Birkebeinerrennet is one of the most legendary long-distance cross-country ski events in the world. Its legacy is based on a heroic tale of courage and adventure. The saga dates back to the harsh times of the 13th century when two fearless soldiers, birkebeiners, rescued a young prince and skied over the mountain fighting against the wild nature around them. This young prince, Haakon, later became the king. To honor him and his rescuers, all participants at Birkebeinerrennet must carry a 3.5kg backpack symbolizing the prince’s weight.
The race is not the longest in the Pro Tour, but it has one of the most demanding courses. It starts with a 20-kilometer uphill section to the mountaintop at Raudfjellet with only one relatively short downhill section at the 13km mark. Then, the participants get to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery around them before they reach the second climb at 28km.
When the course gets to Sjusjøen, the skiers can finally enjoy the wonder of speed as they start their descent to Lillehammer. During the last 14km, there is a 400-meter drop in elevation, and the finish is at the Olympic stadium located a few kilometers from the downtown of Lillehammer.
NORWEGIAN ATMOSPHERE AND HISTORY
The starting point of “Birken” is a small town called Rena. It has a friendly and cozy atmosphere while Lillehammer is more city-like with its 28.000 inhabitants.
Both places can easily be accessed by train from the Oslo airport. Just northeast of Rena is the Rena Military Camp, Norway’s largest military camp. Lillehammer’s center is a late nineteenth-century concentration of wooden houses, which enjoys a picturesque location overlooking the northern part of lake Mjøsa and the river Lågen, surrounded by mountains.
Lillehammer is also an Olympic town as it has hosted the 1994 Winter Games and the 2016 Youth Winter Olympics.
In addition to Birkebeinerrennet and other sports activities, Lillehammer and its surrounding areas have several other tourist attractions such as Garmo Stave Church built around 1150, the PS Skibladner, the world’s oldest paddle steamer in scheduled service, rock carvings at Drotten, Fåberg, and the sculpture Mothership with Standing Matter designed by Antony Gormley.
There are also many museums to visit, such as the Norwegian Olympic Museum, Lillehammer Art Museum, and Maihaugen, the largest open-air museum in Norway.
A fun fact is that the Norwegian-American Netflix Original series Lulyhammer was shot in Lillehammer, and it stars Steven Van Zandt, the guitar player in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.
- Date: Saturday, March 19
- Place: Rena-Lillehammer, Norway
- Distance: 54km Classic Technique
- Start Times: 7:45 CET Men / 8:00 CET Women
Next up in the Visma Ski Classics is Birkebeinerrennet. The 54-kilometer classic race takes place in Norway on March 19, 2022.
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