800th Anniversary Inspires 9,000 To Ski Their Own Legend

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The largest cross country ski marathon in North America, the American Birkebeiner will take place from Feb. 23-25, 2006. Nine thousand cross country skiers – from world-class athletes to recreational skiers –will pariticipate in the events. This year's Birkie will celebrate the 800th anniversary of the legend that inspired the ski marathon and turned Cable and Hayward, Wisconsin into a cross-country ski magnet.

This year, from Feb. 23-25, 2006, 9,000 skiers – from world-class athletes to recreational skiers – will descend upon the small communities of Cable and Hayward, Wisconsin, total population 4,100, to participate in an event that annually brings skiers from 19 countries and 45 of the United States and boosts the northland economy by an estimated $4 million in five days.

During Birkie 2006 skiers will celebrate the 800th anniversary of the legend that inspired the ski marathon and turned Cable and Hayward into a cross-country ski magnet.

The legend goes like this: In the winter of 1206, with the Norwegian Civil War raging, two Viking warriors, called “Birkebeiners” for the protective birch bark leggings they wore, were called upon to rescue the child Prince Haakon Haakonnson (pronounced Hoe-kon).

Wearing heavy wooden skis, they trekked more than 50 kilometers in snow and cold, through the wilderness, and over a mountain. They spent the night in a primitive mountain shed, and, the story goes, melted snow in their mouths for water for the child.

The rescued Prince became one of the most popular Norwegian Kings in history, uniting the country and sparking a period of flourishing cultural growth, and the Birkebeiners became a Norwegian symbol of courage, perseverance and character in the face of adversity.

The historic flight inspired the creation of two ski marathons — the Birkebeiner Rennet in Lillehammer, Norway, launched in 1932 and skied on the same route as the famous rescue, and the American Birkebeiner, launched in 1973 when the late Tony Wise looked to his Norwegian roots to create a high-profile event for Telemark, his new ski lodge in Cable, Wisconsin.

The numbers show that Tony Wise’s powerful vision came to fruition in a big way. What started as a small race calling on skiers to challenge themselves against the Wisconsin north woods has grown to an event requiring a full-time Birkie staff, Board of Directors, and 2,000 volunteers to orchestrate the behind-the-scenes details.

Every February, with the mass influx of 9,000 skiers and 15,000 spectators, the northern Wisconsin landscape is transformed. Area residents and businesses bustle to serve up meals, lodging, gas, retail and good old hospitality for skiers and spectators. And it’s paid off.

Now in its 33rd year, Birkie skiers just can’t seem to get enough.

  • Mitch Eichman, Thorp, Wisconsin, skied the 2005 race just 6 weeks after major throat surgery. He and brother Tony, Rochester, Minnesota, will ski their 15th Birkie in 2006.
  • Cindy Swift, Cable, Wisconsin, is training for her 16th Birkie. The race and active lifestyle inspired her to move north to open Riverbrook Bike and Ski, a retail store in Seeley and Spooner, and to get involved in women's skiing and biking programs.
  • Paul Thompson, Morningside Edina, Minnesota, has made his annual Birkie pilgrimage an opportunity to raise funds for education, disaster relief and environmental awareness. Thompson will ski his 26th Birkie in February.
  • Mary Krook, Duluth, Minnesota, had so much fun skiing the 2005 Kortelopet that she’s inspired to ski the full race in 2006. This 60-year-old breast cancer survivor will also raise funds for the new Ski for the Cure program to increase awareness and funding in the fight against breast cancer.
  • Chuck Wolske, Tinley Park, Illinois, has skied every Birkie since 1998, and he’ll be back for 2006. Daughter Kathryn, age 13, will also be back to ski her third Barnebirkie, Junior Birkie and Cheqtel 10K. She’ll add the Kortelopet to her list this February and will eventually ski the full Birkie when she is old enough.

“It’s inspiring to hear all the stories about skiers hooked on this race,” said Ned Zuelsdorff, Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation. “The Birkie encourages a healthy lifestyle and is a major tourism event in northern Wisconsin.”

The American Birkebeiner is North America's largest and most prestigious cross-country ski marathon. Spanning 51 kilometers from Cable to Hayward, the Birkie is part of the esteemed Worldloppet series of 14 international races, part of the International Ski Federation (FIS) Marathon Cup series of eight races, and part of the American Ski Marathon series of 14 races.

In addition to ski events for all ages and fitness levels, Birkie 2006 highlights include welcoming ceremonies; health, nutrition, fitness, equipment and training seminars; ski expo and on-snow demonstrations; pasta feeds; awards ceremonies; and post-race parties and music.

For more information or to register for the 2006 Subaru American Birkebeiner, Kortelopet sponsored by the State Bank of Drummond and Cable Chamber of Commerce, Johnson Bank Prince Haakon 12K, Salomon Elite Sprints, Hayward Chamber of Commerce Citizen Sprints, Century Tel Junior Birkie, Cheqtel 5K/10K, Ski for the Cure! program, or the Sons of Norway/Swiss Miss Barnebirkie, call 715-634-5025 or log on to http://www.birkie.com.

For media inquiries, contact Leslie Hamp at 715-682-5824 or leslie@birkie.com.

Birkie 2006 is sponsored by Subaru, State Bank of Drummond, Cable Chamber of Commerce, Johnson Bank, Murphy McGinnis Media and other businesses throughout the region and country.

by Leslie Hamp


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