Ned Zuelsdorff will retire in May from his post as executive director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, after building the race to nearly 10,000 skiers and expanding the use of the iconic trail through Sawyer and Bayfield Counties.
The foundation board of directors accepted his resignation on Monday and announced his departure on Thursday.
“Clearly, the long-term effects of Ned’s leadership have created a legacy that skiers and spectators alike will continue to enjoy for years to come,” said Sue Scheer, board president. “Ned has also been a champion of the citizen skier, perhaps one of the reasons that increasing numbers of skiers of all ages and abilities continue to sign up as first-time Birkie skiers then come back as returning skiers.”
Zuelsdorff, now 62, took over the leadership post in 2005, after 27 years as an administrator in the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection. Like those citizen-skiers he encouraged, Zuelsdorff raced in 14 full Birkebeiners and three Kortelopets before he traded his skis for a walkie-talkie and pages of logistical plans.
“I’m retiring from this job to allow me a little more time to
stay physically active myself and to get back into better shape,” Zuelsdorff said Thursday. “I need to do this to help manage the diabetes, and mentally as well. “I hope to become
part of the Birkie Trail Crew. I really enjoy the trail and what it means to
Under his guidance, the Birkebeiner built a classic-only trail that covers roughly half the 50-kilometer course and helped ease congestion in the early portions of the race. The Birkebeiner also developed a charity component, Skiers for Cures, welcomed skiers with disabilities through its adaptive ski program, expanded the Trail Run & Trek to a full marathon, and started a Birkie Tour and a biathlon event.
His passion has been the Birkie Trail itself and making it a destination year-round.
The signature event, the Birkebeiner ski race has grown from 6,000 participants in 2005 to the 10,000 registered for the 40th anniversary on Feb. 23. It is one of the largest ski races in the world. Cautious, steady growth has been Zuelsdorff’s mantra throughout.
“My goal is to be the best race in the world,” Zuelsdorff said in March 2012. “We don’t need to be the largest.”
He elaborated on Thursday: I think that with the help of many people I’ve been able to accomplish a lot in the last eight years, including creating new events, modifying others. I was really happy with the results of building the Classic Trail and the growth and resurgence of classic skiers
at the Birkie. I enjoy skiing that trail and truly think it’s more fun than the Birkie Trail itself, that says a lot. I think it’s great how our numbers
of “citizen skiers” have grown. While elites bring a lot of excitement, the citizen skiers are the backbone of the Birkie. My hope is that the events
and the trail get better and better. Quality is what’s most important!”