Ski for Light pivots again

Participate in this year’s online events

Ski for light

Photo: Leslee Lane Hoyum
Based on Ridderrennet in Norway, Ski for Light partners sighted, non-disabled cross-country ski guides with visually- and mobility-impaired skiers.

VICTORIA HOFMO
Brooklyn, N.Y.

What is now known as Ski for Light (SFL) was inspired by Erling Stordahl, a Norwegian musician who wished to ski but was stalled by his blindness. I chose the word “stalled,” because he was not stymied by his challenge, but he instead looked for a solution to his dilemma. His efforts began in the 1950s and resulted in the Norwegian organization Ridderrenn, “Knight’s Race,” created in 1964.

His concept was brought across the Atlantic by a Norwegian ski instructor, Olav Pedersen and established in the United States in 1975 in partnership with Sons of Norway International President Bjarne Eikevik. This expansion to America revolved around a chance encounter between Stordahl and Pedersen at a Voss railway station. The latter was traveling there to perform at the Norwegian Skiing Championships with two other musicians. Pedersen was asked by Stordahl to emcee the concert.

Erling Stordal

Photo: Riksarkivet / Wikipedia
Erling Stordahl was visually impaired, but he didn’t let it stop him from riding a horse—or skiing.

Later, Stordahl shared his dream with Pedersen because he “trusted” him. Pedersen was not convinced. “However, skepticism could not stop [Stordahl]. His vision found understanding and support from the public, the media, members of the government, and last – but not least – from King Olav and the royal family,” wrote Pedersen. Established, as a not-for-profit, all-volunteer organization its “mission … is to teach blind, visually and mobility impaired adults the sport of classic cross-country skiing.” The annual event changes location each year, and Sons of Norway has continued to be a substantial and loyal supporter.

Each participant works with a personal guide for the entire week. The guide highlights the topography, natural vistas, and landscapes they are passing and serves as an instructor, explaining how to maneuver through the changing terrain safely. In this way, each person can work at their own pace, allowing individuals to reach specific achievements. As many as 300 participants have partaken annually. The ties to Norway and Norwegian culture remain strong.

In 2021, like many organizations, SFL hit a troubling mogul: COVID-19. They had time to pivot and participated in an international virtual event, which was deemed “truly successful.” Of the 438 people who registered, 140 had never attended an SFL event. Bonnie O’Day, chair of the 2021 SFL planning committee, described chockablock offerings in the organization’s newsletter with enthusiasm.

Ski for light

Screen grab: Ski for Light / YouTube
Last year, Ski for Light national went online because of the global pandemic. Here, Julie Coppens welcomed viewers to the virtual program. This year, more virtual programing is planned.

The opening night featured an introductory video entitled “This is Ski for Light” and a showstopping song with Andrea Goddard, “The Edge,” by Heidi Muller. There were six fitness classes, including stretch, yoga, core strength, sport cord and fitness with a stretch band, as well as a fitness challenge. There were also 12 special-interest sessions, including bread baking, mountain climbing, and dragon boating.

A live online auction raised over $11,500. There were also Zoom rooms for informal socialization, many going until the wee hours of the morning. The event’s closing ceremonies features singer/songwriter Jim Salestrom, a 100th birthday celebration for Charlie Wirth, one of the visually impaired skiers, and several well-deserved awards. 

The group received greetings from Norway, from the secretary general of Ridderweek, Anne-Kristin Wadahl, and a special appearance by Atle Hovi, CEO of the Beitostolen Resorts. He was present at a virtual start line at the beginning of the 5K track. The “start” was narrated by long-time SFL friend and leader of the Norwegian delegation, Svein Thorstensen. 

Many of these events described can be found at “SFL 2021 Virtual Event: General and Special-Interest Content – YouTube.”

The organizers received many positive comments about the online event. One commenter said, “The spirit and friendship were surely the goal, and you succeeded! Fun on many levels!” Another person said, “I really enjoyed participating and connecting with everyone. I had that SFL feeling!”

Ski for light

Ski for Light was started in the United States in 1975 and hosts national and regional events.

Granby, Colo., was set to host SFL 2022, but like many others, the organization was blindsided by the Omicron variant. On Jan. 7, the event’s cancellation was announced. There was concern about already strained medical facilities, disrupted travel, and overall health and safety. Of course, they were disappointed, but they recognized that “one case among our group could quickly snowball into an unmanageable situation for our volunteers.”

This year, however, will not be a total wipeout. SFL has quickly and adeptly scaled down and plans to host another virtual event. It will include exercise and fitness activities and some special-interest sessions, as well as a virtual auction on March 25. Updates to the plans will be posted on their website at sfl.org.

While COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc or at best unsettle our everyday lives, straining our beloved organizations and events, it is essential that we keep those we wish to survive in our sights and provide support, so they can successfully ride out the pandemic. SFL wholeheartedly deserves this attention. You can consider participating in their upcoming virtual auction or give in a manner of your choosing.

This wonderful organization, with its perfect name, brings light to many through the sport of Nordic skiing and deserves to not only survive but thrive. Everyone looks forward to SFL gliding through packed powder in 2023. 

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.

Victoria Hofmo

Victoria Hofmo was born, raised, and still lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the historical heart of Norwegian New York. She is 3/4 Scandinavian: 1/2 Norwegian and 1/4 Danish/Swedish. Self-employed, she runs an out-of-school-time program that articulates learning through the arts. Hofmo is an advocate for arts and culture, education, and the preservation of the built and natural environment of her hometown, with a love for most things Scandinavian.

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