A 43-year Time Capsule of North America’s Largest Cross-Country Ski Race

Hayward, WI (August 1, 2016) — Each February more than 10,000 cross-country skiers gather in Wisconsin to take part in North America’s largest and greatest ski race, the American Birkebeiner (Birkie). Considered an iconic world-class sporting event, for over 40-years the Birkie has helped shape the lives of tens of thousands of participants from elite athletes to recreational citizen skiers. To commemorate the legacy of the race and inspire future generations, the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) has announced the Grand Opening of the Tony Wise Museum of the American Birkebeiner on August 5, 2016 in Hayward, Wisconsin.

The American Birkebeiner ski race was the vision of Hayward native Tony Wise, who discovered skiing as a soldier serving in Germany in World War II. After the war, Wise brought his idea home to found Telemark ski resort, near Cable, WI, and later evolved the concept into a cross-country ski race through the north woods of Wisconsin. While the race originally began in Hayward and ended in Cable, WI, since 1993 the race has traveled north to south from the north woods of Cable to Main Street in Hayward, WI. The American Birkebeiner was patterned after the Birkebeiner Rennet ski race held each year in the forests of Norway. Wise’s vision shaped a community, a sport and brought the world together with the founding of the Worldloppet an international sports federation of cross-country skiing marathons.

The American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation is always seeking to further our mission and inspire generations of skiers,” said Ben Popp, ABSF executive director. “Without Tony Wise’s vision, the Birkie wouldn’t be what it is today.” With twin goals of education and inspiration, the Museum will enhance the ABSF’s mission of supporting healthy and active lifestyles among people of all ages and abilities, while restoring the legacy of the race.

The Tony Wise Museum of the American Birkebeiner will transport you back to the origins of the American Birkebeiner through lively, state-of-the-art exhibits hands-on activities, a three-dimensional Birkie Trail model, electronic race scrapbook, numerous race artifacts, and memorabilia. Visitors will find a compendium of historic race film, photographs, and view oral history stories as told by founding skiers, longtime volunteers, and past Birkie staff. With something for all ages, youth can reenact the Birkebeiner legend by donning historic replica costumes in front of a diorama of the Norwegian mountains.

Throughout the museum, visitors will find an emphasis on the stories and legacy of Wise, the Birkebeiners, and the legendary Cable to Hayward Birkie race through the years. The Birkebeiners are popularly celebrated for having escorted the two-year-old Haakon Haakonsson, an heir to the Norwegian throne, to safety from Østerdalen to Trondheim, a long and perilous journey through the treacherous mountains and forests of Norway. Their determination is commemorated each year at the American Birkebeiner Ski Marathon as skiers recreate their courageous journey.

A mere sample of the many unique items in the museum include:

  • The St. Olav Medal, presented to Tony Wise by King Olav of Norway – 1975 (Courtesy of the Wise family)
  • Ski clothing, gear and wax through the years (Gifts of Duncan McLean, Bill Koch, Caitlin Gregg, Madshus, John Kotar, and more)
  • Congratulatory message from President Ronald Reagan to American Birkebeiner race organizers – 1988 (ABSF)
  • Classic ski worn by John Bauer in the men’s 10K classic race, Olympic Games, Albertville, France – 1992 (Gift of John Bauer)

The public is welcomed to attend the Grand Opening of the Tony Wise Museum of the American Birkebeiner on Friday, August 5, 2016 from 6:00pm to 8:00pm. Members of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, the Wise family, and race fans, will gather for the landmark event. The museum is located at 10527 Main Street, Hayward, WI. There is no fee for admission to the museum or the Grand Opening event.

The Tony Wise Museum of the American Birkebeiner has received generous support from Johnson Bank, the Johnson Family Foundation, Marc Hodler Foundation of the International Ski Federation, Walmart, the Birchleggings Club, and more than 350 individuals. In addition, many memorabilia items were gifted to the museum from the family of Tony Wise, past Birkie champions, founding skiers, citizen skiers, and from gracious donors far and wide. Without their support the museum would not have been made possible.

“We are extremely grateful for the support received from so many,” stated Allison Slavick, Tony Wise Museum of the American Birkebeiner, Museum Planner. “From financial support to the sharing of unique memorabilia, stories, and precious artifacts, the museum truly restores the legacy of this great race.”

For additional information about the Grand Opening of the Tony Wise Museum of the American Birkebeiner, please visit www.birkie.com/museum or call the Birkie office at 715-634-5025.

Posted August 1, 2016 at 6:00 pm