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Heia Lars!

by Mark Lahtinen
February 7, 2013

I’m writing this in memory of my high school ski coach, Lars Kindem, who recently passed away. The bio of Lars that you may have seen on SkinnySki (in the linked funeral home guest book) attributed to me was actually written by Lars for his induction into the Minneapolis Ski Club Hall of Fame at a Gala several years ago. I didn’t know a lot of those things at the time nor all the other stuff when he was at St. Olaf and the choir (read the guest book, it’s really interesting).

Imagine Minneapolis North as a City and State ski power…basketball yes, but skiing? It was due to the coach, Lars Kindem. Besides what is mentioned in his bio you should also know that he coached two individual State XC ski champions: Wade Britzius in 1964 and Ron Jacobson in 1965 (from the Minnesota State High School League Boy’s Nordic Record Book). This was also during a time when alpine (slalom) and jumping were also part of the overall team ski title so a coach had to spend time in the different disciplines. Lars was a 3 or 4 way skier, as I understand , so he had done all the different types of skiing – and a lot of other fun stuff I see from reading the notes on the funeral home guest page from his classmates at St. Olaf College.

Maybe it isn’t so surprising at all. Minneapolis North was the closest to Wirth Park where the race course was and where the old jump was. North’s run was in between dominance by Duluth Central and East teams in the ‘40s and 50’s and before the long run by Cloquet teams in the late ‘60s into the mid ‘70s. Duluth schools dominated the individual XC titles through the ‘40s and ‘50s including a couple of names you may recall – Charlie Banks (’42) and George Hovland (’43). From the late ‘60s into the mid ‘70s Hopkins schools had most of the individual title winners. The Lake Conference school ski programs were just getting going at that time I suppose.

A little bit about me and skiing at the time before I get back to Lars as coach. I came to North in the late ‘60s initially thinking about playing hockey but the practice times were at some God awful hour so a friend said I should try skiing instead. Growing up in southern North Minneapolis, around Bassett’s Creek Park just north of Bryn Mawr, some friends of mine and I had done some skiing at a junior high age. One of my friends was a jumper and had some old extra skis – I’m talking long old wood skis with leather strap bindings. We built small snow bumps at Bassett’s or at the bigger hill near Fruen’s Mill neighboring the Flower Gardens. We’d jump 3 to 5 feet I suppose. I can remember XC skiing home from Fruen’s along the railroad tracks with these old jumping skis with no poles.

I don’t remember a whole lot about the initial practices at North. Lars had us do alot of interval type training in the school basement. There were some warm-up exercises and some agility drills and some isometrics. I can remember being in a sitting position with our backs against the wall while Lars timed us for a minute with our thighs screaming for relief. We’d do the 3 or so stories of stairs running up and then doing 5 sit-ups or push-ups at the top. Three sets of 3 or 3 sets of 4 with a lap around the basement in between each set.

Lars would have us run relay races around the basement hallway flying at full speed and jumping a half flight of stairs down and then up and occasionally encountering the wrestlers in the hall in near collisions – don’t run into a heavyweight. Lars introduced us to the importance of pulse rate, particularly the first resting pulse in the morning which could signal overtraining or an impending illness.

We ran to Wirth and back and some hills too but I don’t recall a lot of that. He also had us playing soccer with the XC skiers against the slalom team and jumpers.

A little bit about XC skiing back then: This was back in the wood ski, 3-pin binding and cane pole era. No p-tex, no skating and no carbon fiber. The tracks were skied in around the Wirth race course. The skis we had initially were white old army skis that had been cut some to make them narrower and lighter. My uniform was some old football pants – blue with a white stripe down the side, Go Polars, rah! - with the thigh pads removed and knicker socks which always seemed to fall down. I found a blue alpine weight sweater and a long blue cap with a white stripe…I was stylin’. There was one poplin knicker suit for the top senior skier. Polypro, lycra, full-length suits…forget about it!

