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ATC employees power through American Birkebeiner race


Each year, more than 13,000 skiers descend upon Cable, Wis., to participate in the storied American Birkebeiner, or Birkie. The 50-kilometer cross-country ski event began in 1973, but the tradition goes back to Norway and the 1200s. Birkebeiners were charged with carrying the young  son of King Sverresson and Inga of Vartieg to safety. They donned birch bark leggings and traversed the mountains and forests of the Osterdalen valley in Norway during the Norwegian Civil War. The child transported to safety by the Birkebeiners was King Haakon Haakonsson IV. Thousands of skiers commemorate this event across the globe each year. Norwegian skiers often will carry a pack that symbolizes the weight of an 18-month-old child. 

Hagman at the end of the race.
Three American Transmission Co. employees joined in the tradition this year and powered through bitter cold to finish the race.
Transmission Planning Engineer Chris Hagman had a warm-up race in sub-zero temperatures weeks prior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, so when the mercury rose above freezing, it was a pleasant surprise for this tough racer.
“Of my seven Birkies, this was definitely the hardest and the slowest,” Hagman said. His girlfriend, Marianne, helped make the race a little more entertaining by organizing a group to provide comic relief and encouragement at a very steep hill just before the end of the race.
Construction Coordinator Paul Roltgen also agreed about the difficulty this year, calling his sixth Birkie the hardest one to date.
“Thursday night prior to the event, the Hayward area had 16-plus inches of snow. The new snow combined with the cold and the strong west wind certainly made it a challenge,” Roltgen said. “To put it into context, I finished 45 minutes slower than my fastest time. I still loved being in the winter wonderland surrounded by woods and upbeat competitors, many who keep coming back year after year.”
And what might a Professional Engineer who works at an electric utility call out as one of the highlights of the race?
“At a certain point after about 9 kilometers, racers travel below a 138-kilovolt circuit. There are hundreds of skate skiers on one side of the right-of-way going up and down the rolling hills right below the lines, while the classic skiers are on the other side doing the same,” said Project Manager Andy Ehlert.
Another highlight for Ehlert is an elaborate drumming display that takes place at the top of a hill.
“At one point at the top of a hill climb we pass by about 50 people from the local Lac Courte Oreilles tribe as they bang loudly on huge drums,” said Ehlert. “The skiers march up the steep hill in rhythm and it is awesome! It gives me goose bumps each time I pass by and really brings home the spirit of the race in that region of Wisconsin.”  

Roltgen warms up by getting into Viking garb and participating in a ‘Giant Ski Race,’ where teams strap themselves onto a set of giant skis and race down main street in Hayward, Wis.