Birkie Preps Are Well Underway For This Weekend
HAYWARD, Wis. – The town of Hayward is already beginning to transform and the excitement is building as everyone gets ready for the 46th Annual American Birkebeiner
The cross-country ski race is one of the largest of its kind in North America.
It typically draws tens of thousands of people including spectators and experienced skiers from around the world to the small town.
“It’s really electric. We call it Birkie fever. It’s more than just coming to ski or race, its an experience. People come from all over the world from 24 countries and 48 states,” said Executive Director Ben Popp.
But getting ready for such a large event is not an easy task.
Preps involve everything from bringing in temporary infrastructure like famous Birkie welcome ridge to packing tons of snow on the town’s Main Street.
“It takes an entire village to do this. Imagine 3,500- 3,600 volunteers,” said Popp. “This is a community of 1,800. The volunteers come from all over the region. It’s something special.”
Birkie crew members aren’t the only ones preparing for the big race.
Many of the skiers competing have already flooded the town.
One man, who has been on the last two Olympic ski teams, says it can take several years of experience to be ready for a race like the birkie.
“I started cross-country skiing as soon as I could walk basically,” said Olympic Skiier Erik Bjornsen. “I was named for the national team when I was 18 years old. I moved up to Alaska and got more and more into the sport.”
Lucky for him, much of his hard training is in the past.
He says since the main event is so close, it’s all about resting the body for now.
But his eye is always on the prize.
“My goal is to win,” said Bjornsen. “There is definitely going to be some hard competition here. A couple of Norwegian guys are competing. One has been a world champion. We have some of the best skiers showing up this year, so it’s going to a hard event.”
While the course is still being prepped, Birkie staff say conditions are looking great.
They are optimistic the race might finish with a record time.
The weather is even looking positive for spectators.
They are in for a real treat as temperatures are expected to reach the mid to upper 30’s.
Some of festivities for the Birkie have already started, but the main event begins on Saturday.