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Famed Birkebeiner ski race kicks off Wednesday with safety protocols

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Birkie preview 2021

CABLE, WI -- The 47th American Birkebeiner kicks off in Cable, Wisconsin, Wednesday with some necessary changes.

In a year unlike any other, American Birkebeiner Executive Director Ben Popp said the race is taking on a new challenge.

"This year has been completely different," Popp said. "The scope of the event is much smaller as we mentioned, but everything is brand new, and everything is certainly heightened."

With extra emphasis on keeping people safe, Birkie 2021 will host nearly 5,000 racers.

Normally attracting 30,000 people to the event, Birkie 2021 will not have spectators.

"It's really a mixture of emotions about getting people excited and active outdoors is part of this event, but also knowing that we have to be super careful and cautious," Popp said.

Race waves will be spaced out over five days.

For safety purposes, event organizers removed busing, warming tents, and gathering spaces.

Skiers will wait in their cars until it is their turn to race the looped course.

While there won't be large crowds of cheering fans, this year shows Birkie comradery extends beyond a physical location.

"If they feel like they were a part of something that was special that gave them hope during a time when sometimes it's been a little bit bleak, then that's a success for us, and we're hopeful and we're excited and we believe that it's going to happen," Popp said.

After months of preparation, event organizers are ready to see hard work and perseverance paying off.

"We feel prepared," Popp said. "We feel like we're ready. We feel like we have a whole community that's in a really good place to bring it on, but certainly excited about getting this thing rolling, and let's get Birkie 2021 underway."

There is also a virtual option for skiers.

3,500 people have signed up for that option so far.

Though this Birkie will look different compared to the year's past, Popp said the changes are what makes this year so special.

"This is not what we call a traditional Birkie," he said. "There's certainly not a one-size-fits-all Birkie here, but at the end of the day, it's Birkie, it's the community, and it will carry on as what Birkie 2021 is all about."

Watch KBJR 6 Today for live coverage of the event starting Wednesday at 6 a.m.

KBJR 6 will also be going Facebook live Wednesday morning after 7 a.m. to provide a look behind the scenes.

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Kendall Jarboe

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