We’re celebrating the 25th annual Barneløpet this year! Area families have been enjoying this non-competitive ski or walk event in Decorah on the first weekend of February since 1999.

Barneløpet, (pronounced BAR-nuh-lop-it) is Norwegian for “kids race” and Sons of Norway lodges all over the country sponsor Barneløpet events. It is modeled after the Barnebirke, a children’s cross-county ski race held each year as a part of the world-famous American Birkebeiner in Hayward, Wisconsin.

Decorah’s event is a partnership with Vesterheim and three Sons of Norway Lodges—Valdres #503 in Decorah, Iowa, Heimbygda #376 in Lanesboro, Minnesota, and Valheim #364 in Spring Grove, Minnesota. Darlene Fossum-Martin has been the organizer from the beginning!

Barneløpet is open to children of all skill levels from age 3-13. Skiers receive a ski bib at the start line and a medal when they complete the course. Hot chocolate and homemade cookies from area Sons of Norway lodge members are always served by the fire.

Each year, it’s so great to see everyone out in the snow. Older kids join their families, and people bring sleds and snow shoes. It’s fun to see the kids line up at the start and then so excited as they cross the finish line for their medals!

The original location was on along the south side of the Upper Iowa River, but the Decorah Praire has become the ideal spot for skiing in a loop so the start and finish are at the same place and being flat enough for beginning skiers. It’s accessed easily by car at the south end of Ohio Street, near Aase Haugen Homes.

Barneløpet has been free for many years thanks to support from Jon and Mary Hart of Decorah in memory of their friend Kjell Arne Berntsen, who passed away in 2013 and was an avid Norwegian cross-country skier and previous Valdres exchange student at the Decorah High School.

The event could not have happened all these years without support from Decorah Park and Rec, who grooms the trail for us each year, and from all of the volunteers who bake cookies and cheer on the skiers. For many years, Dennis Barnaal dressed as a nisse and handed out ski medals. In recent years, two trolls have been making an appearance!

It’s always fun on an anniversary year to look at some stats. Throughout its history, there has been an average of 45 skiers each year, and we have only canceled three times – once for COVID and twice for freezing weather. Only three out of the past 24 years have been snowless on Barneløpet weekend. In the absence of snow, we still hold the event, walking through the tall prairie grasses. Only two conditions will cancel it – sub-zero temps or icy conditions that make it unsafe for all participants.

Cross country skiing is associated with both Norway and the Midwest and a great way to continue winter sport and leisure traditions. Darlene said that one year a young man with his child approached her and said, “I know you don’t remember me, but I skied in the first Barneløpet and now I wanted to bring my own kids!” This event is a tradition we hope to continue and celebrate year after year.

Check out this gallery of pictures over the years and join us this year on the ski trail on Saturday, February 3 at 10:00 a.m.! Find event detail here.