Each February ten thousand or more cross country (XC) skiers gather in Wisconsin to take part in North America’s largest and greatest ski race, the American Birkebeiner. Considered an iconic world-class sporting event, for over 40-years the Birkie has been held and to commemorate the legacy of the race and inspire future generations, the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) created the Tony Wise Museum of the American Birkebeiner in August 2016 in Hayward, WI.
The American Birkebeiner ski race was the vision of Hayward native Tony Wise, who discovered skiing as a soldier serving in Germany in World War II. After the war, Wise brought his concept home to found Telemark Ski Area, near Cable, WI, and later evolved the concept into a XC ski race through the north woods of Wisconsin. The race was first run in 1973 from Hayward and ended in Cable, WI, but since 1993 the race has traveled north to south from the north woods of Cable to Main Street in Hayward, WI.
The American Birkebeiner was patterned after the Birkebeiner Rennet ski race held each year in the forests of Norway. Wise’s vision shaped a community, a sport and brought the world together with the founding of the Worldloppet, an international sports federation of cross-country skiing marathons.
The Tony Wise Museum of the American Birkebeiner will transport you back to the origins of the American Birkebeiner through lively, state-of-the-art exhibits hands-on activities, a three-dimensional Birkie Trail model, electronic race scrapbook, numerous race artifacts, and memorabilia. Visitors will find a compendium of historic race film, photographs, and view oral history stories as told by founding skiers, longtime volunteers, and past Birkie staff. With something for all ages, youth can reenact the Birkebeiner legend by donning historic replica costumes in front of a diorama of the Norwegian mountains.
The Birkebeiner races are popularly celebrated for having escorted the two-year-old Haakon Haakonsson, an heir to the Norwegian throne, to safety from Østerdalen to Trondheim, a long and perilous journey through the treacherous mountains and forests of Norway. Their determination is commemorated each year at the American Birkebeiner Ski Marathon as skiers recreate their courageous journey.
Many memorabilia items were gifted to the museum from the family of Tony Wise, past Birkie champions, founding skiers, citizen skiers, and from gracious donors far and wide. Without their support the museum would not have been made possible. To make a donation click Tony Wise Museum.
Who Is Tony Wise?
Tony Wise was a visionary and tireless promoter of northern Wisconsin, who upon returning from World War II, started Telemark Ski Resort in 1947 and operated the Cable, WI area lodge through 1984.
In 1973, Wise founded the American Birkebeiner XC ski race from Hayward to Cable, WI. Wise, formed the Worldloppet, an international sports federation of XC skiing marathons. The federation was founded in 1978 in Uppsala, Sweden with a goal of promoting the sport of XC skiing through various ski races around the world. Only one and the best race from a country can be a member of Worldloppet. Today, the Worldloppet unites 20 races from all over the world.
Wise lost the Telemark Ski Resort through bankruptcy in 1984 and when he tried to retain his rights to the American Birkebeiner ski race, the court ruled against him. In 1984, members of the Cable and Hayward communities stepped forward to form the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) to continue the popular ski race. The ABSF continues its strong governance of the race today. But Wise was instrumental in establishing the legendary Birkebeiner Trail system. Today, the Birkie Trail recreational system spans over 100 kilometers from Bayfield to Sawyer County in northern WI. In 1975, in recognition of founding the American Birkebeiner; spreading Norwegian culture and traditions; and strengthening ties between Norway and the United States, Wise was awarded the St. Olav Medal by King Olav V of Norway. He was honored with an audience with King Olav at the Royal Palace in Oslo in 1977.
In 1988, Wise was inducted into the United States Ski Hall of Fame. Tony Wise passed away on April 6, 1995 in Hayward, WI but his legacy lives on.
Allison Slavick, who is the Museum Planner said “One of our goals is to inspire people, and not just cross country ski racers.” The centerpiece of the museum is a three-dimensional map, about the size of a pool table on which visitors can see the lay of the land and use a push-button system to light up the race courses. The museum is at 10527 Main Street in Hayward, WI and is open from Monday – Saturday.