The countdown is on for the 37th running of the American Birkebeiner from February 25-27 in Cable and Hayward, Wisconsin.
In the 37 years since the inaugural event, over 200,000 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 25, and culminating with the American Birkebeiner on Saturday, February 27, organizers are pulling out all the stops to make the 37th anniversary a celebration of a ski race that changed a regional community and created a worldwide ski community.
More than 10,000 skiers will join the colorful pageantry. While around 8,000 skiers set their sights on the 50 kilometer Birkie Skate presented by Becker Law Office, 54K Subaru Birkie Classic, 23K Kortelopet presented by Marshfield Clinic, Hayward Center, another 2,500 are bound for 12K Prince Haakon presented by State Bank of Drummond and 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 12-kilometer options.
Making the more than 10,000 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 American Birkebeiner Race 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. “Today’s Birkie is a proud tradition thanks to the support of communities like Hayward, Cable, and Seeley, generous sponsors, and many hard-working volunteers. I’m looking forward to serving as Official Starter of the race and showcasing Wisconsin’s Northwoods to visitors from all over the nation, and across the world.”
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 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 over 20 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.”
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?line.”
Zuelsdorff said the American Birkebeiner established a race registration cap for the Birkie and Kortelopet this year. The cap has been reached for the Birkie and Korte and race registration was closed on February 3rd.
Skiers can pick up their race bibs and packets for the 50K Birkie Skate, 54K Birkie Classic, 23K Kortelopet and Prince Haakon 12K at Telemark Resort in Cable. Bib and packet pick-up is open on Thursday, February 25th from Noon to 9:00 p.m., on Friday, February 26th from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and on race morning, Saturday, February 27th from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.
“There really is something for everybody,” Zuelsdorff said. “Birkie 2010 will be a fantastic tribute and a recognition of all the skiers, sponsors, volunteers and businesses who have driven the event for 37 years. We’re honored to welcome Governor Jim Doyle as our Honorary Starter on Saturday morning and of course we will have our traditional celebrations at the Welcoming and Awards Ceremonies.”