Nick Lees: The conditions are excellent and the Birkebeiner Ski Festival 2022 is on

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The Canadian Birkebeiner, the largest classic-style cross-country skiing event in Western Canada, will take place on Saturday, February 12th

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Call for all cross-country skiers who are afraid of the weather.

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The Canadian Birkebeiner, the largest classic-style cross-country skiing event in Western Canada, will take place on Saturday, February 12th.

“The snow conditions are excellent,” says Canadian Birkebeiner President Dave Cooper. “But with the COVID-19 pandemic and the provincial government funding cuts, it will be a lot easier this year.

“There will be no marquee, no beer sales or swap trailers and all food and drinks will be prepackaged commercially.”

Nevertheless, there is great interest, he says. More than 600 skiers have already registered for the personal distances – currently about normal – and the Birkie organizing committee is hoping for about double that.

“We canceled in-person events last year but were a little surprised that the virtual event became so popular. We organized it again this year and hope that the more than 1,000 skiers from all over the world who took part last year will come back. “

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Some members of the Organizing Committee of the Edmonton Birkebeiner Ski Festival will meet on February 4, 2021 at Gold Bar Park in Edmonton.  They are (left to right) Roberta Hyland, Jim Black, Delia Meenhorst, Charles World, Remco Van Euwijk, Annie McKitrick, Brian Lucas and Dave Cooper.
Some members of the Organizing Committee of the Edmonton Birkebeiner Ski Festival will meet on February 4, 2021 at Gold Bar Park in Edmonton. They are (left to right) Roberta Hyland, Jim Black, Delia Meenhorst, Charles World, Remco Van Euwijk, Annie McKitrick, Brian Lucas and Dave Cooper. Photo by Larry Wong /Mail media

The Virtual Birkie is again open to skiers across Canada and around the world. Skiers who record their distances and send in photos can look forward to remarkable prizes.

In case you’re new to Edmonton, The Birkie became a special moment in the lives of many, including former journalist Yardley Jones and myself.

Jones, who will turn 92 on May 4th, convinced me, a non-cross-country skier, to take part in the first 55k Birkie boss in 1985 with him and Allan Mayer, an editor of the journal, who was to become the editor of our newspaper .

“I’ll never forget that extremely cold day as we drove down the river valley from Devon to Fort Edmonton Park,” Jones told me this week. “You became the last in our pack of 127 skiers. But you get recognition for carrying a backpack that symbolizes the weight of the 18-month-old Norwegian boy king Haakon Sverresson, who two Viking warriors carried on skis from Lillehammer to Trondheim in 1206 to save him from his evil, aspiring uncle. “

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In the years that followed, the Journal formed a Birkie team and for many years we won the media category for most kilometers driven.

The writers Andy Ogle, Ed Struzik and Bob Remington, as well as several members of the advertising department, regularly accompanied Jones, Mayer and me while skiing the various Birkie distances.

Today, three such point-to-point lippets are being held around the world – in Edmonton, Norway and the United States

In 1988, after three years of poor snow conditions, the Edmonton Birkie Route was relocated to hiking trails that ran from the Ukrainian heritage village to the Washkahegan staging area in Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area Cooking Lake. The area borders Elk Island National Park and is in the heart of the UNESCO Beaver Hills Biosphere.

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Viking Verner Steinbru cheers on the participants during the Canadian Birkebeiner cross-country skiing race, which starts on Saturday, February 10, 2018 in the Ukrainian cultural heritage village.
Viking Verner Steinbru cheers on the participants during the Canadian Birkebeiner cross-country skiing race, which starts on Saturday, February 10, 2018 in the Ukrainian cultural heritage village. Photo to file Photo /Mail media

“Viking warriors eight centuries ago might have shaved anyone clean by asking for proof of vaccination and identity,” says Cooper. “But our Birkie organizers are doing the right thing in asking attendees to provide such evidence for the February 12th event.”

According to Cooper, the provincial government has slashed Alberta Parks’ budget over the past two years and the staff lacks the flexibility they used to have.

“For the first time ever, trained Birkie volunteers will be using rented equipment, among many other changes, to provide medical assistance and rescue for the 55 km walk, including advanced first aid coverage in the wild,” he says.

“We will also have two ambulances ready and have developed a detailed emergency plan.”

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For three decades, Parks staff has helped Birkie volunteers in a variety of ways, from giving informed advice to moving equipment, says the Birkie president.

“We gave hundreds of hours of trail preparation each year before the snow flew and allowed them to use our BR180 snow groomers with rubber tracks,” he says. “It has proven to be an important piece of equipment for your winter staff.”

Farewell to a friend

Sad news hangs over this year’s Birkie after the death of Dr. George Foxcroft, the Birkebeiner’s course instructor and vice president of the board, who planned this year’s routes.

“Just two days before his 78th birthday on December 8th, George was out checking the Birkie Trails in the Islet Lake area when he died of a heart attack,” says Cooper.

Dr.  George Foxcroft, in a breeding room at the U of A. Pig Research Center.
Dr. George Foxcroft, in a breeding room at the U of A. Pig Research Center. Photo to file Photo

“George was a very popular man with a deep sense of humor and was one of the first people to be appointed to a Senior Canada Research Chair by the University of Alberta. He was widely recognized as a world leader in pig reproduction research. “

Friends said Foxcroft, who rode the 34-mile Birkie in 2018, had an “unmatched” passion for the event.

Former CEO Jim Black has taken over from his friend and joins a team that includes Loppet boss Charles World and Dave McCashin, a professional mountain rescuer who leads a wilderness safety team.

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