The race course started in front of the chalet and went up the long hill through the woods (like the long climb now after the downhill and 180 right) right away after the start to get you warmed up. We did have to wait for the jump portion of the meet to finish as we skied right through the run-out below the landing hill. We went along the 11th hole and down the long hill towards Bassett’s Creek just skirting the 11th green. We went over towards the Glenwood Hills Hospital fence and climbed the big uphill next to the 13th fairway to the reservoir on top. It was then down the Fence Hill with a sharp right as the fence took a 90 right to the west – remember, this was wood skis and there wasn’t the speed we have now – but it was scary/thrilling to make that turn amongst the trees. Then over the Par 3 7th tee and following the fence line through the wetland (where the ice bike race was last year) and then climbing to the hill above Twin Lake – backwards on most of the Loppet course as it is now. We wound our way back through the Par 3, by the maintenance garage area and then through the narrow trail along the west side of the practice putting green and back down to the start area in front of the chalet. Probably about 5K, but we never measured it.

Just before the ski season Lars would have the team over to his garage for a pine tar party. Lars lived just north of the North school area in our arch rival Mpls. Henry’s area. We used old torches and pine tar to get the skis ready for the season. Be careful not to hold that torch in one place too long and burn the bottom of the ski. The smell was great but I imagine there were some PNAs and other chemicals that probably weren’t too good for you. We would then throw the skis in the snow for a couple of days to season them before skiing.

When we got on snow Lars would have us ski in a track on the flats across the bridge on the 9th hole, which was a little different then than it is now. We’d ski around in a small loop and Lars would give us technique critique with and without poles. Besides the standard diagonal striding, double-pole and double-pole with kick there were some variations on the diagonal with not poling every stride to rest a little. You’ve probably seen this if you’ve watched any old video of XC ski races in the ‘50s or ‘60s which you can now find on YouTube.

On snow practices were at Wirth and I’d get a ride from a friend there – no busing then. Sometimes I’d end up skiing home 2 miles down the railroad tracks (some engines I guess would leave two shallow grooves that were like a ski track between the rails) while always watching out for a coming train. One never came by at that time. After dinner it was down to Bassett’s Creek skating rink for a couple hours of ice skating and games of pull-away – more interval work.

North was kind of the home team so it was kind of our duty to set the track by skiing in the course. We’d ski slowly with Lars or one of the seniors leading the way and then some of the skiers with one ski n the track and the other out to pack down a pole track on each for those big baskets. The gloves/mittens weren’t so good then either and I can remember my hands freezing on at least one occasion as we skied around the course setting track. Damn the snowmobilers that came up from Twin or Sweeney Lakes and wiped out our handiwork at night.

Race day was relatively easy compared to now. One pair of skis, no skating, no structure, no glide wax and a limited choice of kick waxes – i.e. for us it was Rex. Any wax was okay as long as it was Rex blue for the most part. All the City teams would wax upstairs in the chalet in the outer room as is done nowadays sometimes. Lars would sometimes walk around with a different kick wax to try and psych the other coaches. There was talk of peanut butter and jelly…for wax. I don’t remember much for pep or pre-race talks which was fine after listening to football coaches. The quiet was good. The bathroom in the chalet was as it is now- small and we’d all have to use it before the race…that hasn’t changed.

Two skiers every 30 seconds in interval starts. Not many people watching. Up the big hill trying to lose the guy who started with you. Agonizing a little on the first downhill – although the woodies were slower there wasn’t a lot of control in the 3-pin binding and somewhat too flexible boots so turns were an issue at times. Up to the Fence Hill and down hoping to make the turn. At least one skier I know hit one of the trees and the tree won not surprisingly.

Lars wasn’t out on the course during the race as the coaches had to do the hand timing and calculations afterward; no computers, chips or even calculators – you had to be good at adding/subtracting minutes and seconds. We’d ski around a little to cool down until the results were up, hand written of course. My first two years at North we won all the City races (I think we were tied once by the other City ski power of those years – Edison).

For the City meet on a Saturday we’d do two laps. I was able to use my friend’s older brother’s racing skis for the City meet (he had skied at North a couple of years before I started). They were beautiful – Jarvinen’s with 7 light laminated layers of wood – really a work of art. We waxed with Rex blue and it was a little warmer and glazed in a couple of spots so Lars said put a little yellow klistervox (gooey yellow hard wax) under the foot. It worked well. In my junior year I see the result sheet notes said “34 F, skare klister/purple kicker” so it must’ve been a little warmer/icy.

