CABLE, WI -- The American Birkebeiner began Wednesday morning in Cable, Wisconsin.
In its 47th year, the American Birkebeiner attracted experienced skiers like Josh Horeck from Winona, Minnesota.
"I think 15 Birkies, and this is Korte number seven," Horeck said. "Something like that."
The famed cross country ski race also drew in new skiers like Erin Copeland from Duluth.
"I'm nervous, but I guess I'm glad that there are fewer people on the trails to keep the snow nicer and have less people in the way trying to trip over each other."
After a year full of change, Birkie 2021 had to adapt.
With no fans and fewer racers, this year's Nordic ski race is not what people are used to.
"A lot more lowkey," Horeck said. "There's no Birkie lines. There's nothing that way. It's kind of an interesting, quiet, slow-paced, easy-going party."
Skiers had to carry their own water vessels, but there was plenty of hand sanitizer to go around.
The race ran a looped course instead of ending in downtown Hayward.
The changes did not damper the Horeck family's experience, because Birkie is in their blood.
"This is three generations," Horeck said. "We've been doing this since 1992. It's been a while."
With son, father, and grandfather all in the race, the pandemic did not keep the family away.
Without the large crowds, more space on the course meant more room for the love of the sport.
"Just getting out there and skiing," Copeland said. "I'm excited to see what it's like."
Organizers embraced the challenge of planning a safe event during the pandemic.
"It's awesome," Horeck said. "We get the fever."
Birkie fever: a tradition of doing what skiers love, even when life takes a new course.
On day 1, more than 500 racers competed.
There will be 5,000 total racers competing in waves over the next five days.
Thousands are also competing virtually.