American Birkebeiner

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American Birkebeiner
Genresporting event
Location(s)Cable-Hayward, Wisconsin
CountryUnited States
Inaugurated1973 (1973)

The American Birkebeiner (or Birkie) is the largest cross-country ski race in North America, and one of the longest. It debuted in 1973 and was a founding member of the Worldloppet federation of cross-country ski marathons.[1] The two premier events are the 50 km (31 mi) freestyle and the 55 km (34 mi) classic races from Cable to Hayward, Wisconsin. Each year more than 10,000 skiers participate in the Birkie, 29 km Kortelopet, and 15 km Prince Haakon events. The 45th Birkie was held on February 23, 2019.[2]


The race, which is held annually in February, was started in 1973 by Tony Wise. Wise, who started the Telemark Ski Area in Cable, Wisconsin in 1947, helped to popularize modern-day cross-country skiing when he built trails at Telemark in 1972. In February 1973, Wise drew on his Norwegian heritage in starting a race named after a famous event in Norway.

The Birkie was named after the Norwegian Birkebeinerrennet, which commemorates an important historical event. In 1206 a group of Birkebeiner party soldiers, who fought for Sverre Sigurdsson and his descendants in the Norwegian civil war, smuggled the illegitimate son of Norway's King Håkon Sverresson from Lillehammer to safety in Trondheim. In the Norwegian Birkie, skiers still carry packs symbolizing the weight of an 18-month-old child. The packs also contain extra food, clothing and survival gear to protect against unexpected weather changes in the harsh sub-Arctic mountains that the skiers cross during the race.


Skiers from around the world come to Hayward, Wisconsin for the race. The Birkie has a reputation for attracting skiers of varying ability levels. Olympians and national team members have competed in the event, and the Birkie also draws recreational skiers from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and countries such as Canada. The race day also includes the shorter 23 km Kortelopet "Korte", a race geared more toward recreational skiers, and the Prince Haakon 13 km event for those who are not ready to take on the challenge of the longer courses. Registration is capped at 10,000 skiers in 2013, with an additional 20,000 spectators on the sidelines cheering on the competitors.

The Birkie course is quite hilly, and is recognized as one of the more difficult cross country ski marathon courses in the world, despite the fact that there are several World Loppet events in Europe that are much longer.[citation needed] 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. In early years of the race, the Birkie began with a climb up the alpine slopes of Mount Telemark, mainly as a publicity stunt, but larger field sizes made this impractical. Beyond High Point is a series of downhills, including "Bobblehead Hill" or "Sledder Hill", which has a rather tricky downhill, right 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. Until 2001, the 23 km (14 mi) Kortelopet race ended here but has since been rerouted back to Telemark after splitting off from the main course at 9 km (5.6 mi).

Beyond OO the course is less hilly, but by no means flat. After 40 km (25 mi) is the aptly named "Bitch Hill" where spectators cheer skiers up the steepest climb of the race. Several kilometers later (just south of Highway 77) is the last lengthy ascent of the race—El Moco—known for its numerous bends, each offering the empty promise of a summit. From the top, Hayward's watertower is a most welcome sight. There are several road crossings and open fields before the course crosses 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. Warm conditions have occasionally required the finish line be moved to a flat field just west of the lake.

The race begins with several waves in order to thin skiers out along the course. Alternating skate and classical waves depart every five minutes. New skiers must ski in the last Wave unless they use another ski marathon time to qualify up. One man has completed every Birkie since the first one in 1973; Ernie St. Germaine, a former employee of the Telemark Resort, where the Birkebeiner starts every year.


The American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation website lists winners of the Birkebeiner and Kortelopet from 1973.[3]

