‘Relentless love affair with Vail’

Dr. Ken Hodges is still racin' after all these years. Here he's 83, or so, and competing in a NASTAR race. He's now 88 and this is his 50th year skiing Vail. He and a group of fellow physicians from Minnesota started coming in 1965.
Special to the Daily |

The Sun Has Risen

For 50 years, a group of Minnesota physicians, their family and friends have been skiing Vail. At 7:30 a.m. each day they lustily recite this poem in Norwegian, as they raise a glass of orange juice with shot of Brandy. This poem was handed down through history and was the ritual first started by King Olaf Tryggvason in 1085, as the Norwegian soldiers sallied forth to do battle with the Swedes.

Solen er oppe

En Klar Dag

Hanen hilser med

vinge - slag

Opp med merken

Hender pa verken

Alle som en.


Like a swallow to Capistrano, Dr. Ken Hodges has returned to Vail every year for 50 years.

Hodges is part of a Minnesota group that started skiing Vail in 1965, and shows no signs of stopping.

Hodges, 88, is back in town this week with three dozen Minnesotans.

“It’s a relentless love affair with Vail,” said Dr. Jim Erdahl, who has been along for many of those Vail trips.

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The doctors are in

It has been a physician-driven experience since the beginning.

Two physicians from Fairview Hospital in Minneapolis, Jack Hartwig and Ken Romness, skied Vail in 1964, two years after it opened. The two bought lots on Forest Road for $10,000 each, and quickly put houses on them, as required in those days.

“They went into a bit of debt because $10,000 was a lot of money in those days,” Erdahl said.

The next year they called some colleagues and flew here in a DC-3.

“It was a hearty bunch,” said Dr. Mark Sigmond, who helps coordinate the crew these days.

Vail finder/founder Earl Eaton created as an early version of a grooming machine, but in those early days Vail had little grooming.

“They were all Norwegians, so it was sort of a moral imperative that they were going to ski,” Erdahl said.

They stayed in Hartwig’s and Romness’ houses, and as the group grew they rented a couple other houses along Forest Road.

As they grew in number, they also grew more civilized with the addition of wives and children. They stayed on Forest Road until 1998 when Hartwig and Romness sold their houses for $1.2 million each.

The sun has risen

Now the group stays in Vail’s Marriott.

“The Marriott has been wonderful,” Sigmond said.

The Marriott even sees to it that the group maintains this 50-year tradition:

Fairview was a Norwegian Lutheran hospital when it was founded, and the group still brings a Norwegian flag to Vail, which works out well because every morning at 7:30 a.m., everyone meets, raises a glass to the Norwegian flag, and throws back a small glass of orange juice mixed with brandy.

They recite a Norwegian battle chant that dates back to 1051, “Solen er Oppe,” “The sun has risen.”

Then they’re off, unless they want to go back inside and have another cup of coffee because, well … they’re Lutherans.

You’ve heard of their area. Lindsey Vonn is from there and grew up racing on a local hill.

So is U.S. alpine racing legend Cindy Nelson. A few years back, one of the women in the group was riding up a lift and started chatting with another lift rider.

“We’re from Lutsen, Minn. That’s where Cindy Nelson is from. Do you know Cindy Nelson?” the woman asked.

“I am Cindy Nelson,” Nelson replied.

St. Olaf star

They’ll bring three dozen skiers this week. The youngest are 6 years old; the oldest is Hodges at 88. He was born in Albert Lea, Minn., and is a retired family doctor.

“He skis beautifully,” Sigmond said.

“Last year when he was 87 I skied with him three times and he beat me down the mountain,” Sigmond said.

Hodges skied at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, and you can find his smiling face on St. Olaf’s Wall of Fame.

For the love of skiing

Sigmond said coordinating the trip is not that complicated. They send a notice in September with the dates and costs, and people sign up.

“It’s run as a labor of love,” Sigmond said.

It’s mostly triumph, with some tragedy mixed in. This year they have two people skiing on total hip replacements, and two others on total knee replacements. A few years back one guy died in the Denver airport after he was cleared by his heart doctor to ski.

“The group is a living breathing organism. It should go on for a lot of years,” Sigmond said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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