The starting gates were closed Monday — the earliest date ever — for the 40th annual American Birkebeiner cross-country ski races, which met its participant cap of 10,000 skiers for the Feb. 23 event, race officials announced.

“We keep getting an outpouring of enthusiasm,” said Susan Kendrick, race spokeswoman, of the striders and skaters, most of whom participate in what is fondly called “the Birkie,” a 50-kilometer route from Cable-to-Hayward

There are two other races, the Kortelopet, or “Kortie,” which is 23 kilometers and is skied partly on the main Birkie course, and the Prince Haakon, which is 13 kilometers. Kendrick said 9,500 skiers have registered for the Birkie and Kortie, and the 500 spots in the Prince Haakon are nearly all taken. Some spots are left open for elite, international and sponsored racers.

All three races start at Telemark Lodge.  A total of 9,620 skiers participated in the three races last February.

“This is the third year we have had a cap on registrations,” she said, “and we’re seeing a lot of longtime skiers coming back along with a growing number getting out and trying it for the first time.”

Registration closed at 3 p.m. Monday, the earliest ever (the old mark was Nov. 21) and those mailed with an Oct. 15 postmark will be accepted. Kendrick said of the two styles of skiing, skate skiers represent 62 percent of the participants and classic, 38 percent.

Kendrick also announced that Madison graphic artist and veteran skier, Ryan Woehler, is the winner of the Birkie T-shirt design contest, receiving 44 percent of the 7,008 votes cast.  Woehler got a new set of skis, free race registration for 2013 and 2014 and a VIP parking pass to the race start.

Woehler is a graphic artist at Lands End in Dodgeville and will be skiing his 13th Birkie in February.

American Birkebeiner information is available at

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This is surprising after a winter like last year but.... AWESOME! Glad to see fitness continues to catch on with society!

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