Total participation has declined, but organizers of Norway’s annual Birkebeiner ski race were setting a record for international representation this year. The number of Swedes competing has doubled.
Around 13,000 skiers were starting the upcoming Easter holidays by skiing the Birkebeiner’s 54-kilometer course, og at least half of it, over the mountains from Rena in Østerdalen to Lillehammer in Gudbrandsdalen. Among them were Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon, Denmark’s Crown Prince Fredrik and the sister of the UK’s Princess Kate, Philippa Middleton.
All told, 1,550 non-Norwegian racers were registered from 44 countries. That’s not nearly as many as those racing in other major long-distance cross-country skiing races like Sweden’s own Vasaloppet and Italy’s Marcialonga, but Birkebeiner organizers were pleased. “We have intensified efforts outside Norway,” Jean Gehin, project leader for Birkebeiner’s foreign market, told newspaper Dagsavisen.
The total number registered is well below record levels, with organizers blaming much of that on this year’s early Easter holidays. The race falls on the Palm Sunday weekend, and many Norwegians have family obligations or other travel plans. That didn’t stop Crown Prince Haakon, though, as his parents Queen Sonja and King Harald ceremoniously departed by train for their royal cabin north of Lillehammer, in the mountains above Vinstra, at Sikkilsdalsdalen.