Mother Nature cooperated this year and over 13,000 skiers of the Nordic clan gathered in "Birkie Land," from Cable to Hayward and points all over northern Wisconsin to ski and celebrate snow, the active lifestyle, and life itself.

With the golden aura of the Diggens/Randall team sprint medal for Team USA hanging a loving cloud of happiness over the proceeding, skiers from 36 countries and 49 states (Trivia question: Who's missing?) came together in North America's largest cross country ski race to challenge themselves, question themselves, and ultimately reward themselves.

Because of last year's cancellation, this was the first trial for the newly revised Korteloppet. Running 29 kilometers from "OO" Trail head to the Main Street of Hayward, and things seemed to go smoothly. A solid six inches of new snow Thursday night had the groomers working overtime, but they rarely sleep anyway. Being an intrepid skiing reporter, it seemed right that I indulge in the new distance and skiing the classic style joined about 3,000 other enthusiastic participants in the fun.

Using wave starts organizers led out with U20 skiers, everything from the legal aged 13 year olds up to the somewhat maturely aged 19 year old skiers, and rightfully so, high energy and all leading the way. They alternated gender and technique waves until they reached the Wave 70 skiers at 11:05, one of the few perks of longevity. I kicked off with Classic Wave 1 at 11:15 and then the fun began.

The Lakeland kids rocked at the Kortie. Kieran Mullen was a whisker away from taking the overall skate win, snatched by Josh Albrecht, skiing as a freshman for the Michigan Tech Huskies, with Kavanaugh FitzPatrick finishing third in the 17-18 year old group, seventh overall.

On the girls' side, Mia Case, skiing in her first Korteloppet, was first in the 13-14 group and fourth overall, dialing it back just a bit as she saves some for Junior Nationals at Soldier Hollow, Utah.

In the classic event, Cody Schneider finished third in M15-16, and Jakob Craig took the M13-14 title. Keeping the ball rolling in the family, Johanna Craig took third overall with a nice classic ski.

Being the Birkie, Saturday's expected low of 10 degrees F worked out to something like -4 at race time. Gotta love those computer models. Skiers were snazzily outfitted with buffs, mitts, and neck warmers as well as under layers too precious to mention, each of their own frostbitten paranoid design.

Luckily the sun soon made its effect known and the track looked sensational. We watched a few waves before making a quick move to the viewing at "OO," the halfway point. Handing a feed and quick words of encouragement to a good friend we then scooted to Hayward just in times for awards. With the top three men within a few seconds of each other, and the women starting earlier and thus arriving at almost the same time, I personally missed the finish. Maybe next year a "Flight for Life" helicopter ride could detour me to Main Street instead of the Hayward hospital. Although I did snag a compulsory bratwurst while making my way from parking, thus setting the stage for next year's potential helicopter ride. On the other hand, the LiveSteam video was fantastic.

Being a highly paid member of the Nordic Journalist Guild, I was able to obtain entry to the post race Press Conference. Arriving a bit early and not quite GPS'ed to the entry to the building, I followed Elite Wave skier Brian Gregg who looked quite attractive with a flower bouquet in hand. Knowing that his wife, Caitlin had taken the womens' title, her fifth and a record, it was easy to locate the room and the rather fresh looking young men and women who not too long ago were collapsed on the correct side of the finish line. In skiing there's a lot to be said for well conditioned youth, they bounce back quickly.

I've known the Greggs for some time, they are professional athletes who have given much to the sport, and they race for both pleasure and pain, knowing a mortgage payment awaits each month, as well as expenses for doing business. According to both of them, the paychecks were greatly appreciated and going directly to the bank, and the flowers were nice too.

Chatting a bit before the opening of the press conference with the ladies, I asked that all consuming and important question any experienced ski journalist has in mind; "So, what's a champion eat for breakfast?" Caitlin was quick with the expected standard jazzed up oatmeal with an egg on the side. Third place Chelsea Holmes of Girdwood, Alaska, preferred the toast with peanut butter route for her energy, but it was easy to see these two had traveled and eaten together before as they knew each others habits and means of stoking the fire, with friendly joking between them.

Second place Maria Graefnings of Sweden was also on board with the oatmeal, nuts and berries configuration, adding in a little yogurt for effect. With her excellent command of English I found that she'd skied for the University of Utah and was now a part time professional marathon skier and instructor of sport and nutrition in Falun, Sweden, one of skiing's epicenters and where local lad, Kevin Bolger, will get to ski in the season closing of the World Cup. A nice spot.

Earlier we had seen a pack of about a dozen of the top ladies come through at "OO," Caitlin in command and looking back. They then skied a shared effort until about 10 kilometers from the end when Caitlin pushed the pace, preferring less traffic as they approached the home stretch and not at all interested in a sprint finish, eventually diminishing the threats to leaders as time gaps of 30 seconds to two plus minutes developed. Across the lake the three held together and it wasn't until the top of the bridge that Caitlin made her final push and held off the other two ladies at the end. A good day overall.

On the men's side, relentless pacing and surges continued to winnow the pack all the way to the lake as only the strong survive at that level. Anders Gloersen, Oslo, Norway took the win, holding off Ivan Perrillat-Boiteux, France, followed by Kyle Batrud, Verona, Wisc., all within about two seconds of each other. The next minute saw over 20 additional contenders come crashing in, including last years' champion, David Norris, Anchorage, Alaska, in 5th this day. Tight to say the least.

With racing as hot as the brats being sold, sunshine, beer, large crowds, and all of the U.S. represented, except Oklahoma, the Kortie/Birkie ticket is slicker and glossier than ever. The Expo was bigger and better, the various Main Street events went well, and included the Barkie Birkie, Barnebirkie, Junior Birkie, Junior Birkie Relays, the Birkie Giant Ski, as well as numerous public and private events. If you can't find your Birkie Fever somewhere in there, grab the remote and switch channels because this event has a lot to offer.