The number of skiers registered for the American Birkebeiner in Hayward is about 1,600 more than last year at this time. That’s according to Ned Zuelsdorff, executive director for the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation. “We’re very excited; the race is filling very quickly. We expect to have a brand new record set this year with 8,400 skiers in the Birkie and Kortelopet and more than 11,000 skiers for the three days of events up here.”
Right now just over 7,600 skiers are signed up for the Birkebeiner and the shorter Kortelopet, with a cap set at 8,400. Zuelsdorff says the larger number of early registrants could have to do with several consecutive good winters, a newly-built classic ski trail, and the registration cap.
Zuelsdorff says the event draws skiers from nearly every state and 22 countries, with the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and Madison having the most participants. “Roughly 2,400 to 2,500 skiers come here from the greater Twin Cities area and we draw another 400 to 500 from Madison. Those are just two of our larger markets but we draw skiers from across the nation from around the world; 80 percent of the skiers, though, come here from Wisconsin and Minnesota.”
More than 11,000 skiers participate in some fashion over the three-day event, with more than 10,000 spectators. Zuelsdorff says, with numbers like that, it’s a great economic benefit to the area. He says conservatively speaking; the three-day event brings more than $4 million to the area.
Zuelsdorff, who has skied the race 17 times, says the race has only been canceled once since it began in 1973 — and that was in the year 2000.
The American Birkebeiner is made up of several events in addition to the 50K and 54K Birkie marathon races and the 23K Kortelopet race (the second largest ski race in North America). The deadline to register for all the events is January 31, but Zuelsdorff says they’ll likely reach the capacity before Christmas for the February 26th race in Hayward.