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Skiing book author to do online BookEnds presentation Dec. 10

Rodgers, who makes his home in Duluth, Minn., will be giving a free online presentation for the Wadena County Historical Society this Saturday, Dec. 10, as part of its popular BookEnds series. His presentation, which starts at 11:30 a.m., can be accessed by calling 218-631-9079, sending an email to 603wchs@arvig.net or visiting the website at WadenaCountyHistory.org.

Ryan Rodgers.jpg
Author Ryan Rodgers poses with a pair of wood skis on his Duluth property, Dec. 20, 2021. His first book, "Winter's Children: A Celebration of Nordic Skiing," will be the focus of a Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022 talk for the Wadena County Historical Society's BookEnds Online, to be presented via Zoom at 11:30 a.m.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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WADENA — When Norwegian immigrants first came to Minnesota in the mid-1800s, they brought their love of Nordic skiing with them.

"Before World War II, Nordic skiing, and ski jumping in particular, was a popular mainstream sport," says Ryan Rodgers, the author of "Winter's Children: A Celebration of Nordic Skiing," which was published in late 2021. (Nordic skiing includes both jumping and cross country.)

Rodgers, who makes his home in Duluth, Minn., will be giving a free online presentation for the Wadena County Historical Society this Saturday, Dec. 10, as part of its popular BookEnds series. His presentation, which starts at 11:30 a.m., can be accessed by calling 218-631-9079, sending an email to 603wchs@arvig.net or visiting the website at WadenaCountyHistory.org . "It's going to be over Zoom," he said during a Dec. 2 interview with the Tribune.

Winters Children.jpg
Ryan Rodgers' first book, "Winter's Children: A Celebration of Nordic Skiing," was published in late November 2021 by the University of Minnesota Press.
Contributed / University of Minnesota Press

Rodgers, who did extensive research on the sport for his book, said that before World War II, both cross-country skiing and ski jumping were quite popular; downhill skiing didn't really become a thing in the United States until after the war. "Downhill skiing became more accessible after the U.S. GIs (i.e., military servicemen) came home from Europe," he explained. "They had really fallen for this European style of skiing."

The advent of the safety binding — "invented by this guy who was in the hospital with a broken leg, from skiing," Rodgers said — also helped to advance the sport's accessibility and safety, and "coupled with some entrepreneurial veterans opening up ski hills, it led to a real explosion in the popularity of downhill skiing."

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Though ski jumping is still considered a sport — one that's included in Winter Olympic competition, no less — it's become "more of a niche thing," Rodgers said. His own interest in skiing is mainly in the cross-country variety. "I've always skied cross-country," he said. "I'm not into the racing, but I do go (skiing) four or five times a week when the snow is good."

His family, including his wife, son and daughter, often joins him: Only one of them, his five-year-old daughter, has really expressed an interest in downhill skiing, though they've all tried it. Rodgers said he grew up around the sport, as his dad was also a skier, but he lost interest for a few years, until he was asked to write an article for the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine, a publication of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources .

"It was about the old, enriched ski culture in Marine on St. Croix," he said. "Interviewing people for this book, I was struck by the depth of the stories they were telling about cross-country skiing, and how it bound the community together, spanning through generations of people."

The more research he did, the more he realized that the subject matter might be worthy of "a broader, longer writing project."

That spurred him into writing the book, which involved "an equal mix" of researching through old newspapers and historical society records, and interviewing people who had been around the sport all their lives. "I never thought about the history of skiing, it seemed like it was this Minnesota thing that had been around forever," he said. But his research gave him a new appreciation for skiing in all its forms. As he described it in a December 2021 article for the Duluth News Tribune , Rodgers said the book was not supposed to be a comprehensive history of skiing in North America. "I wrote it more for fun, and as an expression of the passion that people have for Nordic skiing."

It is, however, a book that captures the essence of the sport and its origins in the Midwest, from its introduction in the late 1800s to its uncertain future in today's changing climate. It is illustration-heavy, with a lot of archival photos gathered from his research.

Currently, he's in the process of researching what may become his second book project: Wilderness canoeing in far northern Canada. "It's been fun researching it," he said. "It should be interesting if I do it right."

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at vgerdes@dlnewspapers.com.
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