Writing Book on Nordic Skiing History Inspires Author’s Move to Duluth
But it wasn’t until he began research for his recently published book, “Winter’s Children: A Celebration of Nordic Skiing,” published by the University of Minnesota Press, that he, his wife and their two daughters moved of Osceola, Wisconsin, just outside of Duluth.
The University of Minnesota Press recently published Ryan Rodgers’ book, “Winter’s Children: A Celebration of Nordic Skiing”. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
For him, these were conversations with some of the area’s longtime skiers – Nordic ski coach Duluth East Bonnie Fuller-Kask, Korkki Nordic Ski Center co-founder Mark Helmer, Olympic ski jumper Adrian Watt. , the late Olympian and founder of Snowflake Nordic Ski Center George Hovland – who convinced him to head north in October 2020.
“It just made me think it was time to go up,” said Rodgers from his home on 10 acres of land north of Duluth which has a small network of trails for skiing and mountain biking. tires. “This is where I want to be. They think the same about this stuff. In addition, there are so many trails and the other recreational possibilities are endless.
Rodgers said he was drawn to the “philosophy of the outdoors” that he knew many others in Duluth also shared.
“It’s not about skiing. It’s about the ways to get out there and truly embrace the outdoors as a way of life – it’s skiing, hiking, biking, whatever, ”Rodgers said. “They are secondary to the ultimate goal of just being on the outside. “
The Riders of Duluth gathered near the lodge in Chester Park for a tournament in the 1920s. Contribution / Archives and Special Collections, University of Minnesota Duluth, permanent loan from St. Louis County Historical Society
And that is reflected in the book. It’s not meant to be a complete story documenting skiing, said Rodgers, “Rather, I wrote it for fun and to express the passion people have for Nordic skiing.”
The book traces the Scandinavian roots of skiing to the immigrants who brought it to the Upper Midwest. It chronicles the days when Duluth was the mecca of ski jumping with jumps at Chester Bowl, Lester Park and Fond du Lac, the decline of ski jumping after WWII and its replacement by downhill skiing. It captures the ‘cross country revolution’ of the 1960s and 1970s and the strength of the sport in the 21st century.
Ole Mangseth above the Chester Bowl ski slope in Duluth in 1910. Contribution / Adrian Watt Collection
Archival photos are placed on most of the pages, some of which are from Adrian Watt’s private collection, a box Rodgers says he borrowed for over a year.
It started with Watt’s mother saving newspaper clippings of his accomplishments and later Watt added to them himself. The result is “at least 60 years of archival good stuff,” Watt said.
Watt, 74, who competed in ski jumping at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France, grew up in ski jumping at the Chester Bowl.
For decades Guy Olson has presented an annual trophy to a member of the Duluth Ski Club. Here he presented the award to Adrian Watt in 1969. Watt holds the skis with which he set the American distance jumping record the previous year. Contribution / Chester Bowl Improvement Club
He said that he and all of his friends – whom he called the “old folks” of the sport – had read the book and called it “a trip down memory lane.”
“(Rodgers) would have information about someone and a name that you might have forgotten over the years,” Watt said.
And the book includes the stories of the older ‘oldies’ that Watt and his friends remember from their days of ski jumping at the Chester Bowl, such as Peter Fosseide, who still had his thick Norwegian accent and, along with Erik Judeen, helped to usher Younger skiers like Charlie Banks and George Hovland were skiing behind Fosseide and Judeen, mimicking their form, Rodgers wrote.
“There were a lot of colorful characters, let’s put it that way,” Watt said.
“As soon as someone picked up their skis, they would jump on them until they put their skis on,” Walter Teppen said of his dog, Spot, who in the 1920s entertained spectators by hurtling down the airstrips on modified skis under jumps. to Duluth and the Iron Chain. Contribution / Archives and Special Collections, University of Minnesota Duluth, permanent loan from St. Louis County Historical Society
The book focuses on the people behind the history of skiing.
