CABLE, Wis. – Whether or not it’s your first time following or participating in the American Birkebeiner, a point-to-point race from Cable to Hayward in northern Wisconsin, here are few pieces of information to bring you up to speed on what’s happening at the 39th annual event.
1. The biggest one of all. The Birkie as the largest cross-country ski marathon in North America set a new record with approximately 9,183 entrants in its full- and half-distance races this year.
2. That’s 347 more than last year. Numbers based on combined total from 50 k skate, 54 k classic and 23 k Kortelopet races. This is the third straight year the race reached its cap.
3. “Iron Three” original founders: Dave Landgraf, John Kotar and Ernie St. Germaine, who raced every Birkie through 2011. Landgraf died after being struck by a car while bicycling just south of Hayward, Wis., in late August. He was 62.
A ceremonial start will take place at 7:45 a.m. Saturday with Landgraf’s children, Cole and Emalea, carrying their father’s ashes along the 50 k trail and taking turns wearing his red racing bib. “Ski Like Landgraf” hats for sale. Proceeds go to Emalea’s Ski Strong foundation.
4. Vegard Ulvang: The six-time Olympic medalist and one of Norway’s best skiers of all time, Ulvang is here with his wife and two kids. The 48-year-old executive director of the International Ski Foundation (FIS) will compete in the classic race, but isn’t going for the victory, Ulvang said on Thursday. He is the Birkie’s first Multiple Sclerosis Society research ambassador since his friend and former teammate Bjorn Daehlie completed the race in 2009. Look for Ulvang in bib 300.
5. Estimated economic impact exceeds $5 million dollars annually, making the Birkie the largest tourism event in northern Wisconsin, The Capital Times reported.
6. Depth of snow on Birkie trail is about 3-6 inches, according to Birkie officials.
7. Time to set your alarm for Saturday morning if you want to watch the elites go at the Cable Union Airport at 8 a.m. local time. Ten waves total.
8. Number of feeds on the Birkie trail. Eleven total, including food and medical stops. About 2,400 volunteers involved.
9. Second feed at 9 k, where Birkie and Korte trails split. Stay right for the Birkie. (First feed at 4.5 k).
10. Bobblehead Hill: Named after snowmobilers wearing the big helmets, who heckle racers at 10 k on a tricky downhill.
11. Number of Birkie “founders,” who skied the first 10 Birkies starting in 1973.
12. 12 k Prince Haakon race includes more than 400 skiers and starts at 10:15 a.m. Saturday.
13. At least 48 states and 20 nations represented by a diverse group of skiers, including Norway’s Tore Martin Gundersen, who won last year’s 50 k skate on one of the coldest Birkies on record. Temperatures were minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit at the start.
14. One of 14 international ski marathons on the Worldloppet circuit. Also one of 14 races in American Ski Marathon series.
15. Two hours, 32.8 seconds: Last year’s winning time in the 50 k skate, clocked by Gundersen. The record is 1:56.58, notched by Italy’s Fabio Santus in 2010. Caitlin Gregg (CXC) set the women’s 50 k record last year, winning in 2:15.26.
16. Two hours, 48 minutes, 16 seconds: The winning time of Sweden’s Eric Ersson in the inaugural 48 k Birkie in 1973. The lone woman that year, American Jacque Lindskoog raced in the men’s class and finished in 4:33.35.
17. Tony Wise’s creation. The Birkie’s innovator wanted to commemorate the famous journey of the Norwegian Birkebeiners, who wore protective birch bark leggings in 1206 while carrying the son of King Sverresson and Inga of Vartieg to safety. They brought him from Lillehammer to Trondheim, and the boy went on to become King Haakon Haakonsson IV.
18. The first Birkebeiner ski race was held in Norway in 1932. Norwegian skiers in the Worldloppet’s Birkebeinerrennet still carry a pack to symbolize the weight of the 18-month-old child.
19. Number of Kortelopet entrants in 1973.
20. Birchleggers: If you finish 20 Birkies, you’re in the club and get to wear a purple race bib.
21. The population of Hayward is 2,129. Cable has 836 residents. Combined, they equal less than a third of the number of Birkie/Korte racers.
22. Some 20,000 spectators expected for the 2012 Birkie. Wise envisioned that one day the Birkie would attract 15,000 skiers and spectators.
23. At 23 k, cross “OO” county road and continue south for second half of Birkie.
24. Wave starts began in 1984.
25. Classic and skate courses converge at 25 k.
26. 6,281 registered for the Birkie, up more than 200 from last year. 2,902 in the Korte, up 123 from last year.
27. Race day temperatures expected to reach a high of 27 degrees Fahrenheit.
28. For first time in 28 years, American Birkebeiner canceled because of lack of snow. In 1981, the race was postponed for two weeks and in 1998, warm weather led to a shortened race.
29. Back in ’81, foreign and elite skiers raced eight 6 k laps around Mt. Telemark in temperatures exceeding 60 degrees. In 1998, the Birkie was just 25 k and elite sprints were held on rollerskis.
30. More than $30,000 dollars raised for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society from the sale of Birkie Skiers for Cures pins. The Wisconsin chapter aimed to raise $100,000 with the sale of $20 pins and donations. Finishers with the MS pin on their Birkebeiner or Kortelopet bibs will randomly be selected for prizes, including free entries in next year’s Birkie.
31. Age of Caitlin Gregg, the Birkie’s defending 50 k skate women’s champ and course record holder, Central Cross Country (CXC) skier and 2010 Olympian. She’s back for this year’s race.
32. Grete Nykkelmo: At 50, the wife of Vegard Ulvang and former Norwegian biathlon team member is a force to be reckoned with in the 50 k skate. She’s starting with the first women’s elite bib, No. 500. Gregg is 501.
33. Nearly 3,300 classic skiers between this year’s Birkie and Korte.
34. 5,740: Total number of skate skiers in the Birkie and Korte.
35. “Spirit of the 35”: The idea of 13-year-old Katie Kotar, daughter of Birkie “founder” John Kotar, to honor the 34 men and one woman that skied the inaugural American Birkebeiner in 1973. These bibs will be worn by skiers that have done the most Birkies.
36. Holly Brooks: Coming off several months in Europe at the World Cup, Brooks decided to sign up for her first domestic race of the year. She was second in the 2010 Birkebeiner by one-tenth of a second to Rebecca Dussault. Both are racing the 50 k skate this year for Salomon.
37. Tad Elliott: U.S. Ski Team member also taking advantage of an off-weekend on the World Cup. Last time he raced here, Elliott was second about seven seconds off Santus’s record-setting time.
38. Mosquito Brook Hill shortly after the 38 k feed. Get ready for three big climbs with Bitch Hill at 40 k (and the costumed “bitches” on it). After that, conquer the last hill at 45 k and it’s a long downhill to Lake Hayward.
39. Total purse of $39,000 distributed among top six male and female finishers in 50 k skate. First place gets $7,500, second $4,500, third $3,000, fourth $2,000, fifth $1,500, sixth $1,000.
For more pre-race specifics for participants, visit BirkieGuide.com.
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) 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.