Our First Ski Date Didn’t Go Well.

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Growing up Norwegian-American in Lansing, MI, I was introduced early to skiing and became fairly proficient by my teens. When I entered college in 1951, I was ready to improve. I joined the Ski Cub at Michigan State College (not University then), and I took part eagerly in their activities.

I hoped to qualify for the racing team, but guys with Norwegian names like Snilsberg and Iverson were way beyond me. Besides, I was still using those heavy U.S. Army war surplus skis my brother Tor and I acquired through our Boy Scout troop. Schussing was OK; turning was challenging

At spring break 1954 I joined the MSC club trip to Aspen. We went five in a car, split the gas costs, drove day and night, lived cheaply, and managed to get in a week at Aspen and a day at A Basin.

The length of the runs, the snow, and the scenery blew my mind. My memory may be faulty, but I think we paid $21 for a week lift pass.

I can’t remember where we stayed, but I know we had facilities to make breakfast and pack lunch. We ate dinner at the Red Onion where the “Skier Special” fit our budgets. In this photo, I’m the middle one wearing the striped Norwegian cardigan.

For 1955 spring break, Tor and I organized our own Aspen trek. We enlisted three other guys and drove Tor’s 1950 Chevy. I took this shot of the others when we crossed into Colorado. Tor is on the right wearing a cap. I think we paid about $5 a night each for bunks in a small cabin next to a boarding house where we could use the kitchen and bathroom. Again, dinners were at the Red Onion.

We had a big dump of powder during this trip. Our technique was to ski straight down until we fell, then get up and start over. 

Back at college, which became MSU in June, I met my future wife in a summer class. To impress her, I mentioned that I had been twice to Aspen. She asked, “What’s Aspen?” Then Judy tried to wow me by mentioning that she had gone by train in 1954 with other Spartan boosters to watch Michigan State play in the Rose Bowl.  I think I was dumb enough to ask, “Who won?”   (For the record, MSC beat UCLA 28-20.)

Judy had never skied. So in January 1956 I took her to northern Michigan to try it. The last thing her mother said as we left was “Don’t break your leg!”  Naturally, she broke her leg, and worse, I was responsible for the accident.

Her rental skis with cable bindings and a bear-trap front clip kept falling off. Instead of doing the right thing and having the shop adjust them, I found a length of leather lacing and tied them on. Bad idea!


 Judy was game enough later on to come to the Lansing Ski Club on crutches and pose with me on skis. And she stuck with the idea of marrying me. I had a Fulbright to Norway, so off we went in June on an ocean liner to Oslo for a year of studies, travel, meeting my relatives, and, of course, skiing.

To be continued  . . 


  1. Enjoyed article and almost mirrored my experience as made the drive to Aspen back in Spring of 1961 of almost 50 hours from Hanover, NH and it snowed almost the whole way. Drove straight thru non stop by myself, chains over the passes, and then bunked in an attic for $6 a night. Everyday afterski at the Red Onion with Werner Koster . A magical trip and time. Would love to talk further with Jan about my Norwegian connections and now an owner of a cross country ski resort called Maplelag in Minnesota. Contact me at : [email protected]
    Thank you.

    Jim Richards
    Maplelag Resort
    Callaway, Minnesota

  2. Richard Kavey says:

    Wonderful story! I have a suggestion for your next academic project. How about a book on your Norwegian countryman and legend, the great Herman Smith Johansen – aka Jackrabbit.

  3. So, didn’t skiers in those days get cold?

    Almost every depiction I see of skiing back in the fifties and sixties show a skier dressed in only a sweater, no hat and baggy pants. I guess I must be a wimp because I am pretty bundled up (hat, googles, several layers of “engineered” clothing) compared to those folks.

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