Birkie Fever

First things first. I’m not a skier. I’m a writer and photographer. If you want to pick nits, I’m primarily a nature writer and photographer who occasionally, when the mood strikes, likes to cover sporting events.

What that means is that these days I only shoot sports that I enjoy, either as a participant or a spectator. Since I don’t cross-country ski, that means I must enjoy watching it. I do. I’ve discovered that the sports I most enjoy watching are the sports where it’s obvious the participants are actually enjoying the competition. That’s the American Birkebeiner in a nutshell.

Even in the midst of a sprint quarterfinal race, Audrey Weber (35) and Caitlin Gregg (22) show that they ski for the joy of it.

That also means that when the American Birkebeiner rolls around each February, you will most often find me deep in the Wisconsin north woods near Hayward and Cable,  lugging camera gear through deep snow, squatting in drifts, and freezing various parts of my anatomy.

But don’t think I’m complaining. I’m not. I love every minute of the Birkie experience. If you spend any time around the people who participate in and organize the event, it’s easy to see how they get sucked into the Birkie lifestyle. It’s a happy group.

Over the last few years, however, I’ve come to enjoy one of the many Birkie events more than the others.

Of course, the big race, held on Saturday each year, is the primary draw for many. Since it’s an international competition, and the only Worldloppet sanctioned event held in the U.S., it’s a big deal. This year, as always, the Birkie was attended by elite skiers from many nations. The Italian men, for instance, swept the podium in the men’s skate race in a tighter-than-tight finish. It was very cool.

Sergio Bonaldi, (far left) edges out his Italian teammate, Fabio Santus (bib 26) at the finish of the mens freestyle competition atthe 40th Annual American Birkebeiner nordic ski competition, in Hayward, Wisconsin, USA, Saturday, February 23, 2013. The Italians swept the event with Alan Martinelli (bib 25) finishing third.

But for me I’d rather write about, and shoot, the Barkie Birkie–the Friday morning skijoring race held in downtown Hayward. My fascination with the Barkie Birkie is self-evident. I post more images from the event, and spill out more inane commentary about it than I do about anything else Birkie-related. The reason is two-fold.

First, there are dogs! I love dogs…all dogs. Skijoring is really nothing more than harnessing yourself to a willing dog and skiing as fast as you can.

Main Street in Hayward, Wisconsin is the perfect backdrop for the Barkie Birkie.

The whole thing is pregnant with photo ops. Especially when you consider the wildly disparate breeds entered in the competition. Poodles, pinschers, labs, spaniels, this is an equal opportunity event.  I doubt some of the dogs involved have ever pulled anything in their lives. But it’s a  unique canine characteristic, that if you give them something to pull on, they will.

The Barkie Birkie participants, canine and human, enjoy the experience.

The second reason I prefer the Barkie Birkie over all the other events is the crowd. The Barkie Birkie people there for one thing only, to smile and laugh. You will never see so many happy people, spectators and racers, gathered in one place as you will on Friday morning in downtown Hayward, Wisconsin. There will be lots of wagging tails too.

The photographs are all that’s really needed to tell the story, so I’ll be quiet now, except to add that you can see more images from the 2013 Barkie Birkie at www.lodgetrail.com

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