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."
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.
Håkon Brusveen (the runner) helps Earling with the first Ridderennet 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. Olav was at the time 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. Race for Light became Ski for Light to emphasize the recreational nature of the program. A non-profit corporation was formed and blind participants got involved in shaping the future direction of the program.
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. Although the first Ski for Light Canada event was in 1978, the official incorporation took place in Edmonton on February 4th 1981.
The event is held in January or February each year at a site chosen by the Ski for Light Board. All arrangements are made by the board in cooperation with a Sons of Norway Lodge and local ski clubs.There were three blind and visually impaired cross-country ski programs in operation in Western Canada. A ski club in Vancouver BC, was affiliated with The Sons of Norway (SON) and operated by Synnøve and Annar Jacobsen. The Norseman Ski Club in Calgary, Alberta affiliated themselves with SON, created by Lillian and Ted Ofstad. A blind and visually impaired cross-country ski program in Edmonton, Alberta, sponsored by The Nordic Society of Edmonton with Kaare Askildt in charge of the program.
Arrangements were made by Annar Jacobsen with SON Nordic Lodge in Castlegar, BC to host the very first blind and visually impaired cross-country skiing event in Canada. It was attended by Erling Stordahl, the founder of the Norwegian Beitostølen Health Sports Centre (who organize the annual Norwegian Ridderrennet) and his guide Inge Morisbak, (the program manager at Beitostølen. Inge has a PhD in physical education and adapted sports). 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.
Four blind and visually impaired skiers travelled to Norway in March to participate in the annual Ridderennet at Beitostølen escorted by Kaare Askildt The trip was funded by a sport celebrity dinner by the Nordic Society of Edmonton. The proceeds were matched by the Edmonton Kinsmen Club. That was the first time any Canadians had ever skied in Ridderennet. It was a great trip and a valuable learning experience for all.
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.
The SON Foundation approved the SFL proposal as a SON outreach program and a meeting was convened at Gary Johnsons 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 SFL US. All were in favour of creating SFL Canada Inc., Bylaws were drawn up, all except Einar Berg became Directors and officers were elected by silent ballots. Kaare Askildt was duly elected President, Annar Jacobsen was elected to the VP position and Gary Johnson became the Secretary/Treasurer.
"Life is what your thoughts make of it"