Birkie is all about family

The Birkie has become a very important part of our winter since 2004. For 10 years Randy skied the 55km event carrying a 5.5 kg pack. That represented the weight of Prince Haakon. Several skiers would strap on a stuffed animal to represent  the baby. Randy had a bear with a Viking helmet. Sadly the bear has not been out for several years as Randy is now a volunteer instead of a skier. He has taken on the big job of Chief of Stadium and logistics.  He had a good team to work with, but they are just a cog in the big wheel that makes the Birkie work.  Randy’s team is responsible for transforming a large parking lot into a finish line for Birkie Saturday races and a staging area for others. They needed a large heated tent for warming up, eating and socializing. They needed change trailers, bus loading zones (there is limited parking and the start line for the long ski event is miles away) and a flashy finish line. Each skier is announced as they finish, it is exciting and festive.

I have never skied the Birkie but I volunteer. For many years I provided first aid at one of the many food stations along the route, that was fun to see the skiers pass by.  The past few years I have helped out at the end zone doing various tasks and I enjoy that. 

This year was very exciting for us as our 3 month old Granddaughter, Annette, was nominated to be the 2020 Birkie Baby, she represents Prince Haakon. Her role was to be at the start line of the kids race. The race is called the Ole’ and is 2 or 4 kms. Fun to watch the little ones on skis. She also attended the Saturday night Viking Feast, she was introduced to the crowd and the legend was told by Viking warriors. On Sunday there is a kids event called Birkie Sunday. It is held in a river valley park in Edmonton. It was well attended by many little Viking warriors on skis. Annette handled her role with grace and was very cute. Of course we were very proud grandparents. My friend, Mary, knit her  Viking hat.

Now that we have finished our volunteer jobs we can ski our own Birkie. Of course there is no fancy start or finish line, no crowds to cheer us on and no food stations. However, we are guaranteed to win.

Ann and Randy Stebner

“Did we save the baby?”

A number of years ago, possibly 2010 or earlier when the Edmonton Journal was a sponsor, John Lucas was the lead photographer who was assigned to photograph the Birkie. He did so well that one of his photos became the front page the day following the event.

The photo was of a Viking on skis with several youngsters following. This Viking was the “Pied Piper” and I happened to watch some of the 4K trail event. It was certainly stirring to me. I went to the finish line to cheer the young skiers in.

I was dressed with a volunteer bib and official arm band. As I was handing out chocolate coins one of the young skiers approached me. He could not have been more than four years old. He asked me “Did we save the baby” – He must have been briefed about the saga and understood it in today’s terms. I replied “Yes – of course – the baby was saved”. He gave me the biggest smile you could imagine and I directed him to his hot chocolate drink and hotdog.

He made my day!

by Brian Lucas  

Birkie Trail Blazers

Trailgroomers having fun in the sun and SNOW today in Birkieland! There are about 25 Trail Blazers who work in small groups to cut back shrubs, move debris and make trail improvements with Alberta Parks staff.

Birkie Station at Tour de l’Alberta

Eight Birkie volunteers ran our busy aid station at the Tour de l’Alberta bike race! Way to help out!!! They gave out tourtière, sandwiches, crepes and fruit at the Miquelon Lake rest stop. Thanks for being the best year-round volunteers rain, snow or shine!

New office for the Birkie

Moving Day!!!!!! The Birkie moved to a new office today. We are so excited!!! Thank you to our volunteers who hauled furniture and storage boxes to our new address. We so greatly appreciate your assistance. Our new address is Canadian Birkebeiner Society, 7240 – 82 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta T6B 0G1. Let us know at 780-430-7153 when you are coming down to check out our new place. 

Birkie One Story

Written by Frank Haley who presented this speech at the Vikings Feast on February 9, 2019

The first Edmonton Birkebeiner ski race was set for the second Saturday in February of 1985, to start from Devon, and finish at Fort Edmonton. The course followed the river, downhill. It sounded easy. We had our wooden skis and Nordic Norm three-pin bindings.

