Catch the fever – 2017 Birkebeiner XC Ski Race

Some people get their kicks climbing mountains. For others, it’s downhill skiing. Want a little bit of both? Consider the Birkebeiner.

What’s this about?

2017 marks the 44th annual Birkebeiner (pr: birk-uh-bee-ner) Cross Country Ski Race, held each year in Hayward, Wisconsin. Located in the northwest corner of the state, Hayward is home to one of the most renowned cross country ski trails in the world. In February, over 40,000 attendees will flock here from all over the world to witness a spectacle of human accomplishment.

More than 10,000 of these so-called “Birkies” will participate in the classic Birkebiener, a 50km (31 mile) traverse that winds and weaves through old growth forest, up and down hills, across frozen rivers and a frozen lake, all the way to the finish line in Hayward. People train for this race year-round; it’s not just an event, it’s a lifestyle.


Josie Nelson, and her 13-month old son Karl Nelson, ski at the beginning of the American Birkebeiner race in Cable Wis., on Saturday February 27, 2010. The Birkebeiner race is modeled after the historic resue of an infant that would become the king of Norway. Josie's husband David Nelson, and her brother-in-law Grant Nelson also dressed as Viking Warriors, called Birkebeiners, and skied the 54k race from Cable, Wis., to Hayward, Wis. along with Josie and Karl. (AP PHOTO/PAUL M. WALSH)

Josie Nelson, and her 13-month old son ski at the beginning of the American Birkebeiner race.(AP PHOTO/PAUL M. WALSH)

The history of this acclaimed race goes back decades, and then centuries. The Birkebeinerrennet is the original XC ski race that was started in Norway in 1932. A part of the Worldloppet Ski Federation since its inception, this race (and its bicycling and XC running counterparts) are also renowned worldwide and draw thousands upon thousands of participants annually.

But the history goes back further still. The word “Birkebeiner” is drawn from the name of a Norwegian rebel political party that formed in 1184 AD during Norway’s civil war era. This was a time of much political turmoil, and eventually coming to power, the Birkebeiners established themselves in support of King Haakon Sverresson and the heir to the throne, his illegitimate, 18 month old son. When King Sverresson passed away in 1206, the Birkebeiners smuggled the baby Haakon Haakonsson from Lillehammer to Osterdalen to Trondheim. The journey was a lengthy and dangerous one that was traveled by cross-country skis. Hence the commemorative races — both of which require racers to carry a symbolic backpack weighing 3.5kg (7.7lbs) to represent the stowaway.

Notable Victors of 2016

Last year, the race was swept by two notable American victors. Caitlin Gregg, a Wisconsin native, secured her 4th victory — the most gold medals ever won by any participant in the race. She traversed the 50km distance with an impressive time of 02:22:44.5. The male victor, David Norris of Fairbanks, Alaska, completed the race with a hot time of 02:05:35.4. Both victors slid across the finish line just seconds before the second and third place winners.

How to Birkie

Intrigued yet? Join the club! Registration is now closed for this year’s Birkebeiner as the race has reached capacity! But there’s no better day than today to start training for next year!


Jan the Clown shows us how fun it is to Birkie! Photo by Dean Smith

Jan the Clown shows us how fun it is to Birkie! Photo by Dean Smith

If you feel like you’re up for the challenge, Red Fox has some recommendations for gear to keep you moving. You’re going to be sweating, so you want to wear wool base-layers so that you stay insulated, even when wet. The Dry Light Merino suit will suit you just fine, keeping your body heat in and the cold out. Layer up with the Multi-light pants as a light, wind-breaking layer and some added insulation. The Active Shell will keep the wind from piercing you and any light precipitation from soaking you: an all-around good soft-shell for activities. Don’t forget a MF Light Bandana or a balaclava, a Merino Beanie, and the River Pack (to carry your imaginary 18 month old stowaway and your extra supplies). Most importantly, get some gloves! Layer Polartec 200 with some over-mitts.

Other Fun Events at the Birkebeiner

If the endurance thing just isn’t for you, not to worry. The Birkebeiner features many races for all sorts of Birkies. There is the Barkebeiner (for you and your dog), the Barnebirkie and Junior Birkie (for all the young skiers out there), the Fat Bike Birkie (for you MTB-heads), the Birkie Trail Run, and the Kortelopet (the short version of the race). Visit the official Birkebeiner website to read more about the variety of events and the endless fun!

© 2017