It includes people like Banks, a store teacher and ski coach at Duluth Central High School who in the 1950s cut a network of private trails next to his home in Clover Valley, north of the city.
Rodgers writes that Banks would load the ski team into his station wagon and hit the slopes for practice. Banks’ wife Dorothy would often make hot chocolate for them after skiing before Banks drove them back to town.
Mark Helmer, who now runs the 10 kilometer single track trail system under the name Korkki Nordic Ski, gave Banks credit for passing on his love of the sport to the youth of Duluth.
Charlie Banks is skiing his home slope. This photograph is on display in the Korkki heated house in memory of Charlie. Contribution / Korkki Nordic Ski Center
“The fact that this has been documented and will go on for a while makes me happy because (Charlie Banks) was my best friend and still is,” Helmer told the News Tribune. “And to think that someone would write a book not only about Charlie and Korkki and what they did for skiing, but about all the people who have done so much to start the sport, that’s important, very important. . “
And Banks’ love for the sport included the type of outdoor philosophy Helmer passed on to Rodgers, ultimately prompting the author to relocate a short drive from Korkki.
As Banks got older, Helmer would invite him over for a ski. Banks said he was too slow and liked to stop and watch the tracks.
Helmer replied, “Me too. Let’s go.”
“It’s more than skiing, and I think it has to be said, it’s the love of being outdoors,” Helmer said.
Rodgers said he was happy to have interviewed George Hovland before his death at the age of 94 earlier this year.
Hovland, who skied at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway, touched pretty much everything skiing in Duluth, described to Rodgers what it was like to be a kid watching the start of the Arrowhead Ski Derby, a five-day race that started at the Duluth Civic Center and ended in St. Paul for the St. Paul Winter Carnival. It was won by Fosseide.
The book also tells the stories of some of the girls and women who broke into the sport before Title IX.
Bonnie Fuller-Kask, now a Nordic ski coach at Duluth East, was one of them. In the late 1960s, she and her brother started skiing in the Twin Cities, but there weren’t many sports girls could officially join. – just cheerleading. Her brother joined the school’s ski team and she trained with them, but she often needed her parents to drive her to practice while everyone else was on the bus, Rodgers wrote.
But things changed quickly, Fuller-Kask said. She graduated from Robbinsdale High School in 1973 and two years later returned to Robbinsdale as a ski coach.
Bonnie fuller kask
By that time, a girls ‘team had been formed and it was as big as the boys’ team.
“The girls couldn’t conceive that there wouldn’t be women’s sports,” Fuller-Kask said.
The inclusion of girls and women in the sport is an important story to remember as it can often be taken for granted – she sometimes hears her skiers talking about Title IX as something that destroys both boys and men’s teams in the races. secondary schools and colleges rather than expanding opportunities for girls and women.
“Without knowing what it was like before, you might not be able to hold onto what you have now,” Fuller-Kask said.
And that, she said, is the importance of recording history.
“I think it’s a treasure for Minnesota that someone like (Rodgers) writes this book on the history of skiing, because at some point it gets lost,” she said.
The book is Rodgers’ first and derives from a 2019 article he wrote for the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine on the history of cross-country skiing in William O’Brien State Park in Marine on St. Croix and how he ultimately fathered Jessie Diggins, who, along with teammate Kikkan Randall, won the first Olympic gold medal in cross-country skiing for the United States at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, in South Korea.
Nordic skiing books are stacked in Ryan Rodgers’ home office. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
With a few years of research, a move to Duluth, and a book to show it, Rodgers said he believes the future of competitive cross-country skiing is solid in part thanks to more snow-producing facilities and strong interest in high school programs across the state.
“Nordic skiing as a competitive sport – the future is bright,” said Rodgers.
But, he later added: “The traditional style of skiing as the Norwegians historically enjoyed it – that pursuit where you get in shape and you get better and you improve your community and you get in touch with the community. nature – this is what we are working on. risk of losing. It is undeniable that the winters are noticeably warming.