When State meet came, Lars said to go see Norm Oakvik who was selling skis out of his house in Robbinsdale. I got a new pair of Madshus light touring/racing skis.

The State Meet then was held at Chester Bowl in Duluth. We’d take a bus up and stay in a cheap motel in West Duluth. The Chester Bowl course was a little intimidating with a tricky fall away right about 1 K out then a long climb to the top by the jump and radio towers and then the big fast downhill to the start finish. Twice around. I don’t think waxing was an issue the first year. The fall away turn got me though on the first lap.

My junior year we had a good team. One of the seniors had a legitimate shot to be the State Champion. He was a good cross country runner and skier. Sometime after the Holidays Lars called us in and said he had to kick the senior off the team as he had been seen drinking alcohol at a party over the break by one of the alpine skiers. (I think we XC skiers were Lars’ favorites).

I can’t remember how or when, but sometime after the ski season ended word came down that Lars was leaving North and taking a position at Roosevelt which had some good skiers coming up.

Now Lars was on the other side but I think he still felt bad about leaving as he offered some advice from time to time my senior year and in following years I heard. Our new coach was a recreational alpine skier so we XC skiers were kind of on our own. We still won our share of meets as we had good jumpers too. High school was finished and I didn’t get a chance to say good-bye to Lars.

Fast forward 7 years to my first Birkie. I had bought some of the same Madshus that I had in high school from Hoigaard’s after high school - $25 then I think. Fiberglass skis were just coming in so I had to get a pair of them before the Birkie. I ended up buying some Nordiques or Epokes. Orange, 215 centimeters (out of 210s), supernabutene bases…they had to be fast. I had to use some alpine wax for glide and some klister for the longer distance. Still 3-pin bindings though but I also got some Liljedahl aluminum poles with the cool orange triangular basket which went with the orange skis.

I had skied quite a bit that winter as a ski patroller for then Hennepin Parks at Baker. The ’76 Olympic Games were also happening in Seefeld and Bill Koch won a silver in the 30K.

Picking up my bib at Telemark…there was Lars who was the TD for the race and a couple of other skiers who had skied at North in the years after I graduated. One of them was Peter Hoag who went on to be a US Olympic biathlete in ’76 and ’80. We talked some, I don’t remember about what…skiing, waxing I suppose.

The next morning the gun went off and we were climbing the alpine slope at Telemark with the near head wall at the top. Then we went screaming down the other side. I didn’t really know anything about pacing for a 50 K. Somewhere near the half way point I felt I was skiing pretty good and hey, there was Lars along the track. Heia Lars! It did catch up with me later and it wasn’t pretty or fun – my first bonk.

Down the trail another two decades or so. Still skiing. The Enron collapse was happening and I wrote a letter to the editor at the Star Tribune that they published. Can’t remember what I said exactly. A couple of days later I got a call. I t seemed like a crank call about my letter. Then the caller said, ”Hey Mark, this is Lars.” We met for lunch at Milda’s in my old neighborhood and we reminisced about skiing and the senior who was kicked off the team. He brought copies of the old ski race results for the City and State meets for the years I skied (no SkinnySki then). The results resolved a small issue another skier and I had at a reunion about who placed where at the State meet. Lars lived in Burnsville and invited me down to pick some apples from his trees. I didn’t go, but we e-mailed from time to time.

The last time I saw Lars was at the Minneapolis Ski Club Gala several years ago as mentioned at the beginning. I had heard from some other older (relative term now) skiers after the Loppet a couple of years ago, over a couple of well deserved brews, that Lars was in a nursing home.

I heard a story or two about Lars a few years ago. At the Nationals in ’73 at Bush Lake/Hyland, which Lars was heavily involved in, Lars observed a skier from another Division being pushed up a hill in the 50 K by a coach. I can’t remember if the skier was DQ’d or not however. Lars also went to bat for another Central skier who was left off an Olympic team after having won the 15K at the trials. Same ski Division as above. Ski politics.

Lars did a lot for this sport of cross country skiing before it became as popular as it is now. As a teacher and coach he touched many lives. To a high school kid coaches and teachers seem larger than life. Lars was larger than life in many arenas.

Lars, I just want to thank you for your guidance in helping introduce me to this wonderful lifetime sport that I continue to enjoy.

Heia Norge! Heia Lars!


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