Skiers Compete in the 44th American Birkebeiner

More than 13,000 skiers compete in the races in Hayward, Wisc.

HAYWARD, Wisc. – Every year, when the conditions are right, the small town of Hayward, Wi., comes alive.

More than 13,000 skiers take to the trails to compete in the American Birkebeiner, also known as the Birkie, which takes them from starting line in Cable, Wi., to the finish on Hayward’s Main Street.

“This is my 17th Birkie and I feel like I’m at a point where I know the course, and just kind of hope for an awesome day like today,” skier Jesse Coenen said.

After last year’s Birkie races were cancelled due to lack of snow, skiers were thrilled to be back at it again this year.

“Everyone gets to see each other,” skier Alena Tofte said. “You reunite with your best friends, get out there, work hard and have a good time.”

More than 30,000 spectators line the streets and trails to cheer on friends and family members as they make their way to the finish.

For these racers, the American Birkebeiner is more than just a ski race – It’s a way of life.

“The Birkie, for me, serves as a motivating factor year-round, to be active and healthy and have a lot of fun,” Coenen said. “Cross-country skiing is my favorite sport and the Birkie is the pinnacle of the season.”

“Most of it is the community,” Tofte said. “Anywhere you go in the U.S., if you run into a cross-country skier, you will have something in common. That’s my favorite part.”

The connections these skiers make on the trails and at the finish line, is what draws them to come back, year after year.

“Everybody comes together, its such a festive and supportive atmosphere, and really good environment here,” Coenen said.