The annual Birchleggings Club Awards Breakfast took place on February 26, 2023, the day after the 49th Annual American Birkebeiner. Approximately 100 persons attended. The event was open to Birchleggings Club members, new and veteran Birchleggers, all skiers and their families. The Hayward Steakhouse and Lodge once again provided an excellent breakfast buffet.
As folks arrived and purchased their breakfast tickets, Birchleggers also were able to renew their Birchleggings Club memberships. Bidding also
opened in a silent auction for a framed and autographed World Cup race bib worn and signed by Jessie Diggins. The bib was from her third-place finish in the 10 km Freestyle event at Falun, Sweden in 2019. A second bib on the auction block, also autographed by Jessie, was a 2020 Birkie classic-skier wave-5 race bib.
Paul Thompson, Birchleggings Club President, opened the program as people finished their breakfasts. He welcomed everyone and gave special general recognition to new 20, 30, and 40-year Birchleggers.
Dave Balsiger, Birchleggings Club Treasurer, continued the tradition of performing his song, Birkebeiner Morning. Even though many of us have seen changes in the Birkie events, the racecourse, skiing techniques, the weather on race day, and our own results on the trail, Dave’s song still rings true. Everyone enjoyed it.
A wrap-up summary of Birke 2023 was given by Ben Popp, Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF). The race went smoothly, and he thanked the hundreds of volunteers that make it happen. He gave a quick summary of the progress being made at TelemarkVillage. Multiple projects are underway. Some have been completed, some are in progress.
The annual Tony Wise Spirit Award was presented by Steve Carmazon and Dave Balsiger to two families of bridge builders, figuratively and literally. Recipients Judy and Jay Hoeschler were the force behind the installation of the Key Log Bridge over the highway at OO. Award winners Don and Heidi Becker, & Family have been active in guiding the race as ABSF board members and Birchleggings Club board members. Their law firm has been a past major-sponsor of the race. They made the Becker Law Link Bridge over Highway 77 possible. Steve Carmazon gave an excellent presentation to the recipients, and each of the award winners gave a warm, heartfelt speech as they thanked the crowd for their awards. A full summary of the Tony Wise Spirit Award presentation for 2023 can be seen here on our website.
Jane DeKraay from the Loppet Foundation in Minneapolis (and a new 20-year Birchlegger) spent a few minutes letting everyone know that COOP FIS Cross Country World Cup race events would be held at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis from February 17-19, 2024. The events will be free and open to the public. More information can be found at the Loppet Foundation website: https://loppetcup.com/
Paul Thompson gave a report on Birchleggings Club activities and accomplishments. The club’s grandest effort is an ongoing effort to raise funds to purchase two electric snowmobiles for the ABSF. Part of the Birkie Green Initiative, the electric machines will be used as chase vehicles for the filming of Birkebeiner women’s and men’s race leaders. With electric snowmobiles, the lead pack will not be subjected to gas fumes for 50 km. An even greater long-term benefit will be the use of the machines by the ABSF trail crew and winter-event staff for years to come. A lower carbon footprint from the electric snowmobiles will assist the ABSF in achieving its goals for Birkie Green.
The highlight of the fundraising during Birkie Week 2023 was the auction of five framed race bibs, all autographed by Jessie Diggins. Two bibs were silently auctioned at the Birkie Expo, one at the Birkie Bash, and two at today’s Birchleggings Club Breakfast. After describing the auction efforts, Paul Thompson opened the auction to live bidding for Jessie’s framed World Cup race bib and the signed 2002 Birkie Classic bib. Steve Weiss was the successful bidder for Jessie’s bib, and Steve Poulin of Swix Sport USA won the 2002 Birkie Classic bib. Paul had six additional unframed autographed Birkie bibs that he quickly auctioned to four lucky breakfast attendees. Three of the unframed bibs were signed by Jessie Diggins and three were signed by Ben Popp. The bib auctions raised in total over $4000 during Birkie weekend and put the fundraising drive over the top for the purchase of the first snowmobile for filming the women’s race. Efforts will continue in 2023 for the men’s machine.
The program culminated with the presentation of 20, 30, and 40-year Birchlegger individual awards. The new Birchleggers and Uberleggers received their recognition plaques from Birchleggings Club president Paul Thompson to the applause of the crowd.
Thanks to Birchleggings Board Member, James Tonorio for this wrap-up and to Kelly O'Day and Edward Eroe for the photographs.
We look forward to the next Birchleggings Club awards breakfast on February 25, 2024. Your Birchleggings Club Board of Directors.