A classic ski poster shows a blonde baby in a quaint wooden cradle, one outstretched hand holding ski poles, with a pair of skis protruding from the other side. The caption is “Norway. The Cradle of  Ski-ing.” This poster reminds me of my roots.

Jan Brunvand, age 3

I was on skis from before I can remember. An undated snapshot in the family album proves this. I appear to be about three years old.

I suspect that my parents posed me on adult skis, as those boards are super long, even for the late ‘30s. ( I was born in 1933.) My mother surely knit that hat, while those fancy mittens were from Norway. I’m holding one long ski pole, but I don’t seem to be going anywhere.

In a second childhood photo I’m posing with my brother Tor in what could be about my seventh year. Tor was born in 1935, and we had matching ski jackets. The snow sticking to my pants hints that I must have fallen on the run before the shutter clicked.

Jan and brother, Tor

My parents came from Kristiansand, Norway. They were married in 1929 in Windsor, Canada, then moved to Northern Michigan. I was born in Cadillac. By the time Tor arrived we had moved to Lansing.

I have one slightly damaged photo of my dad on a ski trip in the old country, captioned “Easter 1925.” He’s on the right with his hand on the railing. Check out those vintage skis!

Jan’s father

As Tor and I grew up Dad would take us to parks or golf courses to climb up and slide down on skis. Before we gained some proficiency with “snow plow” and “stem” turns he would hold his poles out horizontally for us to cling to for balance as we schussed the gentle slopes. 

We climbed either by traversing and kick-turning, or using the herringbone method. When our skis got sticky, we rubbed on a mix of graphite and paraffin.

In 1948 realtor Rollie Stebbins convened a group of skiers to form the Lansing Ski Club with my dad as a charter member. A portable rope tow in Stebbins’ backyard was my first experience with motorized uphill ski travel. After the club bought rural property and installed a real rope tow we enjoyed many days there working on our turns. We also made occasional trips north to ski Caberfae near Cadillac.

In photos of me in those days I am usually wearing  a dark blue or red V-neck ski-jumper’s sweater sent to me by my maternal grandfather in Norway.

My Dad carved a graceful Telemark turn, and Tor soon got the hang of it. I never mastered Telemarking, but instead worked on my stem-Christies and eventually achieved a more-or-less full Christiania turn. It was gratifying to learn that both these turns were named from places in Norway. Never mind that the Christie was part of the Austrian-inspired Arlberg system.

Starting college at in 1951 I joined the Michigan State Ski Club and entered a new world of skiing with friends who had actually taken lessons and learned from pros. This led to further trips to Caberfae, and eventually to skiing in the Rockies..

At college I met my non-Norwegian non-skiing future wife and converted her to the sport after a disastrous first experience.

To be continued . . .  

4 Comments

  1. Avatar Win Stebbins says:

    Thank you Jan for writing your early ski history article, and mentioning the Lansing Ski Club and Rolly’s portable ski tow in his backyard.

    Everyone needs to start somewhere, and then ski on steeper slopes.

    I no longer ski, but have very vivid memories of memorable ski runs over the years. I now use a ski-pole type walking stick for stability when I accompany my wife on sidewalk dog walks. Age 77 in Lansing MI

  2. Avatar Dick Brunvand says:

    My big brother seems to have forgotten that I skied as well even though I was born with a birth defect and walk with braces and crutches. I use a sit ski and have skied with my brother in Utah. I have also skied at Squaw Valley in California, on slopes in South Dakota, Oregon, Michigan and in Norway.

    • Avatar Jan Brunvand says:

      Right on, Dick! I didn’t have any early photos of you on the sit ski, but I must have some of your visit to Utah and skiing the slopes of Park City. I will check. I didn’t know about all the others. South Dakota? Anyway, hard to keep a tough Norwegian down for sure.

  3. Thank you Jan, this is an interesting story and I look forward to the next chapter and learning how you introduced your wife to the joys of downhill skiing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*