Three skiers and a baby will re-enact 800 year old Birkebeiner legend

Posted By: The Ski Channel on December 10, 2010 2:37 pm

The search for three cross country skiers and a baby to re-enact the 800-year-old legend that inspired the creation of the American Birkebeiner cross country ski race from Cable to Hayward, Wis. is over.

During the 38th anniversary on Saturday, February 26, 2011, long time friends Gale Otterholt and Marv Franson will assume the roles of Torstein and Skervald, the Birkebeiner warriors who rescued Prince Haakon (Hō-ken) during the Norwegian Civil War in 1206.

The two Viking warriors, called “Birkebeiners” for the protective birch bark leggings they wore, skied more than 50 kilometers through rugged mountains and forested terrain smuggling the infant son of King Syverresson and Inga of Vartieg from Lillehammer to safety in the town of Trondheim.

The rescued prince became one of the most popular kings in Norwegian history, and the Birkebeiner soldiers became a Norwegian symbol of courage, perseverance and character in the face of adversity.  Long time Birkie skier and friend of the Warriors, Gretchen Lindgren, will dress as Inga from Varteig, mother of Prince Haakon, while her grandchild Finnley will assume the role of the cherished prince.

Gretchen’s clothing – a long, black wool jumper, traditional Norwegian sweater, and headgear of the era – will complement the Warriors’ authentic gear which includes birch bark leggings, wood skis, and weapons from the year 1206.  Marv, Gale and Gretchen will ski the Birkebeiner course together. On Main Street in Hayward the warriors will exchange the baby doll they’ve been carrying for 54 kilometers for Finnley, the prince for the day.

With the live baby swaddled to Torstein’s side, the warriors and Inga will ski the final two blocks to the finish line as hundreds of spectators ring bells and cheer the rescuers on.  Marv also known as (aka), Skervald, Gale aka Torstein, and Gretchen aka Inga were selected to re-enact the escape and rescue by Richard Pierce, Jeff Cummisford, Lyndsey Lewis and Grant, David and Josie Nelson skiers who have previously re-enacted the historic event.

The former warriors and Inga said their selection was based on passion for the event, ability to represent the historic race roots and perseverance to ski the distance in historic attire.  “We didn’t expect so many high-quality entries,” said Ned Zuelsdorff, Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF). “Thirty five skiers, men and women, submitted creative, inspiring and persuasive essays pitching their skills, passion and background as the perfect candidates to serve as the 2011 Birkebeiner warriors and Inga. It was a difficult decision.”

The three finalists said they decided to enter the competition in honor of their Norwegian heritage and as a tribute to their friendship and the sport that they love. All three are veteran Birkie skiers having completed 85 Birkies between them.

“As Torstein and Skervald we will step into the wooden skis we used to complete our first Birkie in 1976,” said Marv Franson. “Skiing side by side with citizen racers, we will inspire preservance and the ‘can do’ Birkie spirit as we encourage skiers throughout the ups and downs of the race course.”

“The Birkie has given us so much,” said Gale Otterholt. “This is our chance to give back to the skiers, volunteers and spectators.”

Gretchen has completed 19 Birkies on classic skis. She said, “What a thrill to become heroes for a day – to have the opportunity to engage the crowds, encourage fellow skiers and carry on the tradition.”   Marv, a retired Dean and Electronics Instructor, from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, has skied 34 Birkies. Also from Eau Claire, Gale, is a retired pharmacist and college professor and has completed 33 Birkies. Gretchen has completed 19 Birkies and is a Master Gardener from St. Cloud, Minnesota. She has operated her own garden design business and still provides her skills to various organizations as a volunteer.

They say showing up on race day with pine-tarred skis, attire representing the era, and enthusiasm to boot will be a snap.  “They’ll not only re-enact the historic rescue, they’ll inspire over 8,000 skiers, 2,000 volunteers and 15,000 spectators from around the world,” Zuelsdorff said. “It will be a highlight and great way to commemorate the 38th anniversary.”

Come race day, the Birkie 2011 warriors and Inga will leave the start gates with the elite skiers. More than 8,000 other skiers will follow every five minutes in alternating skating and classic wave starts. The warriors and Inga expect to see the majority of those skiers at one time or another throughout the day.

To learn more about North America’s largest and most prestigious cross country ski race and to register for races and events, log on to, email or call 715-634-5025.