A wave of skiers lined up for the beginning of the Birkebeiner. (Photo used with permission from Michelle Simmons)
A wave of skiers lined up for the beginning of the Birkebeiner. (Photo used with permission from Michelle Simmons)

The American Birkebeiner: will it happen?

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Slumberland American Birkebeiner, the largest ski race in North America. The Birkie is in Hayward, Wisconsin, and is set to begin on February 24th. Thousands of skiers register each year including Minnesotan Jessie Diggins. Diggins was the first American to win a goal medal in the Olympics for cross-country skiing. She announced her participation on August 22, 2023, during the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation’s capital campaign kickoff. Diggins is among around 13,000 other skiers who plan to participate in this year’s race.

Skiers crossing the finish line after racing in the Birkebeiner. (Photo used with permission from Michelle Simmons)

The big question is: Will the Birkie be happening this year? With the lack of snow this winter, many are questioning whether the Birkie will still occur. The Canadian Birkebiner was canceled earlier this month due to the lack of snow. Despite this, the American Birkebeiner has not been canceled. And it does not look like it will. Ben Popp, the executive director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, and Kristy Maki, the race director for the Birkebeiner, went on an MPR News podcast hosted by Cathy Wurzer to answer questions about the event. 

Ben mentioned that the snowpack in Hayward was not the best for hosting the Birkebeiner, but they plan to take matters into their own hands. Ben told Cathy, “And certainly, like many of the venues in the Twin Cities at Wirth Park, Battle Creek, Elm Creek, and Highland– we’ve been making snow. Typically, we make 3 or 4 km of snow for early skiing, and it’s just a great way to get the season kick-started. And, well, of course, this season, as you can imagine, now we’re looking at, is this a way to actually possibly save the 50th anniversary of the American Birkebeiner?” Ben did say that the snow does not look like natural snow but it will still work. They might even have to do the entire Birkebeiner on machine-made snow. 

The American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation team plans on announcing the final decisions about the Birkie on February 12th at 7:00 pm CT. They will also have a live question and answer after the decision is announced. You can watch the live stream on YouTube or Facebook.

 Shawn Connelly, American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation Marketing and Communications Director was interviewed in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article. Shawn talked about the snowmaking equipment and how it can only cover a portion of the trail. 

Shawn said, “We have enough snowmaking capabilities to cover a fair amount near our trailhead,” Shawn mentioned. “We can stretch our snowmaking capabilities and then hopefully we’ll get a little bit of help from Mother Nature, but one way or another the Birkie is happening this year.”

Sartell students taking a picture before heading out to the starting line of the Birkebeiner. (Photo used with permission from Michelle Simmons)

The American Birkebeiner is a cross-country ski event. Events/races begin on February 21st, with the Open Track for prepping for races the following days. On the 22nd there are a few races, including the Barkie Birkie, Barnebirkie, and Junior Birkie. There are also fun activities and the Birkie Expo opens that day. The 23rd races include the Kortelopet, a 29k Classic and Skate race, Prince Haakon, a 15k Classic and Skate race, and the ParaBirke. The Birkie Expo is also open on this day. On the 24th, the American Birkebeiner, a 50k Skate, 53k Classic, is the only race for the day. People either do Skate or Classic, and times vary by the racer. However, the Birkie is much more than a race. It is an opportunity for people to get together and be active outdoors during the winter. It truly is a celebration that brings people across the globe together.

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About the Contributor
Molly Simmons, Journalist
Grade: Senior Hobbies: Crossfit, Reading, and Cooking Car's Name: Raquelle Favorite Holiday: Halloween Dream Vacation: Okinawa