Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

In praise of Nordic skiing and immigrants who brought it here

Photo: Laurel F via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Laurel F via Flickr Creative Commons

Spring may be around the corner, although winter seems to be hanging on around Puget Sound.

So, while the Mariners are in spring training in Arizona, and high school basketball has wrapped up, we still have time to look up to the mountains and, if we have the resources, go skiing. When people think of skiing, they usually think of riding chairlifts up mountains and skiing down ski slopes. I have done a lot of that. But there is another approach to this. It is cross-country skiing, which involves no lifts and lots of energy, skiing down and up and on the flat for miles and miles. It is a good sport. You sweat a lot, your heart rate goes up, you get winded, you see a lot of the winter wonderland of the Cascades, and, as you get better and better you go faster and faster.

In 1954 a bunch of Norwegian immigrants from Seattle founded the Kongsberger Ski Club for cross-country skiing and ski jumping. They built a little cabin, a ski jump and some cross country ski trails east of Snoqualmie Pass. I joined up with them in 1974. They also took in other immigrants, including Bertil Larsson from Everett, even though he was a Swede! Bertil was a good 20 years older than me, but we raced each other around the cross-country ski trails for years. His work as a carpenter and contractor gave him upper body strength that couldn’t be beat, especially double-poling. And skiing and fitness enabled him to race well into his 80s.

These immigrants planted the seeds for cross-country skiing in the Northwest. They included Norwegians, Swedes and Finns, who came over to our country with the same hopes and dreams of today’s immigrants, and, just as these more recent immigrants do now, added their cultures, their knowledge and their work to our American democracy.

This infusion of Scandinavian immigrants has also provided a good breeding ground (literally!) for elite cross-country ski athletes. In the Vancouver and Sochi Olympics, Holly Brooks from Seattle, a Garfield High School graduate and a Kongsberger Ski Club member from when she was a toddler, skied for the United States and raced the World Cup circuit in the years in between.

Now we have another cross-country ski hero from our state. Last week the World Cross-Country Ski Championships were hosted in Lahti, Finland. These races included 1.5 kilometer (about 1 mile) sprints, 50 kilometer (32 miles) long-distance skiing, as well as team relays. In the team relay, two skiers ski three incredibly hilly and curving one-mile laps each, tagging off to each other. This demands high-intensity skiing, sprinting, cornering, tactics and strategy. Skiers reach 35 miles per hour going downhill into curves with skis which are an inch and a half wide and bindings that only hold the toes of their boots! Then they ski up steep hills in the same race. And to top it off, it is a bit like roller derby, with six skiers taking off at the same time and fighting for the lead.

The race takes incredible will and motivation, skills and high-level fitness to win. Not to mention luck. In the women’s final, Sadie Bjornsen, from Winthrop in the Methow valley, teamed up with her friend and U.S. team member Jessica Diggins. The Norwegians won, and the Russians came in second. The real competition was for third. Sadie skied some of the fastest laps in her group, tagging off to Jessica, who came from behind and crossed the finish line a toe-length ahead of her Swedish competitor. So Sadie and Jessica won the bronze medal, a first for cross-country ski racers from our state. We can trace this success to the parents, grandparents and great grandparents who came to the United States from Scandinavia, bringing with them a sport which has flourished in our state.

They were immigrants and most of us are immigrants. Only 2 out of 5 people living in Snohomish county were born in Washington state. We depend on immigrants, make that ourselves, whether we/they are doctors, farm laborers, carpenters, hotel workers, programmers or columnists. And we have immigrants to thank for cross-country skiing!

Original: Everett Herald »

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