The Korkki Relay

My daughter takes her first strides on skis, many years ago at Korkki.

I showed up for the 2017 Bangin’ in the Brush, even though it would be the wettest in history. I triple-knotted my laces, which was a first for me. Before the race, Dave Johnson asked me if I’d rabbit for the kids as they raced around the field. I agreed and smiled. Now, I was “that guy.” I used to be a kid running through a field, then I watched my two children running around the lap at Korkki for a cookie, and now, I was the silverback that gets chased through the grass.

Dave is sneaky like that. He beams that smile at you and asks if you want to do something. He’s always specific, which is smarter than asking for generic help. But you suddenly realize you did want to do that exact thing. Once, I offered to come out to Korkki with a chainsaw…someday. He said, “How about tomorrow?” Suddenly, I was out by Fryberger’s Curve making noise and felling balsams. My dog Leo and Annie Blackfoot had fun. I did too, but my logbook says I was “sore for three days.”

This is how skills are handed down: One small act at a time. My dad taught me how to run a chainsaw, and then I got to use one to help my sport. My dad taught me how to kick wax my wood skis in the 70’s. He taught me how to glide. I taught my wife how to diagonal stride. And then we taught our kids. My son accelerated out of sight a few years ago. Soon, my daughter will leave us behind, as she should.

Grace First Tracks


I scanned my logbook for Korkki entries. The first time all four of us went to Korkki, my daughter had just turned two. I skied with my daughter in a child-carrier backpack. My notes say, “Bluebird day. Everybody out. Chilly for what we’ve been having but Grace was still saying, Faster! Faster!” She still wants more speed 11 years later. Every KidSki coach had a part in making her a skier over a ten-year period. Then Kara Salmela coached her and now Bonnie Fuller-Kask is coaching her.  They pass down what they know. I bet you can guess whether my daughter follows the Easy Way sign to the right or goes the other way. The first time she ever skied was at Korkki. Her strides are getting longer and stronger.

Eric Sam Grace Backpack

I looked at Mark Helmer, the Assistant Chief of Trail, giving the race instructions before the foot race and wished I had known Charlie Banks. But, in a way, I do because I know Mark a little. I ski the curves and the Big Hill with my whole family, which is also a way to get to know the Chief of Trail. People and places are intertwined. As I looked around the crowd of runners, I saw friends. I saw parents with their kids and grandkids. I even saw the doctor that delivered my daughter.

David Quammen is one of my favorite writers. He wrote a story for National Geographic Magazine called “People of the Horse.” He described a horse race called the Indian Relay that takes place in Montana. One paragraph he wrote is the best thing I’ve read about how activities (as opposed to possessions) are passed through the generations:

You embrace skills and a passion that have come down from your ancestors; you learn the skills from your elders and make the passion your own; you become proficient, then expert, then generous with your expertise; you care for your animals smartly and lovingly; you pass the favor along to younger kin. You make your family proud and whole. That’s the ultimate Indian relay.

When I plop down on the bench at the Korkki cabin after a ski, I page through the guest books. After I’m done gasping for air, I stand up, walk over and look at the names of people who’ve gone around the trail five times in one day. I look at the black and white pictures of skiers on the wall and the Olympic bibs. I stand by the woodstove and think of fresh air, the smell of balsams, and how it feels to stride with blue wax under my heels. How it feels to watch my children kick and glide with power. Korkki is not just a trail. It’s a portal from the past to the future. It’s where we ski the Korkki Relay.


About Eric Chandler

Husband. Father. Pilot. Cross Country Skier. Writer. Author of Outside Duluth and Down In It.
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