The History of the Norweiagan Birkiebeinerrennet
The legenday Birkiebeiner (Birkiebeinerrennet) is Norway’s most traditional cross country ski race over two mountains (54 km). Therace starts at Rena and finishes at the Birkebeiner Ski Stadium in the Olympic town of Lillehammer. It’s been held annually since 1932. The 54 km, classic technic, race crosses two mountains, and the track takes you through breathtaking sceneries. About two thirds of the race is over barren mountains and in regards to total climbs Birkiebeinerennet is the most demanding of the Worldloppet races. All participants must carry a backpack weighing at least 3.5 kg throughout the race with ( windbreaker, pants, spare gloves, hat, food, drink and wax etc.) With its track, wild snow, profile, demanding mountains and the Norweigans relationship to winter the race has become very popular. This year there will be about 12,000 participants.
The Birkebeiner races are based on the historic event of the rescue of Haakon Haakonsson. There was a civil war in Norway. After the birkebeiner chieftain Haakon died on New Years Day in 1204, the baglers saw a dangerous rival pretender in his son Haakon Haakonsson , who was born in 1204, a few weeks after his fathers death. His life was at stake, and the birkebeiners wanted to bring him to safety in Trondheim.
The party came to a small farm at Lillehammer, where they stayed in hiding over Christmas. They found it too risky to follow the route up the Gudbrandsdal valley, so they cut across the mountains to the neighbour valley in east, Østerdalen. The 3,5 kilo pack carried by the present day birkebeiners symbolizes the prince, who later became King Haakon. He made an end to the civil war, and under him Norway had a heyday in the Middle Ages. The birkebeiner expedition made history.
The Day Before The Race!
Everyone woke up very excited but also quite anxious. It was decision time- which skis, which wax, what to wear, what to pack in our bags and of course this all depended upon the weather forecast. Eyes were being kept on the Swix wax recommendations for the race. All of us made a trip to Sports 1 to purchase a few last minute things then the waxing began!! We even had to buy a new iron as the other one blew up in St. Moritz. Paul and John also prepared our pre-race pasta dinner which turned out to be delicious.
In the end John and Dave went with skin skis and Ross, Paul and I went with wax.
We woke up bright and early, 4:30 am to a cloudy day but they predicted the sun was coming out. The temperature was about -5 degrees and their was a light breeze. Everyone was a little nervous and anxious but very excited! We were lucky that we could just ski out the door 2.5 km with our headlamps to the bus pick up. We boarded the nice coach bus to Rena at 5:35am and the trip was about 2 and half hours.
The start area was very large with skiers everywhere you looked, white tents, warming fires with fur covered hay bails and lots of flags. The start was very organized and you were able to put your skis on 15 minutes before the start, which was really nice. The gun went off for each wave and within a few hundred metres we started up what would be about a 20 km steady climb. I didn’t have the best grip which made it very tiring and I knew that I was definitely not skiing on fresh legs after doing the last 4 Loppets. Luckily at about 6 km there were bright red Swix flags waving in the breeze so I pulled up to them and they took off my skis and hot waxed them with some more V45 grip wax. The guy was so nice! He even cleaned under my boots, did up my bindings and wished me a good trip. It really helped and I was so relieved because I was really doubting if I’d make it. Oh thank goodness! The partly cloudy skies had given way to a clear bluebird day! It was a perfect day for a beautiful ski in Norway! I was sweating so had to undo my shirts as low as I could under my bib but I was very happy!
The views were spectacular! We were above the tree line, north of 61 degrees latitude which is further north than Whitehorse! Every food station was well stocked with lots to drink but not much food except some funny looking little butter or cheese sandwiches (I was afraid to try them :)) They had big inflated domes at the entrances and lots of flags. Finally I made it to the 20 km and was so happy to now know that I would be able to make it to the finish. My back was acting up so I decided that I should stop and take some pictures along the way, hence, the pictures of the course. The further along I got more and more people were out cheering and partying! There were large groups and families sitting around dug out fires, with Norweigan flags set up and having barbecues! They were mostly wearing Norweigan sweaters and hats. So much spirit!
I decided I’d enjoy the journey, take pictures and not race as I was just too tired!
At 41 km I arrived at Sjusjoen and there were huge crowds lining the course for about a kilometre! Many were playing loud music and dancing and cheering! It was so motivating and fun to be a skier in this amazing event! Now it was mostly downhill!! The tracks were still in very good shape at this point that I was able to tuck in the tracks for a long way. At the narrow windy downhill area I really took my time- actually even stopped for a second at the top since my legs were shaking from tucking for so long!
I hadn’t seen anyone I knew until very close to the end when I saw John Burke next to me wearing his Canada hat.
At this point I could almost here the announcer at the finish! I double poled as hard as I could on the flats and all of a sudden I saw the stadium!!!!! I was just ecstatic!! It was such an amazing feeling! It had taken me just short of 6 hours but due to my not recovered body, wax issue, sore back and the fact that I stopped at every checkpoint and took pictures along the way I was happy! Ross skied it in 4 hours and 40 minutes!
Ross was at the finish with a big smile!! We had achieved our goal of skiing The Gatineau Loppet (Ross did the 50km classic and skate and I did the 50 km skate) The Vassaloppet, The Night Engadine, The Engadine and the Birkiebeiner in one season! Our Worldloppet passports are filling up and we had a fabulous adventure!
All the boys really enjoyed the World loppet experience and we were all pretty tired that night! The boys were off to do some back-country hut to hut skiing in northern Norway and Ross and I were headed home after an amazing trip! Time to start cycling now!
We are already planning next ski season: the Marcia Longo in Italy, the Konig Lauf in Germany, the Jizerska Padesatka in the Czech Republic and the Fossavatnsgangan in Iceland. That’ll make us Worldloppet Gold Masters (finishing 10 main Worldloppet racers in 10 different countries).
I hope you enjoyed my blog and that it will inspire you to participate in a World loppet somewhere in the world!
They are truly fantastic events to be a part of! Some photos from the professionals will be posted soon.