MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There are thousands of outdoor enthusiasts hoping Friday’s snow hits Hayward, Wisconsin hard. That’s where the 44th Birkebeiner cross-country ski race is taking place.

It’s about a two-and-a-half hour drive northwest of the Twin Cities. Mark Rosen and Liz Collin are there.

Snowless Birkie

Main Street in Hayward is supposed be the end of the race. Cars should be gone, and 100 or so dump truck full of snow should be covering the street, sidewalk to sidewalk. Skiers should cross Highway 63 on a big bridge that’s built each race year, but this part of the race, the magical ending, is just not in the cards for 2017 after a long stretch of unusually warm weather.

Everywhere you look around Hayward, you can tell there’s just no chance for skiing here. There’s just no snow after two separate rain storms this week. North of here there’s a chance, but Thursday’s events in Hayward featured running instead of skiing.

Alternative Birkie Events

They’ve already made big changes to the course for the Birkebeiner, but that seems to be no consolation for skiers who traveled from all around the world for the race.

“Certainly we’re not in a Plan A or Plan B — we’re probably down on F or X at this point,” Birkebeiner executive director Ben Popp said.

It’s still possible a race will happen Saturday, mostly near Cable, Wisconsin. If not a race, organizer say there still may be an un-timed ski just for fun. They’ve replaced much of the weekend’s events with running races, in the meantime.

Lake Hayward

Workers tried to build up snow on Lake Hayward as the weather turned warmer, but all the effort of organizers didn’t help. There’s open water where the skiers should be coming up on shore. It’s such a sad turn of events for a race that draws thousands.

But just a few miles north of Hayward this afternoon, we found skiers! There were four of them, and the skiing wasn’t great, but they got out there and gave it a shot.

Right now there’s 2 inches or so of solid ice. They need at least four inches of snow tomorrow to give any skiing on Saturday a chance. It’s just too dangerous at this point.

Birkie History

They’ve been the American Birkebeiner since 1973, and it’s grown into the largest ski race in North America, so one down year like this won’t dampen their spirits.

They call it Birkie Fever, and it’s alive and well in Hayward, and a guy who’s been here from the start told us how it all began. Watch the video above to learn more.

Norwegian History Of The Birkebeiner

Birke means birch in Norwegian. This race comes from the Birkebeiners of Norway in 1206, who wore birch leggins to protect their legs.

The king was dying without a male heir, so he sent two of his best warriors out on skis to get his illegitimate child, Prince Haakon. They skied around 55 kilometers and saved the Prince, who later became the longest-serving king of Norway. This race is a nod to that history. In Norway, they take it a step further.

“In Norway, however, each skier needs to carry the equivalent of the weight of Prince Haakon in their backpack,” American Birkebeiner Marketing Director Nancy Knutson said. “This little guy weighs just shy of 8 pounds, and before they start the race, they actually have to weigh the backpack to make sure they’re legal, and then off they go to the Norwegian mountains with Prince Haakon in their backpack.”

That’s right, a 55 kilometer ski race (about 34 miles), carrying an eight pound fake baby in your backpack. Again, most participants here in Hayward don’t do that, but they do have ceremonial warriors who ski the entire distance carrying Prince Haakon.

Kids Fun Run

Thursday was supposed to be the kids’ skiing events in downtown Hayward. Organizers moved the festivities to a nearby field for a fun run. The kids and Liz had fun, with some encouragement from Rosie.

Watch the video above to see more.

  1. Hayward, WI is NorthEAST of the Twin Cities, not Northwest.