Ben Popp, the new executive director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, will hang out and talk the Birkie in the Estabrook Beer Garden on Thursday night, from 5:30 to 7.
There will be plenty of beer and plenty to talk about, with the 39-year-old who previously directed the SISU Ski Foundation in Minnesota.
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.
Popp takes over the Birkebeiner at a time when the iconic race is in the middle of a boom, celebrating record numbers of participants each year. He also has challenges, particularly the foreclosure of the Telemark Resort and how that impacts the land used for the Birkie start and accommodations for 10,000-plus skiers.
He shared a little of his thinking with SkiTrax earlier this month. I took particular note of his comments about expanding or widening the trail and extending the classic trail south to Hayward.
“Yes, we intend to grow Birkie brand. The Birkie is a gateway to get more people skiing, hiking, biking… trail widening is important, as is security in light of Boston. We need to secure trail heads. To grow the race, we don’t want to sacrifice quality. Just to maintain things we need 2,000 volunteers which is approximately the total population of the nearby town of Hayward. We need strategies to maintain and grow the number of volunteers.
“We don’t have an exact number of estimated participants down the road yet. But we want to see a classic trail all way to Hayward. This could easily add up to 3,000 skiers.”