Did you see it? Did you ski it? Did you miss it? We’re talking about the not-very-annual Stumptown Birkebeiner that took place last Friday and Saturday on the streets of northwest Portland.
It’s a ski race named for the Norse name of a rebel party that wore “birch bark” as shoes. These poor rebels famously rescued an heir to the Norwegian throne through the snowy, dangerous mountains and eventually established new rule. The daring escapade is commemorated by a Birkebeiner race, rather like the marathon commemorates the perilous run of the famous Greek messenger.
It’s held not-so-annually because Portland just doesn’t get snow every winter and it’s aided by Portland’s lack of snowplows, which leaves the snowy streets in good shape for skiing.
Portland’s first “birkie” was held during the famous “snowpocalypse” of December 2008.
“There were about seven or eight racers that year,” recalls local race founder Win Goodbody.
“The idea is every time it snows enough to ski in Portland to meet at Powells at 9:00 a.m. So it’s an impromptu urban ski race-slash-parade,” Goodbody says.
As soon as snow showed up in the local forecasts last week, word was sent out to the race’s small contingent of cross-county ski enthusiasts. With the advent of Twitter (@stumptownbirkie), alerting potential racers has become easier. By 9:00 a.m. Friday, a small crowd of Nordic skiers had gathered and a plan materialized to ski up NW Johnson to 23rd and back.
Once the assembly had arrived at the starting point, the “ready set go” (in Norwegian, of course) was yelled and the race was on. After sprinting up the slope of Nob Hill and back, Ken Salzberg, Jeremy Glynn and Duncan Roberts were among the first to cross the makeshift finish line.
“This was great!” said Glynn. “We grew up in Wisconsin and the roads are salted and plowed there. You can’t do this back there.”
The spectators, many of whom stumbled on the event while walking the dog or making a quick trip to the store, seemed as delighted.
“I think it’s fabulous,” said Portland visitor Karen Hirsh, who likened it to “turning lemons into lemonade.”
Organizer Goodbody was pleased with the turnout.
“It was a wild success. We had 30 or 40 or more people so we’re pretty psyched. And we’re gonna do another one tomorrow, so stay tuned.”
And indeed they did. Tune in for the complete story on Oregon Field Guide later this year.