Jessie Diggins and Gus Schumacher win 50th annual ‘Birkie’ cross country ski races

Two skiiers stand near a finish line
Gus Schumacher (left) and Jessie Diggins after completing the 50th annual American Birkebeiner race.
Courtesy American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation via Facebook

Less than a week after reaching the podium in a World Cup cross country ski race in Minneapolis, Minnesota native and cross country skiing star Jessie Diggins won the 50th annual American Birkebeiner 50-kilometer freestyle race Saturday in northwestern Wisconsin.

Skiing in front of thousands of fans who lined the 10-kilometer loop of artificial snow that wound around the Birkie trailhead in Cable, Wis., Diggins surged ahead of Flora Dolci of France in the race’s final few kilometers to claim the title by nearly 30 seconds.

On the men’s side, Gus Schumacher — who in Minneapolis last weekend became the first American man to win a World Cup distance race in more than 40 years — outlasted a group of about a dozen challengers to win the race by about seven seconds over Sam Hendry of Salt Lake City.

Skiiers at a race04
Jessie Diggins at the 50th annual American Birkebeiner race.
Courtesy American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation | Facebook

Diggins, from Afton, grew up participating in Birkie events with her family. She twice won the shorter Kortelopet race as a teenager, in 2008 and 2009. But her international ski schedule never allowed her to compete in the Birkie — until this year.

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Schumacher’s family also has a history with the Birkie. His parents both skied the race several times before Gus was born in Madison. Speaking a few days before the race in Cable, his mom Amy Schumacher said if it wasn’t for the Birkie, she isn’t sure she and her husband would have passed on a love of cross country skiing to their son while raising him in Alaska.

“Who knows, because that really hooked us. Just a lot of fun and positive energy. People coming together. So yeah, I'd credit ‘Birkie fever’ with the World Cup win,” she said.

Despite barely any natural snow on the ground, nearly 12,000 people, from all 50 states and 26 countries, competed in several different Birkie events spread out over several days.

The 50-kilometer course typically runs from Cable to downtown Hayward. This year, skiers competed on a 10-kilomter loop of machine-made snow, about a foot and a half thick.