Anyone who has skied the American Birkebeiner has a story to tell. Jeff Foltz has skied the Birkie five times, and he has written his story in his new book: “Birkebeiner—A Story of Motherhood and War.”
Foltz’s story is not about himself. It is about a mother’s timeless and primal compulsion to protect her child. It’s a fictional account of an historical event that brings skiers and racers and their attendant fans to Hayward every year to celebrate the largest Nordic ski marathon in North America — the Birkebeiner.
Foltz writes about Inga, the wife of the Birkebeiner leader King Haakon, who realizes that the Crozier army will kill her two-year-old son, Haakon, the young prince who will someday take the throne.
King Haakon asks two armed soldiers to carry his son through the perilous valleys and over the mountains to safety. They must ski to get there. Inga will not allow her son to make the journey without her, so they all ski for eight tortuous days, carrying the prince all the way, to Nidaros.
Foltz said the inspiration to write this story happened the first time he skied the Birkie and saw the portrait — two medieval soldiers on skis carrying a baby — hanging in the coliseum at Telemark Lodge, “I said to myself, ‘These guys are not baby sitters. What’s the story here?’ When I returned from the Birkie, I began to research. One thing led to another and about a year later I went to Norway.”
Foltz, a skilled Nordic skier, skied terrain in Norway that would have been similar to that which the story’s main characters would have experienced.
“By that time I was hooked — inextricably mired in the story,” he said.
He went on to do research with Cornell University’s Nordic History Library, the Oslo National Library and the Holmenkollen Ski Museum in Oslo. Ultimately, his book became his creative thesis at the University of Southern Maine’s nationally ranked Master of Fine Arts, The Stonecoast Creative Writing Program.
Foltz wasn’t always a writer. He said that after college he joined the Sears retail management program, then left to join a financial services business where he spent over two decades, starting out by selling life insurance.
“Life insurance is perhaps the only career where one can experience more rejection than trying to get published,” Foltz said.
Foltz will not ski the Birkie this year, although he does not rule it out in the future.
“What an exciting, unique event — I’d love to do it again one of these days, (but) the book has cut into my training time this winter, and I haven’t spent nearly as much time on my skinny boards as I’d like,” said Foltz.
Of the five Birkie races that Foltz has skied he likes to tell the story of the one he skied “unconscious.”
“I skied in wave 2 and had my sights set on breaking three hours. As I approached 12K, I had begun to catch a few Wave 1 stragglers, so traffic was still tight,” he said.
Foltz said he was skiing well and confident of a downhill turn that was coming up, when the next thing he remembers is a spectator helping him to his knees. His dark glasses were shattered and the trail came in and out of focus.
He said he got up and skied off and didn’t remember another moment until he reached the fire tower at 17K.
He said that his right side of his forehead hurt and he had trouble seeing with his right eye, which had blood and marshmallow puffiness.
“When I crossed the finish line, a couple of volunteers took me to first aid and they patched me up, but there are, forever, 20 minutes missing from my life,” Foltz said. That was still his second fastest Birkie, he said.
Foltz has great memories of all his Birkie races, and of Telemark, where he said he discovered his book, tested his wax and wondered how on earth 8,500 skiers could all be in one event.
Foltz will be at The Rivers Eatery and Redbery Books in Cable on Wednesday, Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m. where he will do a reading from his book, answer questions and sign books. He will also be signing books at the Birkie Expo, located at the Hayward Middle School, on Thursday and Friday, February 24-25, with a portion of the sales going to the Birkie.
Foltz lives in Camden, Maine with his wife Sue. They have three grown children and seven grandchildren.
For more information about his book visit birkebeinerthenovel.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org