By Mike Campbell

As my wife Inga and I, along with our four-year-old daughter Andy, were attempting to housesit our way around North America for a year, we were very conscious of finding ways for Andy to still interact and play with other children.

Our first housesit location was a log cabin in the middle of a national park in Clam Lake, Wisconsin. With a population of 36 and the youngest resident being 37, the task was a little more challenging than we had anticipated.

While searching online I came across Hayward Nordic Kids, a volunteer organisation that “promotes the sport of cross country skiing by providing a fun and organised teaching program for all area youth, by encouraging children to develop skills in cross country skiing in a non-competitive atmosphere.”

Inga and I are both avid alpine skiers and were teaching Andy how to downhill ski. We didn’t really know much about cross-country skiing but there were photos of kids all having fun on their website and they met every Sunday afternoon for two hours, so we signed her up.

Their season was already part way through and I didn’t really know what to expect. During the week before our first Nordic Kids class an email was sent out to everyone reminding parents that this weekend was dress-up week.  Excuse me? Dress-up week?

I can barely get Andy’s mittens on let alone some kind of costume over her ski outfit. I had no idea what to do. Thankfully Andy remembered the fairy outfit her grandmother had giver her for Christmas that we had packed.

As you can see Andy didn’t come home with the Best-Dressed Award that day.

Hayward Nordic Kids teaches cross country skiing


I soon learnt that Hayward, which is the closest larger town to Clam Lake, about 45 minutes drive away and has approximately 2,500 people, is the home of cross-country skiing in North America and hosts the American Birkebeiner, or the Birkie, as it is affectionately known, in February each year.

Nordic Kids is a way to get the kids interested in the sport and everyone is working towards the Birkie week.

Hayward is the home of cross-country skiing in North America


The kids absolutely love it as they make their way around the trails through the forest.

Kids love making their way around the trails through the forest.


The Birkie is the largest cross-country ski marathon in North America. It spans over 50 kilometers from Cable to Hayward and attracts over 10,000 skiers from all over the world.

Hayward stops for the Birkie. They build a bridge over the highway, fill Main Street with snow and the schools even close for two days.

But the Birkie is not just about the main international race, it is about the community, families, and especially the kids. There are four days of events with all kinds of activities.

Andy, along with many of her friends that she made at Nordic Kids, participated in the Barnebirkie. A 1.2 kilometre race of nearly 1000 kids skiing across Lake Hawyard, over the International Bridge, and up Main Street to the iconic finish line of the Birkie.

Hayward hosts a cross-country skiing event for kids


It was exciting watching all the kids have fun, using the skills they had learnt and flying down the International Bridge.

The kids use the same track as the professional skiers


All the kids received a medal as they passed the finishing line as one sensitive dad’s eyes filled with water. After the race Andy said to me, “Dad I’m so proud of myself.” And we were just as proud of her.

Cross-Country Skiing Race


We came back into Hayward the following morning to see the front-runners of the Birkie cross the finishing line and to soak up the atmosphere of this beautiful event. The cowbells were ringing as the first skiers arrived around 10am and they didn’t stop all day. I heard that one skier crosses the finishing line every second from 11am to 1pm.

The Birkie is the largest cross-country ski marathon in North America


The Birkie is so much more than a cross-country ski race. It is the heartbeat of a sport that unites a town.

Things to know

  • The Birkie is held around the second or third weekend in February every year.
  • During this time Hayward’s shops sell cowbells with money going to charity.
  • Nordic Kids runs from the first week in January to the last week in February.
  • Put toe warmers in your shoes when watching the Birkie as you’re outside all day.
  • Grab a bowl of chilli that they sell out the front of the Riverbrook ski shop
  • For more info go to Hayward Nordic Kids - and The Birkie -

Mike Campbell and his wife Inga, along with their daughter Andy have packed, donated or sold everything they own and hit the road for a year, attempting to housesit their way through North America. You can connect with them and read about their adventures at

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.