The American Birkebeiner is more than a ski race. It’s a cultural phenomenon. Every February, some 15,000 skiers descend on the remote northern Wisconsin hamlet of Hayward for three days of races and events—and, more important, to catch up with new and old friends, to hotly debate the merits of waxes, to talk smack to rivals, and to share stories accumulated since the race’s inception in 1973.
The marquee event is the Birkebeiner itself, a 50-kilometer skate-ski race and a 54-kilometer classic cross-country ski race over a hilly, forested course that attracts 6,000 ultra-fit skiers. Though the course is challenging, anyone can sign up, from elite international racers to weekend warriors.
There are also plenty of events for the little ones. Some 1,000 kids, aged 3 to 13 years, race in the Barnebirkie. The race ends on Hayward’s Main Street, just in time to watch elite-level sprints, in which top racers duel in head-to-head 300-meter races.
There’s also the BirkieTour, a noncompetitive ski tour open to all, and events designed purely for fun, like the Giant Ski, in which teams of six people, mounted on 24-foot wooden skis, race each other down Main Street. Above rivalries and ambitions, the crowds are united by one thing: a deep love for all things winter.
“The flame was pretty gnarly,” recalls 23-year-old telemark freeskier Chris Ewart. “But the size of the jump itself was enough to make me completely forget that there was even a flame there!” The local freeheeler took first place for landing a huge double front-flip off a 70-foot jump during the Telemark Big Air competition last Saturday on Golden Peak during the inaugural Winter Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado.
In the first event of its kind, the skiers alternated with ten of the world’s best freestyle mountain bikers, who dazzled the crowd in the Best Trick Bike competition. BMX rider Chad Kagy took top honors for his backflip tail whip. Many of the riders had never practiced on snow until the day of the event.
Likewise, Ewart had never tried this trick in competition before, but decided to go big. “All the bikers and freeheelers were super positive in the drop-in gate and it was crazy to see people from both sports throwing down. The crowd was cheering and getting excited. The whole mood of the night got me really stoked up to try it out,” says Ewart, who is also an EMT.
Such audacious feats happening in the air come with some carnage in the landings. Yet after each crash, the competitor shook it off with great style to the delight of the crowd of 5,000 people. “I crashed a couple of times,” says Ewart. “Some of the other guys had some nasty falls, but props to them for continuing and throwing down hard even afterward.”
For the mountain bikers, the frosty terrain brought some benefits. “The snow makes it much harder to land, but it doesn’t hurt nearly as bad when you don’t,” says rider Cameron Zink.
The festival’s events included races for elite and amateur athletes in mixed climbing, Nordic skiing, ski mountaineering, snow biking, snowshoeing, and running, as well as gear demos, bands, parties, and great conditions for skiing and snowboarding.
Nordic Freestyle Races, Winter Teva Mountain Games, Vail, Colorado: Olympic skiers Leif Zimmerman and Rebecca Dussault won the men’s and women’s 10K nordic freestyle race respectively on Friday.
The Winter Teva Mountain Games is attracting some of the world’s best athletes to Vail as a cadre of Olympians, national champions and young phenoms lined up to compete in nordic skiing and mixed climbing events on day one of the three-day festival.
Skiing Mount Etna, Italy: In the midst of rumbles and eruptions yesterday, skier-filmmaker Nick Waggoner skins up during an Etna paroxysm. Waggoner, one of our 2012 Adventurers of the Year, is joined by freeskiers Kim Havell and Elyse Saugstad and photographer Grant Gunderson.
The first Winter Teva Mountain Games comes to Vail, Colorado, this weekend with competitions in big-air bike, ski mountaineering, mixed climbing, and much more. Top athletes and weekend warriors will compete their chunk of a $60,000 cash purse. Stay tuned for updates.
Just what makes a classic ski town? It starts, naturally, with skiing and snowboarding so good they attract people like youth-bestowing fountains. Then add an inviting mountain burg steeped in ski heritage, amenities, and culture. These are the 25 best. For insider tips, we asked local luminaries where to stay, play, and party, whether you’re on a budget or indulging.
Ski Superpipe, 2012 Winter X Games, Aspen, Colorado
"It is very exciting to perform at a high level in front of a massive crowd like this," says freeskier Tucker Perkins, seen here completing a switch right-side cork 720 in the Men’s Ski Superpipe Finals at the Winter X Games on January 28, 2012. The sculpted superpipe, located on Aspen, Colorado’s Buttermilk Mountain, measures 22 feet in height. Perkins came in fifth place in a competition that was considered the most exciting men’s ski superpipe thus far, with epic performances, unexpected crashes, and some newcomers on the podium.
The spirit of pioneering, world champion freestyle skier Sarah Burke was felt throughout both the men’s and women’s events. In her lifetime, Burke won four golds at the Winter X Games and successfully lobbied to get the ski superpipe added to the 2014 Winter Olympics. She died on January 19, 2012, from injuries sustained during a training accident. “I knew Sarah Burke well,” notes Perkins. “It was an extremely unfortunate accident, but she would have wanted us to ski our hearts out at this event. We all did it for her.”
Holding the world record for snowfall last year, the bountiful Pacific Northwest of North America is the ideal location for a two-week, no fixed itinerary, powder adventure. Cody Townsend, Elyse Saugstad, and Leo Ahrens indulge themselves in the snowiest month of the snowiest year in a decade.