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With so many unexpected adventures right here in Wisconsin, this series helps you discover great places to visit throughout the state.

The American Birkebeiner: The celebrated annual skiing festival in Hayward, WI

Skiers prepare to embark on the Birkebeiner race trail
Bob Pearl
American Birkebeiner marketing
Skiers prepare to embark on the Birkebeiner race trail

Wisconsin is home to 50 state parks and more than 40 historic landmarks. With so many unexpected adventures and places to discover, there's certainly a thrilling destination and event to visit on your next vacation. Wandering Wisconsin is dedicated to highlighting some of the most fascinating and unique events and places across our state. For this month's segment, we travel to Hayward, WI to explore an annual outdoor skiing event with historic roots that are centuries old.

Skiing naturally requires snow and planning outdoor winter events is dependent on an accurate snow report for the season. Fortunately, this year's Wisconsin Snow Report is available courtesy of Travel Wisconsin. According to Amanda Weibel, the Travel Wisconsin communications officer, this resource is highly sought after each year due to the crucial information it holds.

"The Wisconsin Snow report is the most popular resource on travelwisconsin.com each year, and if you haven't used the report before, it is an interactive map detailing snow conditions at downhill skiing and snowboard hills," says Weibel.

Forecasts are indicating favorable skiing conditions for this year's American Birkebeiner festival. This annual event is a 50 kilometer ski race that spans from Cable, WI and Hayward, WI and features participants from every U.S. state as well as 27 other countries.

Ben Popp, the executive director of the race, details how the race began from a Norwegian tradition. In 1206, the monarchy in Norway was besieged by subjects of the kingdom who decided to take over the country by abducting the young prince. Once their attack was imminent, the royal family escaped by the fastest and most effective route to safety and traveled 55 kilometers on skis to save the prince. The prince then grew into a historically prominent Norwegian king and established one of the country's strongest dynasties.

In the 1900s, Norway established the Birkebeiner race to pay homage to this history. In the 1970s, a Hayward native and former WWII tank veteran visited Norway to learn more about the event as he was highly interested in cross-country skiing. He decided to establish the race in his hometown and the first American Birkebeiner began in 1973.

The event has grown over the years and draws crowds of both participants and spectators. "What is unbelievably inspiring is standing at the finish line and watching people of all ages, all abilities, come down Main Street with the sense of accomplishment that you see on their faces. And to see that all the work that you spend all year getting ready for — what that means to all the folks that are completing it," Popp says.

The event typically draws between 25,000 and 30,000 spectators and visitors. With the high concentration of people in the area for the event, finding lodging can be challenging. The immediate areas of Cable and Hayward are already booked up for this year's race. However, there are other nearby areas that have some options. Weibel suggests Rice Lake, Ashland and the Washburn areas.

A prime location in the Hayward area would be the Lenroot Lodge, a ten-room hotel with preferable access to the trail.

Also in the area are convenient food spots and shops. "[The race] ends in downtown Hayward on Main Street. So, that puts you close to all kinds of restaurants and bars and opportunities to pop in, warm up, refuel and still be right in the center of the excitement and energy of all the event," Weibel says.

Coops Pizza Parlour

"It is just a few blocks off of Main Street. It's been a family favorite since 1979. Of course, their pizza is amazing. They also have great Italian favorites on the menu," says Weibel.

Seeley Sawmill Saloon

"It is about the midway point of the Berkie — between Cable and Hayward. So, it is a great location to stop at if you are following some skiers along the way. It's actually attached to the Lenroot Lodge. It's a great place to grab a burger. They have an amazing fish fry on Fridays too. They've got great pizzas and they often have live music in the evening. So it's definitely a fun place to check out."

This year's American Birkebeiner will take place on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023.


Becky is WUWM's executive producer of Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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