Winonan John Grover, FSC, will be participating in his 43rd Birkiebeiner cross country ski race this year but he won’t be traveling to Cable, WI. Because of COVID 19, the Birkiebeiener in-person event only allows 50% capacity this year. A virtual option was created as an alternative and the Saint Mary’s University’s ski trails were selected as one of 50 birkie virtual venue partners.
Because the course is hilly, it will be “Birkie-like”, said Grover. Grover, along with Mike and Jerry Cichanowski of Winona, are part of a special group of skiers called the “Spirit of 35” because they have skied the most races since the first Birkiebeiner in 1973.
The virtual birkie takes place February 20-28 and, along with the Spirit of 35, around 50 other skiers from the Winona, LaCrosse, and Rochester areas will participate in the event. Unlike previous years, the course will be shorter so skiers have the option of skiing either the 43K Birkiebeiner (26 miles) or the 26K Korteloppeet (16 miles).
Grover said that the event isn’t a race this year due to the change of status, but each person can complete the course at their own pace. There are 12 miles of trails which includes “beautiful wooded valleys and bluffs of the Mississippi River,” and each skier will complete 6 full laps or 4 full laps to qualify and then report their verified results to receive official credit.
Grover will be skiing the 43K and will have a time limit of 10 hours to complete those miles in order to qualify. “It’s just a neat experience for me,” said Grover.