At the 2021 American Birkebeiner and its associated cross-country ski races next week, there will be no spectators, and competition will take place on closed courses in dozens of age, ability and gender classes – all, of course, thanks to COVID-19.
But the important part – the event will still take place with races scheduled Wednesday through Sunday, Feb. 24 through 28. And, three people associated with the Cameron School District will participate.
They include Joe Leschisin, district administrator, and his 15-year-old daughter, Sydney, as well as Dave Martin, who teaches high school English, communications and reading, and coaches the track team.
The Leschisins will ski the 15-kilometer (roughly eight-mile) Prince Haakon race during Birkie Week. The elder Leschisin and Martin will ski their respective waves of the Birkebeiner skate race, which is usually 50 kilometers (31 miles, but will be just 43 kilometers this year on a shortened course.
A complete schedule is at: https://www.birkie.com/ski/events/2021-races/
It’s not just the coronavirus that has changed the face of the Birkie and the training routines for the Cameron skiers.
Leschisin said last week that the bitter cold has also been a factor.
“We been going out once each weekend since the end of December and skiing the Timberland Hills trails northwest of Cumberland,” he said. “I usually like to ski 15-20 kilometers, but I also like to get a few longer skis in.
“Unfortunately,” he added, “we weren’t tough enough to brave the cold the past two weeks, so our training has been limited to a treadmill.”
A Spooner area resident, Martin has the advantage of being able to ski the Birkie course, itself.
“From my house, I can be on the Birkie trail in about a 30-minute car ride,” he said. “I purchase a Birkie Trail pass every year, and although I ski other trails, most of my training is on the Birkie Trail.”
Instead of a one-way journey between Cable and Hayward, this year’s Birkie and associated races will be on a series of enclosed courses, starting at the trailhead at Telemark Lodge, near Cable, and looping back toward the north at a point on Sawyer County Hwy. OO, a few miles east of Seeley. The Birkie is also allowing a “virtual” option in which competitors can ski the race on a trail of their choosing within a 5-day window.
Leschisin said that since times won’t be counted for future seedings, he expects a bit less competition.
“Things can get pretty intense on the trail (in a normal year),” he said. “When you have 1,000 skiers sometimes (going) elbow to elbow, it can be a bit crazy at times. It should be more relaxed this year.”
Martin said the skiers will still face some challenges because of the new course.
“If you look at the elevation map, (the regular route) slowly descends for 30 miles,” he said. “This year, skiers will have to save a bit in the tank, as they will have to climb back to Cable/Telemark from the turnaround at Seeley.”