Ben Popp, the executive director of the Minnesota-based SISU Foundation, will cross the border and become the leader of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, and the largest Nordic ski race in North America.
A 1996 graduate of St. Olaf College, Popp has been an elite coach for college and citizen athletes and a highly successful endurance athlete. He won the two-man division of the Race Across America cycling event in 2002, completed the 3,000-mile solo race in 2009 has had top 25 Birkie finishes.
The Wisconsin native replaces Ned Zuelsdorff, who announced his retirement in January, after serving as the Birkie’s executive director for eight years. During that time, the ski race and the foundation have grown significantly, with more than 10,000 skiers now participating in Birkie events and hundreds more competing in the annual trail runs on the Birkie course.
A farewell celebration for Zuelsdorff will be held in Hayward on Friday.
The ABF Board of Directors announced the hiring of Popp on Wednesday.
“We are thrilled to have Ben on board,” said Sue Scheer, ABF Board President. “His Nordic skiing experience are a great fit for the Birkebeiner organization. We’re confident Ben’s leadership, creativity, and passion will help us advance our goals and meet the challenges ahead.”
Much like the ABF, the SISU Foundation is a non-profit organization a non-profit organization dedicated to the development, support and promotion an active outdoor lifestyle. While leaving his post as executive director, Popp will remain on the SISU Foundation’s Board of Directors.
“We are very happy for Ben as he takes on this new challenge,” said Mark Hooley, president of the SISU board.
In taking on the Birkebeiner job, Popp will return to his northern Wisconsin roots. He has been active in the Birkie since the 1970s.
“Having grown up participating in North America’s greatest ski race, I’m excited to join the ABSF team and continue the tradition of excellence, hosting quality events and getting people involved in an outdoor lifestyle,” Popp said. “My family and I are looking forward to becoming a part of the Northwoods community.”