The Birkebeiner races - the historical background
All the Birken races are founded upon the legendary escape that the Birkebeiners, Skjervald Skrukka and Torstein Skjevla, managed around New Year 1205/1206, rescuing the little prince Haakon Haakonssen from the Baglers. During this civil war the fraction rivaling against the Birkebeiners, the Baglers, was looking for the young heir to the Norwegian throne.
In the fall of 1930 author and forester, Haakon Lie, published an article launching the idea of a ski race in honor of the 1206 rescue of the 18 month old prince, Haakon Haakonsson.
Two years later - on January 10th 1932, 6 men - Fredrik Grundtvig, Agnar Renolen, Peder Olsen, Lars Høgvold, Halvor Kampen and Olaf Larsen, met on the mountain Raufjellet, and formally decided to arrange the very first Birkebeinerrennet. In 1932 147 men completed the then 59 km long trail - first among them was Trygve Beisvåg, finishing on a respectable 4:51:40
Following the death of the Norwegian king Haakon Sverresson, the two rivaling fractions, the Baglers and the Birkebeiners, fought to gain control of the country.
To keep Haakon Sverressons son - Haakon Haakonsson, from being killed by the Baglers, and by that securing the throne, a small group of Birkebeiners brought prince Haakon and his mother, Inga, north. Just after New Years Eve 1206 the two best skiers - Torstein Skevla and Skjervald Skrukka, carrying the child, chose the route across the mountains separating Gudbrandsdalen and Østerdalen. It was a strenuous journey, but the young prince was brought to safety in Trondheim.
The prince grew to become the king who united Norway, after 1000 years of civil war, and led the country into its golden age during the Middle Ages.
The name Birkebeinere was given by the Baglers, and originally intended to be offensive - referring to their leggings of birch bark, indicating that they were poor and incapable. They proved the Baglers wrong, and today the name carries a sence of pride, strength and endurance - something thousands of people, participating in the historical race every year, keep striving for.