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Bust your lungs running a marathon (or two) in the Swiss Alps, ski with the whole family in Wisconsin's Birkebeiner, test your steely resolve in Quebec's new Mont Tremblant Ironman, and seven more amazing excuses to get in shape and plan a world-class vacation in 2012.
American Birkebeiner, Wisconsin
Photograph by Kelly Randolph, American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation
When: February 23 to 25
The American Birkebeiner is more than a ski race. It’s a cultural phenomenon. Every February, some 15,000 skiers descend on the remote northern Wisconsin hamlet of Hayward for three days of races and events—and, more important, to catch up with new and old friends, to hotly debate the merits of waxes, to talk smack to rivals, and to share stories accumulated since the race’s inception in 1973.
The marquee event is the Birkebeiner itself, a 50-kilometer skate-ski race and a 54-kilometer classic cross-country ski race over a hilly, forested course that attracts 6,000 ultra-fit skiers. Though the course is challenging, anyone can sign up, from elite international racers to weekend warriors.
There are also plenty of events for the little ones. Some 1,000 kids, aged 3 to 13 years, race in the Barnebirkie. The race ends on Hayward’s Main Street, just in time to watch elite-level sprints, in which top racers duel in head-to-head 300-meter races.
There’s also the BirkieTour, a noncompetitive ski tour open to all, and events designed purely for fun, like the Giant Ski, in which teams of six people, mounted on 24-foot wooden skis, race each other down Main Street. Above rivalries and ambitions, the crowds are united by one thing: a deep love for all things winter.
Get Planning: Race fees are about $100 for the Birkebeiner; www.birkie.com