Please join the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation in congratulating the winners of the 2014 American Birkebeiner Warriors & Inga Contest. The three cross country skiers will re-enact the 800-year-old legend that inspired the creation of the American Birkebeiner, now celebrating its 41st year on February 22, 2014. This year’s group consists of Ryan Harden of Carlton, MN; Erik Julsrud, of Duluth, MN; and Jennifer Julsrud of Duluth, MN.

See photos of the winners on the Birkie Warriors & Inga page at

The roles of the two Warriors, Torstein and Skervald, will be played by long-time Birkie skiers and friends Ryan Harden and Erik Julsrud. These two historic warriors rescued Prince Haakon during the Norwegian Civil War in 1206. Jennifer Julsrud, Erik’s wife, another capable and passionate skier, will take on the role of Queen Inga from Varteig, mother of Prince Haakon, and a legendary figure in her own right.

Up for the Challenge

The contest winners were carefully selected by judges who know exactly what it takes to ski the 54-kilometer Birkie Classic Trail, on wooden skis, in full Warrior and Inga costumes, while encouraging their fellow skiers along the way. Each year, those judges are none other than the two groups of skiers who took on these roles the previous two years.

Strong and Passionate Citizen Skiers!

Each group that enters the contest submits information about how many Birkies they have skied, how many they have skied Classic, and what their times were. They also submit a short essay about their team members. People write about all sorts of things–family traditions, strong friendships made closer by skiing, Norwegian connections, and just their love of cross country skiing and the Birkie. It is a big commitment to ski the full Birkie Classic race on wooden skis while wearing period costumes. Entries must demonstrate the group’s skiing ability plus their enthusiasm for taking on these roles.

Erik Julsrud and Ryan Harden have each skied 15 Birkies together, Erik skiing each one classic and Ryan usually skiing skate, but also getting on classic skis, including wooden ones, for recreation. Jennifer Julsrud has skied 5 Kortelopets and one Birkie, which she skied classic. Each applicant each showed solid finish times in these events.

The two Warriors ski the entire Birkie Classic race course. Inga may choose to ski the Birkie or shift to the Kortelopet to encourage skiers on that race course. She would then rejoin the Warriors for the final finish up Hayward’s Main Street. This year the Warriors & Inga will make their entrance onto Main Street, Hayward, early to mid-afternoon to the cheers of thousands of spectators lining the street.

Comments from the Winners

Jennifer Julsrud:

“Ryan is the energetic optimist, Erik’s the even-keeled wise one, and I have a take on the word persistence. Together we’re a good Warrior Inga team. I’m honored to be able to portray such a strong woman in history. For Erik and Ryan, this is a dream. We’re so excited to inspire everyone from racers to spectators. We can’t wait for Birkie week and race day!”

Erik Julsrud:

“Often when I ski through the woods with my dog, I wonder what it was like to be a Birkebeiner. Now I get to be one. Ever since my first Kortelopet I’ve wanted to be one of the Birkie Warriors.

Ryan Harden:

“Thee Birkie is a family tradition which represents wellness, respect for the outdoors, and the spirit of northern Wisconsin, and I am excited to be a part of it.”

A Story of Family, Friends, and Birkie Tradition

Here is the entry essay provided by this year’s winning group, presented by Ryan Harden:

“Growing up in Northern Wisconsin instilled in me a love and respect for the Northwoods. Many weekends are spent at our family cabin near Cable fishing, biking, hunting, and, of course, skiing. In high school, I originally participated as a Birkie spectator and skier in the Citizen’s race. My friend Erik, who I met on our first day of college in 1991, lived in Norway as a child, studied Norwegian in college, and has a father who skied the Norwegian Birkebeinerrennet. In spite of this heritage, I still needed to talk him into skiing our first Kortelopet while graduate students in 1996. That was our first and last Kortelopet. Since that time, we have skied every Birkie together – the 2014 Birkie will be our 16th.

“The Birkie has become an annual tradition for us. Through marriages, children, jobs, we have always found time time to ski the Birkie. Erik’s wife, Jennifer, who will ski as Inga, recently won her age group as she skied the Kortelopet classic. We were filled with pride as we watched all four of our kids participate in the Barnebirkie, including Erik’s son, ‘Haakon.’ The Birkie has evolved from an annual individual endurance event to a weekend festival for friends and family.

As citizen racers, from ski races to marathons to the Fat Tire Festival, neither of us has ever dropped out of a race. Erik is indefatigable on classical skis and though I usually skate the Birkie, I skied the 2003 Birkie with no training on a pair of borrowed, waxless skis. I still regularly use the wood skis I bought second-hand in 1995 to classic ski the trails in Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. Our ability to finish this race on wood skis is unquestionable.

“For us, the Birkie is a celebration of that tradition, wellness, respect for the outdoors and the spirit of Northern Wisconsin. As the race and our friendship have evolved, they will continue to do so and we cherish the memories of Birkies past, embrace the present Birkie and look forward to the Birkies of the future.

“This past year we both celebrated our 40th birthdays, as did the Birkie. Though average skiers, we accomplish this goal on an annual basis through perseverance, dedication, and appreciation for tradition. I believe we embody the dedication which Torstein and Shervold have come to represent. We would be honored to represent these historic warriors.”

Origins of the Birkebeiner Warriors & Inga Legend

The two Viking warriors were called “Birkebeiners” for the protective birchbark leggings they wore. They skied more than 50 kilometers through Norway’s rugged mountains and forested terrain, smuggling the infant son of King Syverresson and Inga of Vartieg from Lillehammer to safety in the town of Trondheim.

The rescued prince became one of the most popular kings in Norwegian history, and the Birkebeiner soldiers became a Norwegian symbol of courage, perseverance, and character in the face of adversity.

On Birkie race day, the two Birkie Warriors and Inga will leave the start gate with the Elite Wave skiers. The rest of the 10,000 skiers will follow every five minutes in alternating skate and classic wave starts. The Warriors and Inga expect to see the majority of those skiers at one time or another along the trail throughout the morning and early afternoon.

They’ll not only re-enact the historic rescue, they’ll inspire 10,500 other skiers, 2,000 volunteers, and more than 20,000 spectators from around the world. The reaction of seeing the very origin of our event come to life like this is hard to put into words. The Warriors and Inga are one of the highlights of the Birkie event for everyone.

“Please join us in congratulating and welcoming this year’s Warriors and Inga!” said Ben Popp, Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation. “We’re looking forward to another great Birkie and together celebrating our rich heritage as cross country skiers, friends, and families on Februrary 20-23.”

Learn more about the Birkie Warrior & Inga Contest For any questions, email or call 715-634-5025.

Thank You to Our Sponsors, including SWIX, Title Sponsor of the Birkie Ski Events, Feb. 20-23, 2014, as well as New Moon Ski & Bike, FITS Socks, Gu Energy, Hammer Nutrition, Marshfield Clinic – Hayward Center, Timber Ford, and dozens of manufacturers of quality cross country ski equipment, gear, and apparel, as well as many professional services.

SKI . RUN . BIKE . LIVE! For information about year-round Birkie events, visit, email, or call 715-634-5025.

Posted December 22, 2013 at 7:45 pm