Slice of Wisconsin: History of the American Birkebeiner in the state

The American Birkebeiner is celebrating 50 years as a premiere winter event in Wisconsin. But what do you really know about its history here?

Slice of Wisconsin: History of the American Birkebeiner in the state

February 9, 2024 at 06:18 PM UTC
By: Teri Barr

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The American Birkebeiner is celebrating 50 years as a premiere winter event in Wisconsin. But what do you really know about its history here?

There’s a small Northern Wisconsin town, where the population typically grows to ten times its size every February.

“Hayward is usually home to 2600 people,” Blair Flickinger with the foundation for the American Birkebeiner says. “But during the American Birkebeiner, or “The Birkie” as it’s often called, the number increases to 30 thousand people.”

LISTEN: History of the American Birkebeiner is Teri Barr’s Slice of Wisconsin

The cross-country skiing marathon started with about two dozen people carving a trail between Hayward and Cable, 50 years ago. The original event was considered a tribute to the ski culture of Norway, a country already hosting its own Birkebeiner. The Norway race is close to 100 years old today.

Yet, those involved with the younger Hayward marathon, claim there’s nothing like it.

“There’s a camaraderie unlike anywhere else,” Flickinger says. “A camaraderie between people who come to Northern Wisconsin from around the world. And it makes everyone feel like Hayward is their special spot for the week.”

That alone, makes “The Birkie” a terrific story for the state.

But add on the growth it is now experiencing by including other races throughout the year, and you have a real Slice of Wisconsin!

Bonus coverage: Jane Matenaer, host of the Matenaer on Air show across the Civic Media radio network, recently talked with Sean Connelly, Marketing and Communications Director of “The Birkie” to learn how the warmer than usual weather could impact the race, and what kind of options are already in place. You can listen to her complete interview here.

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