For Leif Andol, Ski for Light is part of who he is
A rewarding and life-changing experience
LORI ANN REINHALL
The Norwegian American
Leif Andol was born on Nov. 2, 1929, in Gjølme, Norway, in South Trøndelag, not far from the city of Trondheim. There, he grew up on a farm that still remains in his family. Although he was literally not born with skis on his feet, he did start skiing at the young age of 3. His skis were homemade and did not stay on his feet very well, but that didn’t slow him down. He became an accomplished ski jumper in Norway and North Dakota in his youth and was also part of a ski unit while serving as a U.S. Army paratrooper. He has been skiing ever since.
An immigrant success story
Leif first came to the United States in 1949 with two other young men from neighboring farms. They had heard about North Dakota from someone who had had just returned home from there, and they decided to try their own luck on the other side of the Atlantic. They made their way to New York City by sea and then traveled by Greyhound Bus to Grand Forks, N.D.
When the three travelers arrived at their destination, they were in for an adventure. Two of the boys had sent a telegram to their contact there, Uncle Ole from Fordville, but the telegram office had made an error on their arrival date when they sent it, and Uncle Ole was nowhere to be found at the bus station. None of the three travelers could speak English, and they were hungry. But a kindly woman was there to help them. They were a bit worried when a border patrol officer arrived, but he turned out to be a friendly Norwegian American. A few calls were made, and soon 15 people showed up to take the Norwegian boys down to a local restaurant to have a bite to eat. The locals were all very happy to meet the “newcomers.”
Leif never intended to stay in North Dakota for more than a couple of years, but as fate would have it, the United States became his home. He had entered the country as part of an immigration quota and was required to register for the draft after 30 days. He worked on a farm for two years, and then went to Fargo to work for a fellow Norwegian in the manufacturing business. He stayed with the same company, Fargo Culvert and Tank Company (now known as True North Steel) until he retired in 2011. He was away for a two-year interlude with the U.S. Army, when he was drafted into the 82nd airborne division in North Carolina. Leif eventually transferred to South Dakota to start another plant for the company, Huron Culvert and Tank Company.
After five-and-a-half years in the United States, Leif returned home to Norway to surprise his mom and celebrate Christmas. He met a young woman, Solbjørg, and fell in love. It took her a year to get her papers, but as soon as she could come to the United States, they were married and stayed together until her death in 2009. It was a happy union that resulted in two daughters, Marit, and Shirley. And, of course, the entire Andol family skied.
The Ski for Light adventure begins
When the concept of the Norwegian Ridderrenn was brought to the United States in 1975 through the efforts of Olav Pederson with the support and involvement of Sons of Norway, the Lions Club, and many others, it was only natural for Leif to get involved. In 1978, he heard about Sons of Norway promoting an event in the Black Hills for guides and visually impaired skiers. Leif just came to the Hills to “check it out.” He has been participating in SFL International and Black Hills Regional SFL ever since. Leif is an emeritus director at International SFL. Sometimes, the international event and the regional event occur at the same time, but Leif attends both whenever possible. His ski coat is filled with patches from most of the SFL events he has attended (each of Leif’s 52+ patches represents a week spent with an SFL participant).
Leif realized early on that the ski tracks were very important. Two sets of tracks are set side by side for the skiers. In the 1970s and early 1980s, there was not a lot of equipment to set good, deep tracks. So, Leif decided to make track setters at Huron Culvert and Tank in Huron, S.D. He managed this plant until he retired at the age of 82. He brought and donated track setters to the regional event in the Black Hills and to many of the international events, as well. He would bring his Bombardier snowcat to pull the track setters. He spent many all-nighters out on the “Cat” setting tracks.
But all this work has never kept Leif from participating in the SFL parties! Who needs to sleep? The best part about SFL is the people you meet and reunite with every year! Once most places had their own sophisticated equipment, Leif realized he no longer needed to haul the snowcat to all the events, so he donated it to the Black Hills Regional SFL.
Leif has many fun stories about the people he has met. He has been a guide for more people than he can count and has met so many more. He remembers the first person he guided was the president of the Association for the Blind in Oregon. When they met, Leif wasn’t sure how to help her navigate the environment. So, he helped her out by standing behind her and pushing her forward. She let him know quickly that this was not helpful at all and that he should offer her his elbow. Today there is extensive guide training. Leif has participated as a pulk/sled guide, but his heart is in the cross-country events. The pulks/sleds provide an opportunity for mobility-impaired people to participate in the event.
In Leif’s own words, “Volunteering for SFL takes a lot of time, but it is worth it. While you are doing a service for someone else, you actually turn out to be skiing with a friend. You actually get more out of it than the people you are guiding; you get a lot out of it personally.”
Still going strong
The last time Leif was a guide at the Black Hills Regional event was in 2019. He could tell people that year that he knew a thing or two about skiing since he had 86 years of experience. This year, he did not guide but was there for the fun and fellowship. He also served some of his famous hot chocolate. Leif and his second wife, Jan, plan their January around the SFL events. They were both happy to be attending the 2022 Black Hills Regional Event. Leif’s grandson, Leif Halverson, guided for the first time this year.
At age 92, Leif Andol is planning to continue attending SFL events for as long as he is able. SFL is part of who he is! “If I can do this, I can do anything!” is the SFL motto. SFL is truly a rewarding and often life-changing experience for both the participant and the guides.
All photos courtesy of the Andol family
Many thanks to Marit Andol Kringstad and Shirley Andol Halverson for their collaboration and support on this article.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 18, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.