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Birkie options melting with snow

The lead group of elite men's skate skiers nears the Highway OO food station during the 2013 American Birkebeiner ski race from Cable to Hayward. (2013 file / News Tribune)

Beset by rain and melting snow, Northwestern Wisconsin’s iconic American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race is in jeopardy, race officials acknowledged Tuesday.

At best, participants in the 44th Birkie will compete in a one-way, timed race from Cable to Sawyer County Highway OO — the halfway point of the traditional race course that ends in Hayward.

Calling it “a very slim chance,” race officials said some snow remained on the northern half of the trail.

"I'm going to be honest, that's about less than 1 percent (chance of) happening,” Birkie executive director Ben Popp said of the half-distance race in a video message Tuesday. “There's a chance we might get some snow and it could happen, and we're moving forward as if it could, but I want to be realistic and let you know that it's very unlikely to happen."

Temperatures in Hayward climbed into the 50s once again on Tuesday, and were forecast to reach the 50s again Wednesday with a chance of light rain.

There is a chance for accumulating snow on Friday, but on Tuesday contingency plans were coming as fast as the snow was melting.

By Monday, an elegant finish over the 55-kilometer race’s trademark International Bridge in downtown Hayward was out, and by Tuesday all of the ancillary adult events scheduled to take place Friday — including the Kortelopet and Prince Haakon races — had been pushed to Saturday, the traditional day of the signature race.

If conditions don’t allow for the half-distance, timed race, among the other contingencies being considered by race organizers Tuesday was an untimed event for Birkebeiner, Kortelopet and Prince Haakon skiers on a loop of trail north of Highway OO. That would happen if “there is enough snow and conditions are such that 10,000-plus participants can safely ski (but conditions are) unsafe for a competitive race,” officials announced.

If there is no way to safely hold a skiing event, race officials said they will stage “a first-ever winter Birkie run and street party celebration in downtown Hayward.”

Also on Tuesday, race officials said Thursday’s Barnebirkie, Junior Birkie and Barkie Birkie events will be converted to foot races in Hayward.

Thursday's opening ceremonies, Elite Sprints, Birkie adaptive ski and Nikkerbeiner have been canceled for this year. The Birkie Expo will be held as scheduled Thursday and Friday.

Officials did not respond to phone calls from the News Tribune on Tuesday seeking further comment on the event changes.

On the race Facebook page, organizers noted that 1.1 inches of rain and unseasonable temperatures Monday served to deteriorate the race course beyond any possibility of a normal event.

“The safety of our participants is first and foremost in our minds, followed by our goal of creating the best possible participant experience for all,” officials said in a news release.


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