I first tried cross country skiing in 1975 while on a 7 day mountaineering trip to the Uinta Mountains of Utah. The majesty of the mountains in winter, the sting of cold on my cheeks and the glorious experience of gliding over the snow convinced me that Nordic skiing was one of the best sports for me.
I read everything I could about the sport and skied every chance I got. This wasn't always easy in the Chicago area where I lived. I remember using a broom one New Years weekend to push snow into a narrow 100 yard long corridor so I could ski. I wanted to share my love for cross country skiing with everyone I could.
My friend Bill Blunk talked me into skiing the American Birkebeiner Race in Hayward, Wisconsin in 1979. I completed that race and completed every Birkie since then including the "ice rink Birkie" of 2007. The 2018 Birkie will be my 38th consecutive Birkie! If you do the math (i.e. 2018 minus 1979 you come up with more years than 38. Unftunately the Birkie was cancelled in 2000 and 2017 due to the lack of snow.)
I began teaching skiing by developing a program for the forest preserve district around Chicago. I joined the Professional Ski Instructors of America in 1983, became Certified Level II in 1987 and Certified Level III by 1990. I was appointed Nordic Administrator for the Central Division of PSIA soon after. I taught ski instructors and developed ski education materials for PSIA-C in addition to instructing and coaching at Eagle River Nordic near Eagle River, Wisconsin and the forest preserves around Chicago.
I retired from my "day" job and moved to Montana in 1999 to expand my summer mountaineering opportunities and added backcountry skiing to my outings. I was appointed to the PSIA-Northern Rocky Mountain Division Education Staff in 2002. I worked as a clinician during PSIA-NRM education and certification events until 2011 when I retired from the PSIA-NRM Education staff. I have been a member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America for over 30 years.
I frequently ski the groomed track at Izaak Walton Inn near Glacier National Park and take forays to West Yellowstone, Lone Mountain Ranch, Homestake Pass and other skis area in Montana. An, of course, I try to visit northern Wisconsin every winter to ski the American Birkiebeiner ski race.
If you see me on the trails be sure to say HI!
Got questions or suggestions for additional topics? Or just want to make a comment? Email me by clicking on the Email Ralph link in the left column.
Above Left: January 25, 2008 at Izaak Walton Inn.
Below: My retro look during my 20th Birkie in 1998 (left). To complete the retro theme I skied classic. The '98 Birkie was a half race. A warm winter with little snow plagued the Midwest and the race was run from Telemark only to Hwy. OO, a total of 23 kilometers. Below right: At the start of my 26th consecutive Birkie, February 2005.
Ralph Thornton, PO Box 1482, Choteau, MT 59422