Year Men Women
1973 Eric Ersson,  Sweden Jacque Lindskoog,  USA
1974 Dave Quinn,  USA Jacque Lindskoog,  USA
1975 Chris Haines,  USA Vigdis Snekkevi,  USA
1976 Audun Kolstad,  Norway Jana Hlavaty,  USA
1977 Audun Kolstad,  Norway Berrit Lammedal,  Norway
1978 Alfred Kaelin,  Norway Valborg Ostberg,  Norway
1979 Arnt Haarstad,  Norway Judy Rabinowitz,  USA
1980 Per Notten,  Norway Gry Oftedal,  Norway
1981 Jean-Paul Pierrat,  France Marianne Hadler,  USA
1982 Ola Hassis,  Sweden Gry Oftedal,  Norway
1983 Rudi Kapeller,  Austria Jennifer Caldwell,  USA
1984 Oddvar Brå,  Norway Sissel Trondseth,  USA
1985 Oddvar Brå,  Norway Muffy Ritz,  USA
1986 Anders Blomquist,  Sweden Muffy Ritz,  USA
1987 Konrad Hallenbarter,   Switzerland E.J. Holcomb,  USA
1988 Örjan Blomquist,  Sweden Kelly Kimball,  USA
1989 Örjan Blomquist,  Sweden Betsy Youngman,  USA
1990 Manfred Nagl,  Austria Lynne Cecil,  USA
1991 Manfred Nagl,  Austria Ingrid Butts,  USA
1992 Todd Boonstra,  USA Nina Skeime,  Norway
1993 Manfred Nagl,  Austria Suzanne King,  USA
1994 Tomas Caslavsky,  Czech Republic Heike Wezel,  Germany
1995 Andre Jungen,   Switzerland Maria Theurl,  Austria
1996 Silvano Barco,  Italy Gudrun Pflueger,  Austria
1997 Mikhail Botwinov,  Austria Gudrun Pflueger,  Austria
1998 Carl Swenson,  USA Jennifer Douglas,  USA
1999 Johann Mühlegg,  Germany Laura McCabe,  USA
2000 "Mother Nature" "Mother Nature"
2001 Gianantonio Zanetel,  Italy Nadezhda Slessareva,  Russian Federation
2002 Maurizio Pozzi,  Italy Jeannie Wall,  USA
2003 Gianantonio Zanetel,  Italy Lara Peyrot,  Italy
2004 Gianantonio Zanetel,  Italy Lara Peyrot,  Italy
2005 Marco Cattaneo,  Italy Lara Peyrot,  Italy
2006 Marco Cattaneo,  Italy Anna Santer,  Italy
2007 Zack Simons,  USA Kate Whitcomb,  USA
Year Men skating Men classic Women skating Women classic
2008 Ivan Babikov,  Canada Yuri Kozlov,  Russian Federation Evelyn Dong,  USA Kelly Skillicorn,  USA
2009 Matthew Liebsch,  USA Gus Kaeding,  USA Rebecca Dussault,  USA Martina Stursova,  Czech Republic
2010 Fabio Santus,  Italy Juergen Uhl,  USA Rebecca Dussault,  USA Audrey Weber,  USA
2011 Tore Gunderson,  Norway Juergen Uhl,  USA Caitlin Compton,  USA Jennie Bender,  USA
2012 Tad Elliot,  USA David Chamberlain,  USA Holly Brooks,  USA Carolyn Ocariz,  USA
2013 Sergio Bonaldi,  Italy Doug Debold,  USA Caitlin Gregg,  USA Ingrid Saupstad,  Norway
2014 Tom Reichelt,  Germany Santiago Ocariz,  USA Caitlin Gregg,  USA Natalja Naryshkina,  Russian Federation
2015 Sergio Bonaldi,  Italy Ole Christian Mork,  Norway Holly Brooks,  USA Natalja Naryshkina,  Russian Federation
2016 David Norris,  USA Welly Ramsey,  USA Caitlin Gregg,  USA Deedra Irwin,  USA
2017 "Mother Nature" "Mother Nature" "Mother Nature" "Mother Nature"
2018 Anders Gløersen,  Norway Ben Saxton,  USA Caitlin Gregg,  USA Felicia Gesior,  USA
2019 Akeo Maifeld-Carucci,  USA Peter Holmes,  USA Alayna Sonnesyn,  USA Cate Brams,  USA


  1. ^ "American Birkebeiner". Worldloppet. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  2. ^ "Race Info: Birkie/Kortelopet/Prince Hakon". NGIN. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  3. ^ Documentation Committee (March 2017). "Champions – American Birkebeiner & Kortelopet – 1973 to Present". American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation. Retrieved 2017-03-04. The races are grouped by decade and also include details about the number of race entrants and event highlights.

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