By Eva Apelqvist
The Birkebeiner trail system, all eighty-eight kilometers of it, while enjoyed by skiers of all levels and competence is, for a number of reasons, especially appropriate for elite level skiers. (It’s not an accident that the International Paralympic Committee repeatedly chooses to hold the IPC Nordic Skiing World Championships in Cable, Wisconsin, using these very trails.) And elite skiers do indeed flock to the area.
The sheer length and quality of these northwestern Wisconsin trails is a great magnet for ski enthusiasts, of course, not to mention the majestic beauty of old pine, mountains and deep river valleys, but there are other, perhaps more important aspects of the Birkie trails that tend to attract higher level skiers.
One example of things that attract elite skiers is the five-kilometer homologated stretch nestled in among the numerous “North End Trails,” offering a setting for internationally sanctioned races. But there is more. While trailheads are numerous, easily accessible and well-mapped along the entire trail, a centrally located trailhead with a cozy warming house in Seeley known as “OO,” has become a natural Upper Midwest gathering spot for expert skiers and coaches and is the site for elite (as well as other-) level classes. “OO” also features five kilometers of popular lighted loops for evening training and a trail camera where skiers can monitor area activities and snow conditions 24/7 from home before heading out.
Because there are simply so many of them, the Birkebeiner trails don’t feel crowded even though classic skiers and skaters train side by side. All skate trails are also set with classic tracks, though some trails, including the famous “new” 27K Birkie Classic Trail, are only tracked for classic.
Ski Shops, Restaurants, Hotels
It would not be right to discuss the Birkebeiner ski trails without mentioning the professional infrastructure that has grown up around this ingrained cross country ski culture. Two high-end ski shops, New Moon and Riverbrook Bike and Ski in Hayward, draw elite and other high level skiers. Here area visitors can buy quality equipment and replace broken gear as needed. Both shops offer expert stone grinding and waxing. New Moon is well-known for its custom grind to match snow quality. Nearby Hayward has restaurants, clean hotel rooms and a hospital in case of an emergency. Skiers might also want to experience the creative and delicious cuisine of Rookery Pub Fine Dining or have a fresh, stone-oven baked pizza at Rivers Eatery. Both restaurants are located in Cable, which is also the home of the conveniently located Brick House Café downtown Cable, serving not only good food and yummy desserts, but also – hallelujah - good coffee.
A Birkie Lifestyle
Kent Adams, a first wave Birkebeiner Ski Race skier, moved with his family from Minneapolis to northern Wisconsin to be closer to these diverse trails with reliable snow coverage and highly professional grooming. His children grew up training with some of the best cross country skiers in the country and his daughter is now an elite skier in her own right.
“I came here to live the Birkie life-style,” Adams said. “I want to continue to ski the Birkie trail until I cannot physically do it anymore.”