Get to know Charlie

Veteran skier to celebrate his 99th birthday with his 19th Ski for Light & a trip to Ridderrenn

Charlie Wirth

Photo courtesy of SFL
Since 1995, 98-year-old Charlie Wirth has attended almost every national Ski for Light event, except those in Alaska.

Barbara K. Rostad
Coeur d’ Alene

Trips to Ski for Light = 18

Ridderrenn journeys = 15

Visits to SFL Canada = 10

That adds up to a mountain of ski weeks. Especially if it’s all been done since 1998. And most especially, if a 99th birthday looms.

Meet Charlie Wirth, 98, a legally blind skier from Toms River, N.J., who discovered cross-country skiing for visually and mobility impaired individuals in 1995, when he attended a regional Ski for Light (SFL) event in Pennsylvania.

Three years later, he checked out SFL at the national level, that year, in New Hampshire.

Except for those in Alaska, Charlie has been to almost every national event since. He’ll likely skip Canada this year, because his usual guide up there will be in Arizona at that time.

“If she were up there, I’d likely go,” he acknowledged.

But another crossing of the Atlantic for the 2020 Ridderrenn in March is a distinct possibility.

Charlie also plans to be part of the Wyoming week to celebrate 45 years of SFL, Feb. 9 –16. Charlie has become a SFL fixture. After all, he’s been around for about half of the organization’s life. He has gone to 41% of all events and a whopping 81% if you start counting from his first Ski for Light in 1998.


Photo courtesy of SFL
Charlie Wirth (left) of Toms River, N.J., who will turn 99 in March, with guide Karen Anderson at the finish line at the 2018 Ski for Light at Tahoe-Donner. This year’s SFL will be his 19th, and he plans to travel to Norway for his 16th Ridderrenn, a nice birthday present.

Brooklyn-born, Charlie skied at a much younger stage in his life when he still had vision. But his eyesight was limited and expected to decrease over time, until it would simply disappear. In light of these circumstances, both his doctor and his fiancée urged him to stop—thus, he had many ski-free years.

His career was in advertising. Back then, he could read and type but retired when his sight vanished. It was after his retirement that he eventually learned about SFL.

Asked what captivated him about the organization, he replied, “I just enjoy it, the cross-country skiing. There’s no local skiing, no friends who ski anymore.”

As for his most memorable Ridderrenn, he replied, “I can’t say. I enjoyed all of them.” Similarly, answering this question about SFL, he said, “They were all fun. I can’t say any one is better.”

Like many SFL participants, Charlie has no Norwegian heritage, but he has taken to the various programs for visually impaired individuals. He said that attending these events is now harder mentally than physically, because he worries he’ll forget his flight or other aspects of his schedule.

Modest to a fault, he doesn’t understand why journalists, particularly those in Norway, always seem to want to interview him.

His 2019 roommate at the Ridderrenn, Dan Beckman, one of the four selected by SFL to attend the Norway event, gets it though. In his reflections about their Beitostølen days, he wrote, “I do have a suggestion for new Ski for Light people: get to know Charlie.”

This article originally appeared in the February 7, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.