospitality, our beautiful winter season, and the spirit of competition that embodies the American Birkebeiner,” Governor Doyle said.  “In 1973, the Birkie began with only 35 competitors.  Today, thanks to the support of the communities of Hayward, Cable, and Seeley, generous sponsors and many hard-working volunteers, and the challenge of the outdoors presented by Wisconsin’s Northwoods, it has prospered as one of the greatest events of its kind.  This race showcases Wisconsin to the nation and world, and is a major contributor to the state’s tourism industry.  The Birkie is a vital part of the social fabric of Northern Wisconsin and is a tradition that I look forward to continuing for years to come.”   

The American Birkebeiner and its sister race, the 23-kilometer Kortelopet, take off from the Cable Union Airport. Birkie skate skiers will skate 50 kilometers (about 32 miles) to the finish line on Main Street in Hayward.

Birkie classic skiers will stride 54 kilometers along a new Birkie Classic Trail from the start line until it merges back into the Birkie Trail 27 kilometers later just south of County Highway OO.  Birkie classic skiers finish the event alongside skate skiers on Main Street in Hayward.

Kortelopet skate skiers will skate with Birkie skate skiers until the 9-kilometer mark where they will venture to the left and enter their own trail.  They will finish their 23-kilometer race at Telemark Resort in Cable.  The Kortelopet classic skiers will start and ski their race with the Birkie classic skiers until the 9-kilometer point where they will enter the Kortelopet Trail to finish alongside Kortelopet skate skiers.

The challenge of skiing the rolling hills as well as the opportunity to experience the camaraderie and diverse gathering of cultures from around the world lure participants from 21 countries and 48 United States.

“The Birkie brings thousands of people from around the world to Wisconsin to experience our hospitality, our beautiful winter season, and the spirit of competition that embodies the American Birkebeiner,” said Ned Zuelsdorff, Executive Director of the ABSF. “It’s always exciting to hear the variety of languages spoken at the American Birkebeiner each year as skiers descend upon the small communities of Cable and Hayward.”

“In fact this year the American Birkebeiner will welcome Norwegian Bjorn Daehlie, the most accomplished cross country skier of all time as he skis the 54-Kilometer Birkie Classic race and participates in additional American Birkebiner events as an Ambassador for Multiple Sclerosis Research and the Birkie Skiers for Cures fundraising campaign.”

Skiers see a side of the Sawyer and Bayfield County forest that others rarely experience. Even elite athletes regularly comment on the quality of the Birkie Trail, which features some of the most scenic and challenging terrain in the Worldloppet ski circuit of 15 international races.

Skiers are cheered on by 15,000 spectators lining the race course and finish lines, ringing cowbells, and shouting words of encouragement. Add music and the banter of the announcers, and you can understand why all the excitement sparks that final adrenalin rush and empowers skiers to cross the finish line feeling an incredible sense of victory and personal accomplishment.

“While truly great skiers, including Olympians, come to the Birkie, most of our skiers are everyday 
people who work full-time, raise families, and love the outdoors,” Zuelsdorff said. “They ski
 because it's a challenge, it’s fun, friends are on the trail with
 them, it keeps them active, and lots of other reasons which are often
 personal stories. I recall the year I skied after having heart surgery and having tears run down my face while skiing up Main Street to the finish

Zuelsdorff said skiers may register at Telemark Resort on Thursday, February 19th and Friday, February 20th for the 50K Birkie Skate, 54K Birkie Classic, 23K Kortelopet and Prince Haakon 8K. Race registration closes at 6:00 p.m. on Friday.

“It’s quick and easy to log on to to register for the Birkebeiner or Kortelopet,” he said. “Another option is to download the registration form and fax it to the Birkie office at 715.634.5663. The deadline for online and faxed race registrations is Friday, February 13th  at midnight. And, of course, skiers can call us at 715.634.5025 or email We’re eager to answer questions and get more people out enjoying the weekend.”

“There really is something for everybody,” Zuelsdorff said. “Birkie 2009 will be a fantastic tribute and a recognition of all the skiers, sponsors, volunteers and businesses who
have driven the event for 36 years. We’ll commemorate Tony Wise with a photo installation on the Wall of Champions both at Telemark Resort and in the Birkie office in Hayward during the Welcoming Ceremonies on Friday, Feb. 21.”

For up-to-the-minute information, log on to

Birkie 2009 is sponsored by Subaru, Becker Law Office SC, Premier Physical Medicine and Wellness Clinic, Johnson Bank, Sawyer County Record and other businesses throughout the region and country.