HAYWARD, Wis., January 16, 2007 – Despite unseasonably warm temps worldwide, the wimpy winter isn't putting the kabosh on skiers bound for the 34th annual American Birkebeiner cross country ski races slated February 22-24, 2007 in Cable and Hayward, Wis.
“The Birkie Trail is in surprisingly good shape and registrations are ahead of last year's numbers at this time,” said Ned Zuelsdorff, Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF).
“The trail has a thin, but very firm base from the start line to Lake Hayward. We just received three inches of new snow and more is forecast this week. Cold temperatures are projected through the end of January, and many skiers are on the trail getting ready for race day.”
More than 7,000 skiers are expected to participate in the 51-kilometer Birkebeiner and 23-kilometer Kortelopet. One in four are classic skiers.
That's one reason the Board unanimously approved construction and use of the 9-kilometer trail for the 2007 race. The new trail begins at the Cable Union Airport, takes a different route through the Birkie terrain, and merges back into the Birkie Trail at the second food station at Timber Trail Road in Bayfield County.
On race day, the new classic trail will be groomed 18 feet wide with six classic tracks set at the start and narrowing gradually to four tracks after one kilometer; another skate lane will be added to the existing Birkie Trail; and freestyle and classic divisions and champions will be recognized.
“I'm seeing a lot of smiles on the faces of skiers getting their first taste of the new 9-kilometer trail,” Zuelsdorff said. “We think these changes will entice more skiers and participants.”
Birkie Founder, Board member and classic skier John Kotar agrees.
“This new trail shows our commitment to classical skiers,” Kotar said. “I think this new trail will go a long way to bringing in some of those skiers who have never taken up skating but would otherwise partake in the race. And the American Birkebeiner being the sister event of the Norwegian Birkebeiner, this will show that we honor and value our relationship to this race and its heritage.”
While classic skiing was dominant when Tony Wise launched the American Birkebeiner in 1973, the skating technique emerged in the early-80s and resulted in new equipment, different tactics and faster times. The first winner who skated at least a portion of the Birkebeiner was Austrian Rudi Kapeller in 1983.
Over the years classic skiers became a minority as more participants adopted the skating technique. Yet classic skiers remained a vital and vocal group demanding recognition.
And their voices were heard.
In 1998 classic skiers were identified in the results issue. Separate classic awards began in 2002, and during the winter of 2006, 770 people completed the ABSF classic skiing survey.
Zuelsdorff said the feedback is critical information that will be taken into account during future planning. Many suggestions, he said, are already in the works.
“The new 9-kilometer trail is the start of a separate classic course that could be expanded upon in upcoming years,” he said. “During the 2007 race we will add two tracks set on one side of the trail all the way to the finish line, and we will likely seed classic skiers in waves based solely on other classic skier times beginning in 2008.”
ABSF Board of Directors President Bill Pierce said the board is striving to attract more classic skiers, not just skiers changing from the skating technique to the classic technique.
“Our long-term goal is to draw new skiers,” he said. “The classic technique is dominant in Worldloppet races in Norway, Sweden and Italy. We want to increase classic skiing here too.”
Zuelsdorff encourages skiers to sample and enjoy the new trail and be ready to ski it on race day.