Yes You Can: Ski the Birkebeiner

With temperatures below zero, more than 4,500 feet of climbing, and 9,400 competitors, Wisconsin’s American Birkebeiner is the largest and one of the toughest cross-country ski races in the United States. Crossing the finish line is nothing short of a lifetime achievement. Here's our plan to get you there, even if the closest you've come to snow is the frost in


Skating to the finish    Photo: Darlene Prois

At some point, perhaps while you're waiting in the negative-ten degree weather at the starting line of the American Birkebeiner, you’ll question your sanity. Depending on which course you chose, the classic or skate race, you have 33.5 or 31 miles, respectively, between you and the brats and Floppin’ Crappie Ale in the 50-degree tent at the finish.

When the race begins, you and 9,399 other skiers will take to 20-foot-wide groomed trails that wind through the birch, maple, and pine trees around the towns of Cable and Hayward. Except for the mangled mess of skis cracking against shins at the start, you’ll enjoy the camaraderie and the grace of planks sliding through snow.

Then you’ll hit Bitch Hill, a 14 percent, 660-foot-long incline six miles from the finish. That’s not the worst of it. If there’s a heavy headwind blowing across Lake Hayward, be prepared to hunker down and form a paceline with fellow competitors. On the other side, you’ll hear crowds cheering and bells ringing as you take your final strides down Main Street’s finish chute.

"During the race, you’ll think, Why am I doing this?" says Ned Zuelsdorff, the Birkie’s executive director. "Then a couple weeks after crossing that finish line, you’ll be signing up again."

Sign up quickly; last year’s race sold out in mid-December. Start our 16-week training plan—by renowned Birkie coach Bill Pierce—and read on so you won't be questioning your wax, layer choice, and stamina at the starting line.

1. 12 Tips for Race Day

2. Nutrition Guide

3. Training Plan

Take Your Training to the Next Level — Sign up for the Interactive Training Plan from the Outside Fitness Center to get email reminders, watch instructional videos, and track your progress online.

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