The 2022 Canadian Birkie Ski Festival – Lets Birkie, Baby!
By D. Mauer, Images by JanStudios.com
The Canadian Birkie Ski Festival, western Canada’s premier classic-style cross country ski event, runs from February 11 to 28, 2022! Based in central Alberta, this unique festival celebrates Nordic ski culture by offering a Loppet distance event for every age and level of cross-country ski enthusiast, from novice to expert.
Additionally, the Virtual Canadian Birkie allows you to cross-country ski, skate ski, cycle, or run, any of the distances on your own time, anywhere in the world. Participants share photos and videos of their achievements on the Virtual Canadian Facebook Group page and can enter photo contests.
Among some of the unique traditions of the festival are costumed Viking skiers, the Vikings Feast, and incredible teams of volunteers from local community organizations providing moral and nutritional support at food stations.
For those skiing the 55 km with pack Torskeklubben Birkebeiner, the backpack must weigh 12 lbs or 5.5 kg. This weight represents the Baby Prince rescued by the Norwegian Birkebeiners, birchbark leg warriors. Legend has it that in 1206, two Norwegian warriors skied 55 km over two mountain ranges to deliver an infant Norwegian prince to safety. The baby prince went on to regain the Norwegian throne from the rebels and restore order to Norway.
The Canadian Birkie is one of only three Birkebeiner nordic ski loppets in the world, with Norway and the USA hosting the other two. The Canadian Birkie takes place before The American Birkie and the Norwegian Birkebeinerrennet. This provides sufficient recovery time for endurance event and ski marathon enthusiasts to recover and travel from Alberta to Wisconsin and/or Norway.
For marathon ski enthusiasts who complete the long course event at all three Birkebeiners, there is a unique recognition award. At the annual Vikings Feast, The Canadian Birkebeiner Society presents the triple-Birkie finishers with a special edition handcrafted Haakon Haakonsson clay stein.
The Haakon Haakonsson award is the tip of the iceberg as awards go for the Canadian Birkie. Launched in 1985, the Canadian Birkie continues the tradition of honouring perseverance, courage, and fortitude on the ski course, as well as in everyday life. The Society gives out awards for groups skiing the most kilometers, volunteers with huge spirit, overall medal winners, and age category finishers. Birkie ski event results for the chip-timed, in-person race distances are posted online along with a livestream of the finish line.
The Canadian Birkie in-person festival is a three-day celebration of cross-country skiing and Nordic legends. Birkie festivities start on Friday, February 11th with package pick-up at the Nordic Fair at the Woodvale Facility in Edmonton. Think of it as a fun cross-country ski trade show with information, samples, and contests. Visit Birkie sponsor booths, pick up your registration package with your race bib and timing chip, purchase a souvenir, get the latest waxing advice, watch waxing demos, and enjoy a sample of Alley Kat beer as you catch up with old and new ski friends.
Veterans of the Canadian Birkie will notice some minor modifications this year, in keeping with government COVID safety requirements. Skiers will self-seed among staggered wave start times on Saturday, February 12th. The start line for the 31 km and 55 km course events is at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, located east of Edmonton, Alberta.
The short course events including the 13 km, 8 km, 2/4 km, start at Waskahegan Staging Area in the Cooking-Lake Blackfoot Recreation Area.
The carefully track-set courses of the Canadian Birkebeiner 13 km, 31 km, and 55 km distances lead you through the beautiful, undulating hills of the extensive birch and coniferous forests of Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area. This pristine wilderness near Strathcona County, Beaver County and Lamont County is known as the UNESCO Beaverhills Biosphere.
This snowy winter forest wonderland is affectionately known by long-time Canadian Birkie skiers as Birkieland. On quiet days skiing the extensive track set trails, attentive skiers can spy moose, grouse, blue jays, woodpeckers and many other species of birds, coyote, wolf, jack rabbits, and in warmer months, the occasional set of black bear or cougar tracks.
Those interested in previewing the terrain of the in-person Canadian Birkie events can view skier-posted photos by joining the interactive Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Skier Facebook page.
The Vikings Feast wrap-up banquet gives skier friends new and old the chance to share stories over a beverage or two and a hearty meal after their day on the course. Birkie veterans can swap stories about course, wax, and temperature challenges of years past. Stories are really the heart of Canadian Birkie. Most of them depict the army of smiling excited skiers, volunteers, and spectators braving the elements in a backdrop of a beautiful western Canadian wilderness in the name of fitness, community, and camaraderie.
Awards will be announced and presented at the annual Vikings Feast event on the evening of Saturday, February 12th in Edmonton, Alberta. Tickets for the Vikings Feast hearty meal and beverage post-race event are only $35 and are available at www.canadianbirkie.com.
Last year, the necessary postponement of the 2021 Canadian Birkie in-person events gave birth to the immensely popular Virtual Canadian Birkie, which very quickly captured the imagination of Canadian Birkie participants old and new. There was participation by Nordic skiers of all levels, literally across the globe. Join the Virtual Birkie Facebook page to see photos and learn about many beautiful Nordic ski destinations submitted by participants from around the world! The Virtual Canadian Birkie is being repeated this year offering a value great option for anyone unable to travel to Alberta to participate in the in-person Canadian Birkie.
The Virtual Bikie is a ten-day event. Not only can you participate anywhere, you can choose to ski, cycle, run, skijor…or any other self-powered activity. The Birkie encourages racers to classic ski, skate ski, roller-ski, skijor, cycle, run, ice skate, snowshoe, or walk their choice of the 4, 8, 13, 31 55 km or 55 km with pack event. You can optionally record your race route on a digital device (i.e. using Strava, Garmin, Polar, etc.), upload screenshot of the stats from your completed distance to the Race Roster page and see how you measured up to other participants. It’s all in good fun and supports the Canadian Birkie while the Festival, like all endurance events, wrestles with the challenges that COVID continues to present for all sport endurance events.
If you crave the camaraderie and good-natured competition of an in-person event, your $20 registration fee also gives you access to the exclusive Virtual Birkie Facebook Group where bragging and sharing photos, videos, and your digital recording of your event are highly encouraged. Proceeds from Virtual Birkie registrations help to ensure the continued operation of the Canadian Birkebeiner Society, a non-profit organization, to support the promotion of cross country skiing.
For families, Birkie weekend fun continues with The Barnebirkie, the Canadian Birkie’s mini family ski festival, taking place this year on Sunday, February 13th at the annual winter Silver Skate Festival in Edmonton’s Hawrelak Park. Little Birkebeiners and their families can ski short distances on a flat course and enjoy hot chocolate and treats around a bonfire afterwards.
The Canadian Birkie invites you to sign-up for one of our recreational and competitive cross country ski events!
Get outdoors, get active and embrace winter this year! We look forward to seeing you in-person, or “virtually” in online photos, this February!
Read last year’s Birkie story here.