The largest cross-country ski race in North America is proudly held from Cable to Hayward, Wisconsin, a meager drive from Birch Trail Resort in Minocqua, Wisconsin. Formed in 1973 by Tony Wise, founder of one of the first Alpine Ski areas in America, the Birkebeiner continues to draw roughly 30,000 participants and spectators to the area each year in February. While the challenges of Covid-19 have required some changes this year, the 2021 race will go on with some racers attending virtually.
Birch Trail Resort Bed & Breakfast welcomes racers with 15% off their entire stay during the race. Simply show your Birke bib to the front desk upon arrival to receive the discount.
Birkebeiner - Funny Name, Serious History
The Birkebeiner race was named by Tony Wise in honor of the rich history surrounding a monumental event that occurred during the Norwegian civil war (1130- 1240 a.d.). In 1206, two soldiers of the Birkebeiner party (a rebellious party in Norway at the time), smuggled the heir to the throne - the 1 year old son of King Haakon III Sverresson, determined to take him away to safety. To save the King's son, they would have to travel with him from Lillehammer to Trondheim, a 335 km (or 208 mile) trip. Due to the immense amount of snow and the need to stay covert, this travel could only be done on foot. The "shoe" of choice - the cross-country ski.
In honor of the courage and perseverance of those two warriors, Norway began the annual ski race called Birkebeinerrennet back in 1932. Since its inception, it has been a much loved tradition for Norwegians and Olympic athletes alike. During the race, a weight of approx 7.7 lbs is held symbolizing the weight of the child those loyalists carried over such a vast distance. The race draws in 16,000 participants who trek 54 km from start to finish.
The original Birkeneiner took place in 1973 and continues to draw in tens of thousands of racers and spectators to the Hayward and Cable areas of Northwestern/Northcentral Wisconsin. This long distance cross-country ski race is considered one of the most challenging courses in the world and is therefore, sought after by avid competitors as well as novice skiers ready to test their endurance.
"The current north-south alignment (used since 1992) has skiers traversing a 2 km (1.2 mi) flat section before turning onto the "Powerline Hills", a series of climbs to the 4.5 km (2.8 mi) mark. The trail then rolls until 12 km (7.5 mi), when Firetower Hill takes competitors to 1,730 ft (530 m), the high point of the race and a climb of nearly 400 ft (120 m) from the race start.... Beyond High Point is a series of downhills, including "Bobblehead Hill" or "Sledder Hill", which has a rather tricky downhill, left turn near a snowmobile trail — allowing dozens of snowmobilers to watch and "score" skiers' falls. The trail rises steeply to the crossing of County Road OO (Referred to as "Double-Oh") which, at 22.8 km (14.2 mi), is the unofficial halfway point of the race.... Beyond OO the course is less hilly, but by no means flat. After 40 km (25 mi) is the aptly named "B**ch Hill" where spectators cheer skiers up the steepest climb of the race. Several kilometers later (just south of Highway 77) the last lengthy ascents of the race---Sunset Hill & Duffy Hill---challenge tired skiers. From the top, Hayward's water tower is a most welcome sight. There are several road crossings and open fields before the skiers cross frozen Lake Hayward. The 4 km (2.5 mi) crossing of the lake is obviously flat, but unprotected from wind. Once off the lake, the trail twists through the outskirts of Hayward on snow trucked in for the event. Over the course of hours, thousands of tired and proud skiers make their way past three blocks of cheering spectators lining Hayward's Main Street." (source)
With an inspiring history and a route that challenges even the best cross-country skiers, the Birkebeiner race is not one to be missed. While the race caps its participants at 10,000, the trek up north to spectate is just as adventurous and fun.
As mentioned above, the 2021 race will be modified to adjust for the restrictions of Covid-19. Some racers will be joining virtually while the in person racers will be broken up into smaller groups over the span of 4 days. Again, Birch Trail Resort would like to welcome all attendees with a 15% off stay at the resort. Please call the office for further details and to book your stay.