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Birkie skiers defeat ol’ man winter

Hudsonite Tom Zeuli, right, with “Inga” and “Torstien”, Viking Re-enactors at 2014 Barnebirkie (Photos by Maeta Gherty)1 / 3
The First Wave Classic Skiers begin their trek to Hayward in 41st Swix American Birkebeiner. The starting point was Telemark Resort and the race course covers 50 km (just over 31 miles).2 / 3
The Barnebirkie finish area in downtown Hayward.3 / 3

By Mark J. Gherty

Winter enthusiasts and competitors converged on the Cable/Hayward area for the 41st Swix American Birkebeiner Saturday, Feb. 22. But, the fiercest attendee was ol’ man winter. Like many favored teams in the Sochi Olympics it was defeated by the preparation, training and determination of the other participants.

The area received approximately 16 inches of snow starting early Thursday night. Skiers who anticipated the oncoming storm arrived in large groups on Thursday afternoon to pick up their bibs for the race. Over the course of the evening the snow was falling in excess of several inches per hour.

Prior to the snow arriving children under the age of 12 participated in the Barnebirkie, a 1km fun ski ending at the Birkie Finish line on Hayward’s snow covered Main Street. The children are welcomed to town by colorful banners, music, cheering parents and re-enactors dressed in Viking garb and skis, resembling the Viking warriors who rescued the tiny Prince Haakon in 1206 Norway.

The annual Elite Sprits commenced at 2:30 p.m. Thursday with elite skiers from Europe and the United States racing on a one block oval course. Nataljia Naryshkina of St. Petersburg, Russia, was the first place finisher in her division and Mathias Inniger of Switzerland for the men.

Ben Popp the executive director of the American Birkebeiner Foundation was in the process of overseeing and coordinating his first Birkie as an administrator, having been named to the post in May 2013. Popp is an experienced and talented skier and a veteran of the race.

He reported at 6:45 a.m. Friday morning the groomers had met at 1 a.m. and the trail was being groomed. He also reported the competitive Junior Birkie scheduled for 10 a.m. on the grounds of the closed Telemark Resort was cancelled. This was a great disappointment to the young skiers ages 8-18. The decision was made by mid-morning to hold the Junior Birkie in Hayward, as a “fun ski,” non-timed event at 1 p.m.

Friday morning in Hayward was a busy place starting at 10 a.m. with the Barkie Birkie, a skijoring event involving skiers being pulled by their dogs. At noon the Hayward Chamber of Commerce “Giant Ski” race welcomes teams from various community, regional and commercial teams to compete for a coveted a Leinenkugels’ canoe paddle and the designation as Giant Ski Champions.

Teams are adorned in various costumes. The four person teams are buckled onto 10-foot long giant skis and carry ski poles over a one block course.

Birkie weekend is a gathering much like the annual opening weekend of the deer season with families and friends coming from around the country and globe to volunteer, spectate, and ski. Problems with travel began early Friday with people reporting horrible travel conditions.

Prior to the weather intrusion 10,300 people were registered to participate in the 50 km Birkebeiner Skate, 54 km Birkebeiner Classic, 24 km Kortelopet and 12.5 km Prince Haakon. Seventy-three participants from Hudson were registered to race. These included many families who had planned to race together, coming from all areas of the country. When the results were tallied after the race, 42 Hudson residents completed the events.

The American Birkebeiner Foundation reports, in order to support the 10,300 skiers the effort requires 2,000 volunteers, 11 food and medical stops, 2,000 oranges, 5,000 bananas, 5,000 gallons of water for the races, 1,500 gallons of energy drink, 190 portable toilets, and 90km of groomed trails. The organization adapted to the changing conditions and the event was a great success.

Saturday’s racers were met with a temperature at 0ºF and winds blowing from the west near 20 mph. The groomers did a masterful job of preparing the course for the classic and skate skiers. Skiers covered their exposed faces with creams and mole skin patches to ward off frostbite.

Skiers could be heard thanking the volunteers who were there to only help. The volunteers make it possible for the citizen racers to achieve their dream of conquering the Birkie Trail, battling the fierce head winds on Lake Hayward, and to experience the elation of skiing down Hayward’s Main Street to the finish.

Exhausted skiers could be heard on the WOJB 88.9FM, describing their Birkie experiences after the race. The consistent response to a repeated question was, “I’ll be back next year.”

Local results

Birkebeiner Skate 50km

Jason Anderson 4:47:27.3; Bob Branson 4:56:43.8; Nathan Brine 5:58:20.4; Scott Everson 5:03:07.9; Mark Gherty 6:14:49.2; David Hackworthy 3:51:22.1; Paul Jaeger 4:18:53.6; Lisa Kalmondiedrich 6:30:17.7; Mark Kubler 6:14:00.9; Helen M Leemkuil 5:08:11.6; Michael McKinney 5:22:29.1; Walter Milbrath 6:09:06.1; Brent Mitchell 5:17:27.1; Robert Moser 4:05:11.7; Jamie Olson 6:09:51.6; Mark Olson 6:18:05.7; John Oman 3:37:18.2; Allen Omernik 5:56:30.7; Dan Pagels 6:24:46.3; Michael Phernetton 3:33:13.5; Einar Sandom 5:14:33.3; Nicholas Schneider 5:54:12.1; Warren Schneider 5:44:35.3; John Tjornehoj 3:33:23.7; Aaron Walczak 4:24:06.9; Calmer Wood 7:21:25.4

Birkebeiner Classic 54 km

Joseph Lowery 7:46:06.0; Raymond Robbins 5:44:16.3; Neil Soltis 4:40:36.8

Kortelopet Skate 24 km

Greg Hedin 2:14:55.2; Jeff Hommes 3:18:10.9; Raymond Lee 1:39:47.7; Jeffrey Mutschler 3:50:44.6; Dan Tjornehoj 3:03:47.0; Aaron Zeuli 2:36:34.5

Kortelopet Classic 24 km

Dean R. Jakubowicz 2:49:59.4; Pete Miller 3:26:31.6; Thomas Zeuli 2:13:25.8

Prince Haakon 12k Skate

Erin Berglund 1:54:54.0; Matt Huseboe 1:04:13.5; Cody T Nelson 1:16:21.1

Prince Haakon 12k Classic

Maria Miller 1:45:20.1