Keeping it in the family

Strong and deep skiing roots in the Panzer family of Lakeville drove deeper still when father, daughter and son found time to ski the Birkie together for the first time in 2015.

Kevin Panzer, 58, has been Nordic head coach at Prior Lake High School for all but four years since 1983. Too, he was Section 1 coach of the year last season. Daughter Sarah Panzer Wein, 30, skied for Lakeville High School and competed in Junior Olympics races. Son Jake, 22, raced for Lakeville South and has stayed connected as a member of the ski club at the University of Minnesota, where he is about to graduate with a nursing degree.

They’ll return this year with a special appreciation for the event — and better placement (they jumped from ninth wave to third).

Kevin Panzer’s retirement from teaching in spring 2014 was partly the catalyst for the family accomplishment. He had more time to train. In November, the idea took form, and father, daughter and son registered for the skate-ski. On race day, dad was out in front by 10 minutes at the finish, but he said he expects differently this year. For one, his daughter was ailing at last year’s start. “It will be interesting to see where we are at,” he said.

Wein said her father’s debut was a proud moment (“My dad is the driver of our love for the sport”), and she sounded equally wowed by the spectators.

“I knew there were going to be a lot of people out there, but I didn’t know there was going to be such intense fans.

“That kind of motivation, just consistently all the way throughout the course was so amazing and inspiring. I didn’t know it would be to that level,” said Wein, who also singled out volunteers, reminded of the aid station helper who put nourishment in her mouth when her hands were too cold to deal with her gloves.

“Nordic skiing is something the three of us love to do, and share together. We have skied on the Birkebeiner ski trails with our high school teams, joined in on my dad’s team ski trips. … We love the Birkie trail,” she said.

The cycle of sports

Vince Rosetta’s recreational life is a continuous production in three parts: golf, cycling and skiing. He’s currently in Act Three.

The Minneapolis man will skate in the first wave of his fifth Birkie on Feb. 20. He skated in the first wave last year, too. Yet, this year has a different quality because he said he has done more cycling than sliding in preparation for the marathon. In fact, he had an extensive cyclocross season (15 races). When he could find consistently good snow in this unusual winter, he began to exchange wheels for his skis. “I’m curious to see how that is going to transition,” said Rosetta, 39.

Still, his commitment to skiing is ever-present. He is a board member with the Central Cross Country Ski Association, which operates as an Olympic development program across the Midwest. He also is the technical representative in the region for One Way ski gear.

“Golf, bike and skiing. That is pretty much everything I do,” Rosetta said. “If I am not riding my bike, I am golfing.” Oh, yeah: He’s an 8 handicap.

A coach and competitor

Paavo Taipale helped some of his young charges write their Nordic stories this week. Now, he’ll turn fully to adding to his.

Taipale is the assistant Nordic coach for the St. Paul Central High School boys’ team that competed Thursday at the state ski meet at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, Minn. He has coached since 2008.

Taipale, 30, will skate in the first wave of the 24-kilometer Kortelopet on Birkie weekend. He skied the full in 2014 and last year. He heads to northern Wisconsin with a considerable pedigree. His father, Ahvo, owns Finn Sisu ski shop in Lauderdale, a mecca for the outdoors set.

Taipale recalled many years in his youth trekking north to watch the Birkie races before he got his opportunity to line up.

“It’s a pretty big accomplishment to go that distance. It’s been around for so long that that is what people talk about, is the Birkie. Have you skied it. and what wave are you in? … All skiers know what the Birkie is.”

 

BIRKIE BY THE NUMBERS

Compiled from American Birkebeiner Ski Federation archives

1973

The inaugural Birkie comprised a 48-kilometer marathon and a Kortelopet (22K). There were 35 Birkie participants (only one woman, Jacque Lindskoog of the United States, who finished in 4:33:35). Eric Ersson of Sweden was the first male finisher in 2:48:16. The Kortelopet had 19 racers.

1

First wave, which is comprised of the top 200 men and 60 women from the 2015 skate race, and the top 100 men and 40 women from last year’s classic race.

 

13,000-plus

Total skiers this year

 

20,000

Expected spectators

 

3,773

Combined population in Cable and Hayward, Wis. (from the 2010 census)

 

More than 6,000

Entrants in 1981, the first year the field topped 5,000. Unusual heat postponed the race for the first time. Foreign and elite racers went eights laps of 6K around Mt. Telemark on the original date, but temperatures were in the 60s. The citizens’ Birkie and Kortelopet ran March 7, after 12 inches of snow fell.

1978

The year the Birkie’s founder, Tony Wise (shown center, at left), formed the Worldloppet, whose members currently make up 20 of the top cross-country marathons in the world (including the Birkie).

8

Inches of “miracle” snow that fell four days before race day in 2002.

30

In feet, the new, wider Birkebeiner trail in advance of the 1980 races.

 

0.4

Seconds separating top three men in 1987.

11

The number of skiers making up the Founders Club, established by Wise to honor those who skied in the first 10 Birkies. They are Karl Andresen, Fred Constalie, John Gannett, John Holmquist, John Kotar, Dave Langraf, Jacque Lindskoog, Wayne Lindskoog, Nils Meland, Ernie St. Germaine and Richard W. Scott.