Many of us stayed at the Devon Hotel on Friday night. When we met at breakfast. There was a rumor that the temperature was colder than the approved -25 degrees Celsius, measured by a mercury thermometer in the hands of the Official Starter. There was a possibility of cancellation.

Naturally, we skiers were concerned. The start time was getting closer, opinions were offered, start or no start. 

At a couple of minutes before the scheduled start time, the Starter went outside, then came back in, and announced that the thermometer read just above the magic number of -25 degrees Celsius, and the race was on. Someone noted that Starter’s thumb was remarkably close to the thermometer’s bulb, but no one mentioned that. The race started on time. The temperature did warm up, there were no recorded complications and everyone was happy. The volunteers manned their station, the First Aiders gave assistance, and the timers timed. The volunteers who waited in the cold, they deserved a medal.

That start hasn’t been matched for suspense and drama.

Thank, Mr. Starter with the educated and warm thumb.

Spirits of the Birkie

by Jayleen Wilke

My most memorable/touching Birkie story doesn’t necessarily come from the race itself but from an encounter at the Vikings Feast after the big race. After 6 years of doing the Birkie Lite, in 2017, I thought it was finally time to go to the feast and see what it’s all about. And of course I was not disappointed with all the great food, prizes, and a room full of friendly people. But what was the real treat was that my mother and I just happened to sit at a table with Birkie legends Phil and Cathy Dunn and others who have been involved in the Birkie for many years.

We had a great conversation, and I heard many stories of the beginnings of the Birkebeiner. But what really struck me was after I had mentioned I had been carrying my late father’s bib with me these past few Birkie’s and that’s when Phil told me that he also just crossed the finish line with a memento of a loved one who had passed away as well. I nearly broke into tears when he told me because it was so touching and made me realize I am not the only one carrying more than just myself across the finish line.

My Dad was the one who got me into XC skiing and I cheered him on when he left to go do the Birkebeiner. It wasn’t long until I did my first 55km Lite Birkie with him when I was 15 years old and I have not missed one since. I know for a fact that my Dad would not have missed one either if he was still around. That’s why I carry his bib from 2014, the last Birkie he did; to give me more motivation to keep going so I can make sure we still finish. So if you see someone racing with two different bibs, it’s just me and I didn’t steal anyone’s bib!

This year will be my 8th Birkie and the 4th without my dad beside me. But I will always have his bib close to my heart. And after meeting Phil, I know I am not the only one crossing the finish line for someone else and I think I can say that for most of us, the Birkie is so much more than just a race.

Photo credit: Jayleen Wilke

A True Clothing Bag Story

by Jim Black, veteran and scarred skier

Once upon a time ….in the early days of the Birkie – perhaps 1994 … in the era when skiers were provided a black plastic bag and number tag for their clothes to be transported from the UCHV to Waskahegan …

I arose up early on Birkie morning, as per custom – had a hearty breakfast and tied up the full and black household garbage bag for transport out to the garage. I then waxed my skies and packed my warm end of ski’ clothes in the black Birkie bag and affixed the number tag … very organized and all set to head out to the start line.

I arrived at the UCHV in good time, weighed in my pack, had a few cookies to save stopping at the first Food Station and dropped my `clothes’ bag at the clothing tent. The race went very very well. It was completely icy that year (silver klister all the way!) and I posted my best time ever – 4.5 hours (if I may

Very pleased with the day and my new found speed, I picked up my bag at the clothing tent and proceeded to the change trailer. Found a comfortable and very warm seat and settled in for the best 15 minutes of every Birkie – expounding upon (and, if necessary to maintain top dog status – perhaps even
enhancing) ones exploits in taming the 55.

Sat down and absent mindedly undid my bag looking forward to some fresh dry duds ….. there was an immediate recoil by all within 20 feet as the putrid odour of garbage gently wafted through the trailer … people diving out the door and so forth.

So ….. I turned to the Birkie newby sitting in the next chair and queried `What? …you didn’t bring your garbage bag?’ …. And walked out. The offending bag was tossed in a bin. As a very experienced skier I immediately – and I believe correctly – assessed that there was precious little warmth and even less
comfort to be found in banana peels.

Fortunately it was a warm day.