Tony Wise Museum of the American Birkebeiner
About the Museum
Each February thousands of cross-country skiers gather in Wisconsin to take part in North America’s largest and greatest ski race, the American Birkebeiner. 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) created 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 concept home to found Telemark ski area, 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 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 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.
It is not too late to become a Museum Founder! Click here to Become a founder of the Tony Wise Museum of the American Birkebeiner
Museum Founders – those who give $100 or more – will be permanently recognized in the Museum and receive a certificate and a beautiful embroidered patch. Help us reach our goal of 500 Founders.
About Tony Wise
- Tony Wise was a visionary and tireless promoter of northern Wisconsin.
- Upon returning from World War II, Wise started Telemark ski resort in 1947 and operated the Cable, WI area lodge through 1984
- In 1973, Wise founded the American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race from Hayward to Cable, WI
- Wise founded the Lumberjack World Championships in Hayward, WI
- Wise founded Historyland and the local lumberjack shows in Hayward WI
- In 1957, Wise formed the Sawyer County Historical Society located in Hayward, WI
- Wise was an avid environmentalist and instrumental in the protection of the Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers and their respective designations as Wild and Scenic National Riverways in northern Wisconsin
- Wise served in the Army National Guard as Company Commander and Lieutenant Colonel in Hayward, WI
- In 1963, Wise received the Eisenhower Trophy for the most outstanding Army National Guard Unit in Wisconsin, the Red Arrow Division
- Wise formed the Worldloppet, an international sports federation of cross-country skiing marathons. The federation was founded in 1978 in Uppsala, Sweden with a goal of promoting the sport of cross-country skiing through various ski races around the world. Only one and the best race from a country can be a member of Worldloppet. Today, the Worldloppet unites 20 races from Europe, America, Asia and Oceania.
- Wise lost Telemark Ski Resort through bankruptcy in 1984. When Wise tried to retain his rights to the American Birkebeiner ski race, the court ruled against him. In 1984, members of the Cable and Hayward communities stepped forward to form the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) to continue the popular ski race. The ABSF continues its strong governance of the race today.
- Wise was instrumental in establishing the legendary Birkebeiner Trail system. Today, the Birkie Trail recreational system spans over 100 kilometers from Bayfield to Sawyer county in northern Wisconsin
- In 1975, in recognition of founding the American Birkebeiner; spreading Norwegian culture and traditions; and strengthening ties between Norway and the United States; Wise was awarded the St. Olav Medal by King Olav V of Norway. He was honored with an audience with King Olav at the Royal Palace in Oslo in 1977.
- In 1988, Wise was inducted into the United States Ski Hall of Fame
- Tony Wise passed away on April 6, 1995 in Hayward, Wisconsin