About Ski For Light Canada

Cross-Country Skiing Beyond Disability

The idea of teaching blind people to cross-country ski began in Norway in the 1950’s with a blind Norwegian musician named Erling Stordahl. His work led to the creation of the Ridderrennet in 1964, which today annually attracts more than 1,000 disabled participants and guides from around the world to the mountains of Norway for a week-long event.

The concept was inspired by an experience that Erling had. Some military vehicles participating in an army exercise near Beitstølen, Norway left some deep wide tracks in the snow. Erling stepped into a track on his skies and was able to ski approximately 10 km. Later he said, “It was an experience I will never forget! I could ski without fear of colliding with anything. I felt a physical and mental relief. I felt like I had regained part of my eyesight. I could stop whenever I liked to enjoy the wonderful surroundings. I felt like a part of nature. My immediate reaction was that I must share this wonderful experience with my visually impaired friends.”

 

Erling Stordahl

In 1964, using this concept, Erling Stordahl began the Ridderennet (the Knights race) in Norway. The concept was expanded by using two sets of ski tracks side by side so that a guide could ski with a blind skier letting them know about hills, turns etc.

In 1975, the program began in the USA and was called Ski for Light USA through the efforts of Olav Pedersen, with the support and involvement of many others. At the time, Olav was a ski instructor in Colorado and had immigrated from Norway a decade earlier. He had known Erling in Norway and been aware from the very beginning of Erling’s dreams and plans. After that first event in 1975 the torch was passed to Bjarne Eikevik and the Sons of Norway. A non-profit corporation was formed and blind participants got involved in shaping the future direction of the program.

The first Ridderrennet 1964 at Beitostølen, Norway

 

In 1978, the first Canadian Ski for Light was hosted by Nordic Lodge No.76 in Castlegar, B.C. Erling Stordahl and his guide Inge Morisbak travelled from Norway to be there. Participants from both BC and Alberta skied in the Castlegar event. Kaare Askildt, from the Edmonton ski club borrowed a 12 passenger van, loaded the Edmonton skiers, guides and equipment, picked up the Calgary skiers, guides and their equipment and drove them to Castlegar.

In 1979, four blind and visually impaired skiers travelled to Norway in March to participate in the annual Ridderrennet at Beitostølen escorted by Kaare Askildt. The trip was funded by the Nordic Society of Edmonton with matching funding from the Edmonton Kinsmen Club. That was the first time any Canadians had ever skied in Ridderrennet. It was a great trip and a valuable learning experience for all.

In 1980, Kaare Askildt put a written proposal together, as suggested by Gary Johnson (Sons of Norway) to adopt a Canadian Ski for Light as a Sons of Norway outreach program.

Although the first Ski for Light Canada event was in 1978, the official incorporation didn’t take place until 1981. The Sons Of Norway (SON) Foundation approved the Ski for Light Canada proposal as a Sons Of Norway outreach program and a meeting was convened at Gary Johnson’s home in Edmonton on February 4th 1981. The meeting was attended by Tormod Rekdal (President SON Foundation), Henry Sotvedt (Sec/Treas SON Foundation), Annar Jacobsen (Vancouver), Lillian Ofstad (Calgary), Per Nielsen (President SON Solglytt Lodge, Edmonton), Gary Johnson and Kaare Askildt. Einar Berg attended as a liaison to Ski for Light USA. Bylaws were drawn up, all except Einar Berg became the first board of directors. Kaare Askildt was President, Annar Jacobsen was Vice President and Gary Johnson was the Secretary/Treasurer.

The first Canadian Ski For Light Event: Inge Morrisbak and Erling Stordahl

 

How Ski For Light Got Its Name

The name Ski for Light came from Erling Stordahl, founder of the Norwegian Ridderrenn.  Erling was full of metaphors. Instead of focusing on blindness and the absence of light, he focused on the unknown and enlightenment.  In looking at the Norwegian culture, he used a metaphor from Peer Gynt.  In the legend, a Norwegian knight, the ridder part of Ridderrenn, needed to escape some bad guys.  He came to an abyss and not having any idea of whether he could safely make it, leaped with faith and succeeded.

Erling equated this with the human struggle and pushed the need for us to try things where success was doubtful and discover some previously unknown strength or ability within ourselves that help us succeed.  It is the metaphorical struggle from ignorance to enlightenment. So in cross-country skiing, blind folks are enabled to ski from the ignorance of not knowing anything about the limits of our abilities to the enlightenment of learning that we can succeed at much more than we had ever imagined.

The first event using an English name, in 1975, was called Race for Light.  Oral Miller and I were the first two blind folks who insinuated ourselves into leadership for the second event.  We both insisted that racing and hard training for a race might fit in the Norwegian culture, but it wouldn’t fit in our culture for many reasons.  We insisted on something more appropriate, so we switched to Ski for Light, keeping the idea of enlightening oneself regarding possibilities and de-emphasizing the racing aspects.

By Raymond Bud Keith. Raymond who was blind, he helped build Ski for Light.  Raymond “Bud” Keith was awarded Norway’s Order of St. Olav in 1991, fulfilling a wish made by King Olav V before his death.  One of that country’s highest awards, it recognized his work with a ski program for the blind.

“It changed my life. I have met new friends and I’m part of a new family.”

Jeremy Steenberg, Skier

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