Jens Lundsbye with wife Kimberly and sons Karl, 8, Kurt, 4, and Erik, 1 showed up to take part in the Birchleg event last year. (File photo)

Don’t be surprised to see Vikings in Wells Gray

The Vikings are coming to Clearwater.

On Feb. 1, the Wells Gray Outdoor Club will be hosting the Birchleg, an annual cross-country skiing event.

“It’s a translation of the Norwegian word ‘Birkebeiner’, but we’re not allowed to use that word because it’s a trademark,” said Hazel Wadlegger, the organizer of the event.

The Birkebeiner Run, which the Birchleg is adopted from, is an annual Norwegian event that celebrates the rescue of Haakon Haakonson, the son of King Haakon Sverresson, from the Baglers – a rival group fighting for control over the modern state of Norway during the 1200s. Members of the Birkebein Party (which adopted the pejorative name given to them by their opposition -meaning they were so poor their shoes were made of birch bark) escorted Haakonson for 55 kilometres of mountainous and forested terrain from Lillehammer to the throne Trondheim.

The Birchleg started in Clearwater around 2005, said Wadlegger. Participants cross-country ski in Viking costumes. People who can’t ski can snowshoe. The Viking dress is also optional.

“It’s the same format as we have always done. People come and we have a mass start (at 10 a.m.). It’s just a fun race, it’s not timed or anything. There’s no first place. We have different routes,” she said.

There are three different routes of various distances and difficulty for those participating.

“When they come back in, we serve a hot lunch that’s included in their fee. We make a Norwegian lunch of Norwegian meatballs, with bread and salads and desert. People just visit and we do door prizes. We also do costume prizes too.”

The costume prizes are separated into three categories: men, women, and children.

The community has been very good at donating things for the costume and door prizes, said Wadlegger.

“It’s pretty good,” Wadlegger said about the usual attendance. “It also depends on the weather. One year the roads were just terrible so we didn’t get as many people from Kamloops as we do sometimes. We get quite a good contingent of people from the 100 Mile area, Kamloops, Blue River and Barriere.”

When asked about what people may expect if they come to the event for the first time, Wadlegger said a lot of people talk about how good the food is. Then went on to talk about the trails, calling them well-groomed.

Fees for the event are $15 for a student, $20 for an adult and $40 for a family. After Jan. 30, the student and adult fees increase by $5 and the family by $10.

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