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Family, Fun & Fitness in February

January 1st, 2015

By Glenda Hanna

While families should be out having fun and being active all months of the year, this February there is a perfect event for the whole family to get involved in and have a blast at; the Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Festival. The ‘Birkie’, as it is affectionately known, is a recreational classical cross country ski festival, the largest of its kind in Canada. Edmonton is not only a Winter City, but also a renowned Festival City, and the Birkie is one of the longest running and most successful winter festivals hosted in the region (27th year this February).

The Birkie is held the second weekend in February every year. This year’s theme is Ya Gotta Have Heart! and there is truly an almost magical combination of special days to celebrate together at the Birkie; the Birkie falls on Valentine’s Day, it’s Family Day weekend, and it’s Heart month. It just doesn’t get any better than that. I mean, can’t you just feel the love and positive energy flowing already in anticipation of this amazing weekend?!

This is a great winter for young and old to embrace the season and go Nordic. Cross country skiing is the undisputed world’s best activity for cardiovascular health and longevity with high quality of life. Kids who learn to ski cross country can enjoy and benefit from this full-body, outdoor activity their whole lives; and with this low-impact activity, it is never too late for parents and even many grandparents to take it up too. This year, for the first time, we are partnering with the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the host of February’s Heart month, to promote preventative cardiovascular health and first aid/CPR training.

This year at the Birkie, there are skiing events for family members of all ages and abilities:

Ole’s Tour – 2.5/4 km untimed events for youngsters and those just sampling skiing (with adult accompaniment of younger children)

13 km Mini Birkie – a great event for older kids, teens and adults who can handle themselves on skis and who have even nominal fitness (remember, you get to glide at least a third of the distance)

31 km Birkie Tour –the most popular event at the Birkie, this long course event requires at least average fitness and ski skill;

44 km Birkie Two-Step Relay – in honour of Valentine’s Day, a new special distance event where, in teams of two, each skier skis about 22 km. This event will be enjoyable for many teens and parents with average fitness and ski skills. Teams can be made up of friends, family members, or any other combination and there will be special heart shaped chocolate rewards for all.

The premier events at the Birkie are the 55 km Birkebeiner with Pack and the 55 km Birkie Lite. These events involve a long day’s ski for many adults and are not recommended for children and youth. But these events are definitely something adults and older teens can set as a goal and train toward; getting fit and having fun all winter doing so. The Canadian Birkebeiner Society and Edmonton Nordic Ski Club offer a variety of instruction and training group opportunities.

Also to be anticipated and celebrated are the inspiration and joy that come from spending time out exploring a trail in a winter wonderland, and the beauty of making memories through active time shared out skiing with family and friends. The forested rolling and winding trails of ‘Birkieland’ (Cooking Lake/Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area, just south of Elk Island National Park) are world class recreational ski trails. They don’t involve long mountainous climbs and each small up is generally rewarded with a nice gliding ride down the other side of the hill where you can catch your breath. It’s really, really fun.

Finally, the Birkie offers an amazing on-site festival atmosphere, with around 2500 skiers, volunteers and spectators celebrating skiing and active outdoor lifestyles. There’s complimentary food and beverages for registered skiers in a big, warm festival tent at the finish line.

Note the Birkie in your family’s winter adventures calendar for this year and celebrate Valentine’s Day, Family Day weekend and Heart month all at once. For more information or to register, see

See you on the trails!

Tags: exercise, health, yeg

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