Round #2 – Skiing the American Birkebeiner

I did the American Birkebeiner – the classic Nordic ski race – a few weeks ago. This was the second time I did this event, Just like last year, this year’s Birkebeiner was a phenomenal experience – so I’m excited to share a little about it here!

But first: (as usual) how is what I’m writing about in this blog post like starting an apparel brand?! Well, at this year’s race I was a little better (aka faster) than I was last year. I improved my technique, and honestly felt I was even in a little better shape. Ditto with Mill & Mountain! Maybe, against all odds, I AM learning a few things and getting a little better. We can always hope & dream!

OK, back to the race. The American Birkebeiner, or the Birkie, is probably the most iconic cross-country ski race in the US. The race takes place in Wisconsin's north woods, covering a distance of ~53 kilometers between two towns, Cable and Hayward. The Birkie has a rich history, challenging terrain, and an enthusiastic and supportive community of skiers and spectators – all of which makes it a super awesome and fun event.

The history of the Birkie dates back almost 50 years to 1973 when the first American Birkebeiner was held. Modeled after the Norwegian Birkebeiner ski race, the race was designed by the ski entrepreneur Tony Wise to showcase the beauty of Wisconsin's north woods and to promote the sport of cross-country skiing. Since then, the Birkie has grown in popularity, attracting skiers from around the world and becoming (I think) the biggest cross-country ski race in North America.

The course takes skiers through beautiful forests, open fields, and rolling hills, providing a challenging and varied terrain. The trail is super well groomed and maintained, with aid stations along the way to provide skiers with food, water, and support. It’s northern Wisconsin so there are no mountains – but there’s still quite a bit of vertical (maybe 4k over the duration of the race) – and lots of hills where you can go pretty fast for skinny skis (for me, upwards of 30 mph – faster for others, I’m sure).

You can ski the Birkie using either classic or skate skis; I used classic skis this year, like last year. I got a lesson earlier in the season – and that really helped me focus on technique in training for the event. This year has been super warm, so virtually all my training was on “roller skis” – which are used on pavement, not snow. I also hit the weight room a bunch.

Once I got an hour or so into the race, I knew my pace was better than last year’s, so I just kept pushing. I had a minor wipeout (going too fast on a hill) – and stopped quickly at the aid stations for gels and hydration – but other than that I kept the pace pretty consistent throughout the event. Gels sometimes feel like rocket fuel for me … and that actually was pretty much the case throughout the race. (Having that many gels does do some wacky stuff to your insides later, I will say …)

As last year, one thing about the Birkie that’s super cool is the way the event overall is a celebration of Nordic skiing. There are loads of skiers doing the race and the community also comes out in force ... so the overall atmosphere is really festive and welcoming. Near the end of the race (with maybe 7 km left), some spectators have a station set up with shots that they try to persuade skiers to take. I saw others partaking, but not me! Maybe next year …

All in all, it was a great event! Anyone that loves skiing will love the Birkie. See you out there next year!