Birkebeinerrennet is Norway’s 54km contribution to Visma Ski Classics. The legend has it that there was a civil war in Norway. Faction pitted itself against faction in a fight for the throne. One faction was the birkebeiners. They were the underdogs, often in such dire need that they had nothing but the bark of the birch-trees as foot-wear.
The word birkebeiner, birch-leg, has come to mean a man strong in adversity, never daunted by trials and hardship. The birkebeiners had gained ascendancy over great parts of the country, but the rival faction, the baglers, prevailed in the East of Norway. After the birkebeiner chieftain Haakon died on New Years Day in 1204, the baglers saw a dangerous rival pretender in his son Haakon Haakonsson , who was born in 1204, a few weeks after his fathers death. His life was at stake, and the birkebeiners wanted to bring him to safety in Trondheim. On Christmas Day in 1205 the party reached to a small farm in Lillehammer, where they remained hidden over Christmas. They found it too risky to follow the route up the Gudbrandsdal valley, so they cut across the mountains to the neighbouring valley in east, Østerdalen. Due to bad weather and difficult snow conditions the two best skiers, Torstein Skevla and Skjervald Skrukka had to go ahead with the two year old prince. ”On this trip they suffered severely from the cold, snow and wind”. Behind this succinct account of the saga lies a fear of valour and strength which appeals to skiers of all ages and nations. The 3,5 kilo pack carried by the present day birkebeiners symbolizes the prince, who later became king Haakon. The 54km course transverses over two mountains from the start in Tingstadjordet to the finish line in Lillehammer.