American Birkebeiner in Cable & Hayward, Wisconsin
by Sandy Sayler - WisconsinGuide Magazine
The silence of the northwoods awakens as the American Birkebeiner, also known as the Birkie, comes to the area. This is the largest cross-country ski marathon in North America. Participating skiers come from all across the United States and from more than 20 foreign countries. The 51-kilometer race starts near the active town of Cable and trails through the woods of northwestern Wisconsin to finish on the Main Street of Hayward. This prestigious event is only one cross-country ski race out of fourteen to be recognized by the Word Loppet organization. The Word Loppet only acknowledges the best race and no more than one cross-country ski race per country. Other countries include Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, France, Estonia, Germany, Austria, Finland, Italy, Canada and the Czech Republic.
The American Birkebeiner was started 31 years ago, but the legend goes back to 1206 - almost 800 years ago! Civil War was raging in Norway. An infant prince and heir to the throne, Haakon Haakonsson, was in danger and in hiding. Two brave Birkebeiner warriors rescued the prince and skied 55 kilometers to safety. The prince was later crowned the King of Norway and the Civil War ended. The early meaning of Birkebeiner was birch legging, which described the warrior's footwear. Today Birkebeiner has come to translate into a person of strong diversity and never intimidated by trial and hardship.
Training starts way before the falling of the first snowflake. Strength and speed is needed to compete in this athletic challenge. Off-season biking and running help ease into the transition. Understanding the strategy of drafting is also effective. This buddy system works as two or three skiers' ski in single file. As they work together, switching places, this lets each other rest slightly, reduces wind resistance and also speeds your skis. Because as the skier in front skis over the snow, the snow heats up a little and a small layer of water is generated which will reduce the friction of the skis. Good techniques are important so that precious energy is not wasted on unnecessary movement.
Purchasing the proper equipment from cross-country skis to clothing is essential. Lightweight cross-country skis with good grip, glide and stability are the popular points contestants look for when choosing their skis. The choice of clothing is based on the concept of layers. It maybe cold at the start of the race, but how much you heat up depends mostly on our unpredictable Wisconsin weather. Don't forget facial protection -
Sunglasses or goggles! They help shield the glare from the sun reflecting off the snow and minimize the distraction of blustery winds and blowing snow. The Birkie Trail will be dotted with rest stations offering warm drinks, medical attention, and needed waxes.
The celebrating festivities begin Thursday, February 19 with the opening ceremony and continue throughout the weekend. Activities feature the Winter Sport Expo, Ski Fair - On Snow Demo, Children's Snowshoe Nature Hike, seminars and endless family fun. Other races held in conjunction with this exciting event are Sons of Norway/Swiss Miss Barnebirkie (the world's largest children's cross country ski race), Cheqtel 10K (entire family fun), Junior Birkie 3K (ages 10-15) and Kortelopet 23K (ends at Telemark Resort). Visiting elite skiers and all outdoor enthusiasts are sure to have a great time!
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