Wisconsin February 22, 2017
The Famous Wisconsin Winter Competition That You Have To Experience
Sometimes when you live in the middle of the Frozen Tundra you just have to embrace winter and learn how to make the most of it. Whether that’s skiing, skating, tubing or snowmobiling, Wisconsinites know how to embrace our cold and snow.
Up in Hayward, one of the best parts of winter is about to take place. The American Birkebeiner race is in it’s 44th year of drawing some of the world’s best alpine athletes to the Northwoods.
The 44th Annual Birkebeiner Festival and Races takes place this weekend in Northern Wisconsin.
Patterned after a Norwegian race that's been taking place since 1932, the American Birkie is part of a circuit of 19 of the world's most prestigious ski marathons called the Worldloppet.
In 1206, two Norwegian soldiers, called "Birkebeiners" because of the birch-bark leggings they wore, skied a Prince to safety during the Norwegian civil war. That Prince went on to become King and those soldiers have lived on in mythos ever since. They're a symbol of courage, perseverance and character in the face of adversity.
So the Birkie has historic origins, but it's no walk in the park. The main event is a 50/55 km race over one of the toughest courses in the world. There are tons of hills, but none worse than Fire Tower Hill. At 1730 feet above sea level, it's almost a 400 foot climb from the starting point of the race.
The race actually has to be adapted in 2017. The final part of the race usually crosses Lake Hayward before finishing downtown. But unseasonably warm weather makes skiing on the lake impossible, so race officials are working out contingency plans. The race usually includes the building of a temporary bridge over the highway, but that will not be needed as the course is modified.
The first American Birkebeiner, held in 1973, had just 34 men and one women competing.
In 2016, approximately 11,000 skiers took part in the various events.
In addition to the main event and children's races, there is a skijor race, the Barkie Birkie, where dogs help tow their owners along the course.
One of the newer, sillier events is the Giant Ski, where teams of six use 25 foot skis and work together to cross the finish line.
There are two ways one can ski - skater-style, which is the 50 km race, and classic-style, which is the 55 km race.
In addition to the main race, there are 29 km and 15 km versions, as well as a child's race at .5, 1 or 2 km as well as a children's sprint relay.
In 2016, Caitlin Gregg won her fourth Birkebeiner, the most of anyone, man or woman.
David Norris won the first Birkie he ever participated in, making it an American sweep. Skiiers from 40 states and 22 countries took part in the race.
It's a thrilling event celebrating some of the best cross-country athletes in the world and it happens right here in Wisconsin. Make plans to head up to Hayward and enjoy the races!
Have you ever attended – or participated in – the Birkie?
The weather’s warming up, but we’ve still got a lot of winter to go. Looking for more ways to enjoy it? Check out
15 Winter Festivals In Wisconsin That Are Simply Unforgettable