About 40 people took part in the second annual Fernie Birkie hosted by the Fernie Nordic Society on Sunday. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

Legend of the Birkebeiners lives on in Fernie

Fernie Nordic Society hosts second annual Fernie Birkie; looks to grow event

A cross country ski race inspired by an ancient Norwegian legend could be expanded to a community festival as organizers look to grow the event.

On Sunday, the Fernie Nordic Society hosted its second annual Fernie Birkie, a 50km classic event consisting of two laps of the loop from the Elk Valley Nordic Centre to Fernie Alpine Resort (FAR).

Organizer Sam Sedlowsky explained the race is based on the legend of the Birkebeiners, Norwegian warriors who tied birch bark around their legs to keep the snow out and protect them in battle.

According to the legend, in 1206, as civil war raged in Norway, two Birkebeiner warriors rescued the infant prince Haakon Haakonsson from hiding, carrying him on skis over 55km and two mountain ranges to safety.

In Fernie, about 40 people reenacted their journey, donning furs and horned helmets to ski 50km as individuals or in a team.

“A bunch of the racers will actually have a 12-pound backpack on them to mimic having a baby on their back, just to make it extra hard in case you didn’t think 50km was hard enough,” said Sedlowsky prior to the race.

“For our race, it’s unique, we allow teams of two to go at the same time and do 50km, so 25km each, which is much more reasonable for a lot of people.”

Going forward, the nordic society hopes to expand the Fernie Birkie and promote it further afield.

However, there will be a name change due to trademark rights owned by a similar event in Edmonton.

“Next year we’re talking about maybe making a Viking festival and having a festival as well as the ski, so another opportunity for the community to come out and experience what it was like in Nordic times,” said Sedlowsky.

She thanked local businesses who donated prizes to this year’s event, FAR for its support and the City of Fernie, which provided grant funding.

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