At Birkie, family will ski as Norwegian warriors, princess

Karl Andresen, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, was one of the original participants in the Birkebeiner ski race, the latest staging of which will be held this weekend. He left behind a family that won’t forget its Norwegian roots.

When his son, Will Andresen, 58, and Will’s two children, Carolyn Warren, 29, and David, 31, set out on the race, they will honor grandfather in the most Norwegian way: they will ski as Norwegian warriors and recreate the rescue of a prince in 1206, the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram says.

That should make them stand out among the 10,000 skiers in Hayward, Wis.

“We thought it would be a cool tribute to him, and for our Norwegian heritage,” Carolyn tells the paper. “It will kind of feel right to have a different type of Birkie experience.”

It’s a “thing” with the Birkie. People depicting two warriors and the young prince’s mom, Inga, are selected by essay each year.

In the essay required to audition for the role of the warriors and Inga, Will wrote that of all the Birkebeiners he has skied, the most memorable was the slowest. The course took 9 hours to complete the year Will accompanied his father on his 30th and final Birkebeiner.

Karl, then 79 and in frail health, skied against doctor’s orders. Many of other skiers wanted to chat with him along the course. He was conspicuous in a red founders bib with the number 1. But he was too winded to talk in most cases.

By the time they got to the last part of the race, a stretch across a frozen Lake Hayward, “it was getting lonely,” Will recalled. As father and son continued their way across the lake, they were greeted by Eau Claire skiers Dave Weiss, Karl’s longtime canoeing companion; his son Steve Weiss; and Steve Sletner. The skiers formed a moving windbreak in front of Karl and escorted him across the lake.

The upcoming Birkebeiner will likely be his second-slowest ever. The race organizers have recommended they cover the course in about six hours, which allows time for chatting along the way.

David and his wife, Kierstin, now live in Ironwood in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, having abandoned the Twin Cities.

“When we lived in the cities, it was kind of a culture shock. I wasn’t used to brown Christmases or brown Thanksgiving,” he said.