Each year, tens of thousands of people flock to the small northern Wisconsin town of Hayward for the American Birkebeiner. It’s North America’s largest cross-country ski race.

Birkie skiiers
Photo courtesy of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation.

Popp: “We like to refer to it as ‘the greatest show on snow’.”

That’s Ben Popp of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation. Lately, the fifty-kilometer race has become less white and fluffy.

Winters in northern Wisconsin are warming, so precipitation now often falls as rain instead of snow. That can mean slush or even bare ground in the middle of ski season. In the next 40 years, winters are predicted to be up to 11 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than they were in 1980.

Popp: “It’s been very noticeable the last few years. The race was canceled in two-thousand. Actually, it was the only time it was canceled. Subsequently, two other times, it’s actually had to be shortened to just ski the first half of the race.”

Popp says organizers are removing rocks and smoothing out the course, so less snow is needed. They’re also considering making artificial snow.

These are costly steps, but Popp – and thousands of skiers – want to see the race continue.

Popp: “It’s something that I hold very fond in my heart, and so to think of a day that the Birkie would not be possible … it’d be a really sad day.”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.

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