Olwyn Ringheim: 80 years skiing in the Kootenays

OLWYN RINGHEIM racing in the Huckleberry Loppet at the end of January.

OLWYN RINGHEIM racing in the Huckleberry Loppet at the end of January.

Olwyn Ringheim remembers an important piece of advice her own grandfather gave her when she was a little girl: always prop your skis up against the house once you get home.

“There was a lot more snow back then,” said Olwyn, who was born and raised in Kimberley during the 1920s, 30s and 40s. “If you didn’t put your skis against your house you wouldn’t be able to find them in the morning.”

It was cold, too.

Olwyn explained that in the winter, her family would wake up to -50 degree temperatures at their cottage on nearby Wasa Lake.

“The ice would freeze so clearly that you see the fish swimming underneath your skates,” she said.

Olwyn is now 83. She lives in Nelson — although her own children have grown roots in Invermere, Golden and Nelson — and has spent almost her entire life in the Kootenays.

She has been Nordic skiing for 80 years.

Last month Olwyn represented the Golden Nordic Ski Club at the 2011 Masters World Cup in Vernon. This was her sixth time participating in a world cup. She won three silver medals in her category this year, although barely mentioned the awards, explaining that there were three competitors so she “had to win something.”

She was, though, very pleased with the skiing conditions at the race.

“The snow was so dry and cold. It really was exceptional.”

Olwyn started skiing when she was four years old with her grandfather.

“He couldn’t get away without me,” laughed Olwyn.

The pair would take off — on wooden skis and bindings made from the inner tubes of car tires— from their back door. After a few hours, her grandpa would tell her it was “time to go home,” and Olwyn would ski home by herself.

A tradition for Olwyn’s family was to go skiing every July 1st. The whole clan would take off to a slope near Wasa Lake (a slope that somehow kept a good layer of snow throughout the year) and spend the day ripping around.

“I think that’s a secret to a lot of things,” said Olwyn. “Keep your kids active, keep them in sports.”

Olwyn joked that her children had to learn to ski out of self-defense.

“There was no way I was going to stay at home, so they had no choice but to come along,” she said.

When they grew older, though, their connection with the natural environment shaped them into the kind of adventure-seekers the Kootenay region is renowned for.

“I raised them to be very independent,” she said, explaining that they “thought nothing” of exploring North Star Mountain in Kimberley all day with nothing but a “rucksack full of lunch.”

“I would just ask them which side of the mountain they would be exploring that day, and then off they went.”

Olwyn, herself, has always been an independent woman. She believes that you get much more skiing in if you’re not always waiting for someone to go with.

“I have no fear about skiing alone. The only thing to be afraid of is a darn good fall, but I seem to even get myself out of those.”

After the snow melts, you can find Olwyn racing her road bike in the BC Senior games or down at the shore of Kootenay Lake climbing into a dragon boat with a group of Nelson women. A cycle to the lake from her home, followed by a long dragon boat ride and coffee downtown with the ladies is what this 83- year -old calls a “lovely morning.”

Olwyn seems to be truly living the Kootenay lifestyle; what started as outings with her grandfather, feet strapped onto wooden planks with rubber from car tires, turned into a life-long appreciation for Kootenay culture, the natural environment and sport.

She seems, too, like someone who gives advice without really knowing it.

Leave your skis outside, but not your snowshoes — mice and squirrels will “chew the gut out of them”. Keep your kids in sports. Don’t be scared of skiing — or doing anything for that matter — alone.

But, perhaps the best piece of advice is this: if the snow’s good, just keep on skiing.

We all know Olwyn does.