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The 40th American Birkebeiner Kicks-off in Hayward

Posted at: 02/21/2013 10:26 PM
Updated at: 02/21/2013 10:28 PM
By: Maarja Anderson
manderson@wdio.com

The American Birkebeiner is all about tradition and this year it celebrates 40 years. Organizers added a new event on opening day to look back to that first race in 1973. They held the first ever "Nikkerbeiner," a 5 kilometer ski tour on wooden skis. Skiers showed off their bibs from past Birkies, ski suits from the 1970s, and even a pair of wooden skis from 1941.

Skiers said the event reinforced the strong Birkie tradition.

"This is more important to my family than Christmas," said Michelle Stone of Amery, WI. "We can move Christmas, but the Birkie is the Birkie and we're here every year."

Organizers are expecting a record turnout this year with 13,000 skiers and 20,000 more people cheering them on. The American Birkebeiner brings in over $5 million to the area in just four days.

An opening ceremony followed the first "Nikkerbeiner." A Parade of Nations showed nearly every state and 22 countries were included in this year's event.

The strong tradition continued as the winner of the first ever American Birkebeiner, Sam Ersson of Sweden, lit the torch and officially started this year's races.

After two days of festivities, the American Birkebeiner will start at 8 a.m. on Saturday in Cable, WI.