Reflections on the 2023 American Birkenbeiner


Reflections on the 2023 American Birkenbeiner

In 2023, Fischer sent two amateur cross-country skiers to the American Birkenbeiner. This is what they think every skier should know about how to race and participate in the event.

Katie Bradish and Jon Jay are not professional Nordic skiers. But they do participate in the sport at a slightly more-than-general-enthusiast level, leading them both to participate in the 2023 American Birkenbeiner 50-kilometer skate ski race. For Katie, this would be her second time skiing from Cable to Hayward. This was Jon’s first time in a Nordic skiing race and his first time in Wisconsin.

What would you tell someone thinking about racing in the Birkie?

Katie: First, a question. Are you sure? 50 kilometers is a long way. What if you just went to Wisconsin for a nice little Northwoods ski trip? You could eat some cheese, pat the 143-foot-long muskie sculpture, and enjoy what the majority of people supposedly enjoy about Nordic skiing: the alone time.  But if you insist on bib-ing up and hitting the deck with thousands of people, just remember that aiming for anything other than fun and an intact finish is, in a word, misguided.  

Jon: I totally agree about aiming to have fun. I had a head cold the week prior to the event, so I went into the race with the mentality that I was just going to spend half a day outside skiing with thousands of my new best friends. And even though I might have stepped on some other skis and nearly ran over multiple people at the feed zones, I like to think everyone considered me a new friend too. It’s a very welcoming event.

Katie Bradish training for the Birkie

How did you train for race day?

Jon: My job doesn’t allow a lot of training time in the winter, so I would try to get out for a ski anytime it snowed enough in my town that the local Nordic club could groom a loop in the park. I also skied while pulling my 1-year-old daughter in a Thule Chariot for some weight resistance, and worked with my local training center in Colorado to design Birkie-specific workouts on the SkiErg machine.

Katie: I wish I was able to train with a SkiErg for my double poling strength, that’s the only way to pass safe-ishly. Also, when you’re preparing for the American Birkenbeiner, don’t be a conditions diva. Ski the ungroomed crud, ski the sticky new snow, ski the ice. By the time the average skier is on course for the race, not a stitch of corduroy will be visible. Think ankle-deep mashed potatoes on the ascents and bullet ice on the descent. Knowing how to ski variable conditions is important. If going faster is really, truly that big of a deal, sign up for a regional qualifier that has far less people and get a placement in a faster wave. 

Speedmax 3D skis with Birkie stickers

How did you prep your Fischer gear for the American Birkenbeiner?

Jon: I worked with a shop in Hayward—New Moon Ski and Bike—and had them wax my skis with the “Speed at All Costs” package. This prep work on the Fischer Speedmax 3D Helium skis meant I glided twice as far up hills as everyone else in the race, and even had enough glide on the uphills that I might have bumped a few people over on accident (sorry, new friends!).

Katie: I have a pretty big crush on my Fischer Speedmax Boots. Distance events usually end in foot carnage, but not in these. I spent a lot of time showing off my boots to anyone even slightly interested, saying sweet nothings to my boots, and debating on which socks were the luckiest pairing with my boots. But my race wax was a different story. A big storm system came rolling through just before the race and my flight was delayed, canceled, and delayed again, so I tossed an extra layer of Toko Blue on my Fischer Speedmax 3D’s pre-flight and that was it. Toko Blue was a basically good guess for the conditions, but I am far from a pro wax tech. I’m a little jealous of Jon’s “Speed at All Costs” package. 

What key moment or item helped get you through the race?

Katie: At one point, the endless sea of skiers in front clogged the way forward and a large Hawaiian-shirted person ran fully over me, creating a domino effect and sending me into other skiers. I was pretty indignant for a while but regained my sense of humor around the halfway point when the Turn Back – You’re Not Going to Make It! sign appeared trailside. 

Back home in Idaho, I’ve been—we’ll say vocal—about snowmobilers. But at the Birkie, it’s their turn to have a laugh and, in their own special way, show support. Sledheads line the most treacherous descents of the course revving their mechanical steeds and cackling with glee with each racer wipeout. Maybe next year I’ll join them? Attend the Birkie as a newly-minted sledhead?

Jon: I was happy to have worn a hydration belt with some electrolyte mix and some spare gels as most of the aid stations were chaotic. Being able to pause for a drink on the side of the trail during some flat sections and take in the woods where it was relatively peaceful reminded me that skiing is just a fun way to experience nature. And having a shot of Jagermeister on the lake a few kilometers from the finish line definitely helped me savor the moment of coming down the International Bridge onto Main Street.

Final words of advice for anyone thinking about doing the next American Birkenbeiner?

Jon: While the race is great and certainly the highlight of the festival, it’s important to remember there is so much more going on at the American Birkebeiner that is worth checking out. From the Giant Ski Race to the Para Birkie to the Barkie Birkie to the Expo, there are laughs and inspiration to be found all week long. And remember to drink a Spotted Cow!  

Katie: Endurance events allow access to all the shades in one’s emotional crayon box. Not always in the same sequence, but excitement, joy, fear, anger, despair, and two-to-one self-deprecation and self-aggrandizement all make an appearance. This race had them all. And while I didn’t come over the International Bridge into Hayward anywhere near the time I thought I would, another Birkie is under the belt and I had enough juice left in the tank to go out skiing on the Hyland Lake Park Reserve in Minneapolis before my flight home. My Fischer Speedmax 3D skis proudly sport the 2023 Birkie tags, and there is plenty of season left to enjoy a bit of alone time on trail.