Nordic Nirvana -- Ski Club Produces Good Sports Serious About Racing

Soreness. that's what the kongsberger ski club is all about.

Soreness caused by breathing hard during strenuous training treks around a 6-kilometer cross-country circuit east of Snoqualmie Pass, and soreness from sharing side-splitting laughter with a group of slightly wacky but undeniably dedicated - and talented - racers.

``It's kind of like a family,'' said David Laurence, the club's vice president, resting at the cabin's picnic tables, covered with utilitarian plastic tablecloths and strewn with a dog-eared copy of ``Lord of the Flies,'' algebra books and junk food.

Make no mistake, however. Clutter, chuckles and characters aside, it is a highly competitive family.

``It's basically a club for people who like to race,'' said Mark Horrocks, race director for Saturday's Kongsberger Stampede, a 20-kilometer freestyle event.

``We're a real serious racing club,'' club member Karen Zellman added. ``The people are avid racers.''

On most winter days, several Kongsbergers will be gliding around the 2-kilometer loop or 6K moderate circuit at Cabin Creek, a dozen semitrailer lengths from Interstate 90's Exit 63. A few more will be crowding the fire, sipping hot chocolate, in their club-members-only cabin just a snowball's throw from the tracked paths.

``Locally it's one of the best training facilities around,'' said Jeanne Tita of the Pacific Northwest Ski Association. ``In the Seattle area, they're turning out good racers.''

On the trails, members may be challenging each other, comparing buddies' times for a circuit to their own, and boasting or roasting about the difference. But just as readily, they will trade valued tips on skiing technique, race-course strategy or waxing tips.

``We all egg each other on and push each other,'' said Mary Kay Aufrance, an eight-year member. ``Everybody seems to have a positive competitive attitude.''

Out of such a warmly competitive environment springs hot shots. Club pioneer Ozzie Nordheim is racing in Scandinavia. This week and next, a dozen members are in Alaska, some joining club leader Gil Lund in the U.S. Nordic Masters Championships, others competing in the Junior Olympics.

Four junior Kongsbergers had strong placings last month in the regional championships in Idaho. Leading the foursome are David Laurence Jr., a 6-foot-4 Redmond High School sophomore, who was the top qualifying junior in the 15-16 age bracket, and Erik Lund, a Newport senior, who won the race in the 17-18 division.

They symbolize a new era of Kongsbergers, but theirs is a group as dedicated to fitness and winning as the older members.

Nearly two generations ago, in 1953, a group of Norwegian immigrants founded the Kongsberger Club, contouring a steep slope, perfect for ski jumping, the sport that had led to Olympic dreams of their youth.

Next they erected a cabin where they could warm themselves before the fire after spending long days packing the snow on the jump hill. In the evenings, Kongsberger was like a private men's hunting club, when the members would share tales - often tall ones - about their adventures.

After a decade of heavy snowfalls that dampened interest in spending weekends stomping snow smooth, the club began to focus on nordic racing.

The club's pioneers were still involved, including Olav Ulland, a former world-record-holding jumper who moved from his native hometown of Kongsberger, Norway, and eventually settled in Seattle, where he opened a chain of sporting-goods stores.

But as longtime members aged, newcomers dared to bring their children on outings.

This year, the club counts about 65 families among its members.

``There's a whole bunch of old timers and new timers,'' explained Aufrance, club historian. Bert Larsson, the club's ``token'' Swede, typifies the older members, she said.

``We have a slogan,'' Aufrance said. ``We go around saying, `Be Like Bert, Be Like Bert' because he just keeps going. He said once that they'll have to pry his hands off his ski poles some day.

``The younger people are the typical yuppies. The club is made up of carpenters and attorneys, engineers and gardeners,'' she said, ``and that's about the best combination you'd want to know.''

Carpenters help build additions or repair the buildings on the small plot of land leased from the U.S. Forest Service; attorneys settle problems that arise in land-management issues with timber companies and government agencies; engineers chart plans that include the club's plan to light the 2K loop; and gardeners help with building and bushwacking trails.

Whereas all professions may be welcome to the club, not all people are. Money is not necessarily the decisive factor, either. Regular memberships cost $100 a year, plus a $75 one-time initiation fee and optional $25 annual payment for use of the sauna. Rather, membership is almost by invitation.

``The club's pretty open,'' Aufrance said. ``But people ask us about joining, and we ask if they're interested in racing and putting on races.

``If anybody is interested in racing, this is the only show in town.''



in cross-country

-- What: Kongsberger Stampede citizens 20K freestyle race.

-- When: Saturday, noon.

-- Where: Cabin Creek, exit 63, 10 miles east of Snoqualmie Pass on I-90.

-- Distance: 20 kilometers; two loops over gently rolling terrain.

-- Fee: $12 for U.S. Ski Association members, $14 non-members.

-- Note: Considered good introductory race, an event many Kongsberger members say was their first competition.

-- Details: 522-0339.