Birkie One Step Closer to Securing Backup Start

Alex KochonDecember 28, 2011
Start of the 2011 American Birkebeiner at the Cable Union Airport in Cable, Wis., in February. A new trailhead proposal could give Birkie race organizers the option to move the start a few miles south in the future. Photo courtesy of the ABSF.

The American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) is one step closer to having its wish in developing a new trailhead about three miles south of Cable, Wis., after its Board of Directors voted in favor of the proposal.

The foundation posted a press release on its Birkie website on Wednesday, after its board voted last Thursday night. According to media coordinator Susan Kendrick, the release was meant to highlight the most relevant topics of discussion related to the project, which has yet to be approved by the county.

On Jan. 11th, the Bayfield County Forestry Committee will hold a public hearing on the trailhead proposal at the Cable Community Center at 6 p.m. If approved, the ABSF would purchase 120 acres from two private landowners and break ground on the new trail in the spring of 2012. The start of the 2011 Birkie will not be affected.

According to the press release, the trail would be used as a backup start for future Birkebeiner ski races and enable year-round recreation for non-motorized activities, such as hiking, running, snowshoeing, mountain biking and of course, cross-country skiing.

The project would cost less than $250,000, American Birkebeiner Executive Director Ned Zuelsdorff told the Sawyer County Record in late November. Zuelsdorff could not be reached immediately for comment.

Since the Birkie’s beginnings in 1973, the Telemark Lodge has been a staple of the 50 k race. Back then, skiers trekked from Hayward to Cable, finishing at the lodge. Today, they start near the lodge at the Cable Union Airport to accommodate the ever-growing number of participants. This year, the race sold out at 9,000.

The problem with the airport start is that its trail crosses private land belonging to six landowners. Last year, one of the landowners proposed charging $100,000 to $150,000 dollars for race-day use, the press release stated. The ABSF and the landowner negotiated the fee down to $25,000 dollars and secured access five weeks before the race.

Every year, the foundation also has to gain state and federal approval to use the airport. The proposed trailhead as a possible new start for future Birkies gave the ABSF a backup plan. By purchasing its own land and creating about 5 kilometers of new trails, race organizers could avoid certain budgeting woes and stresses of uncertainty.

According to the press release, the board will continue to use the Cable Airport for the Birkie start as long as possible. In the meantime, an additional, more visible trailhead off Highway 63 (near Leonard School Road) would broaden the area’s recreational options. While it would be a few miles south of Cable, its proposal involved including signage to direct recreational users north toward town.

“It could be a backup start area, but there are other advantages to having it as a trailhead,” Kendrick said.

For the Birkie press release, click here.

Alex Kochon

Alex Kochon ( is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.

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