Norway’s Rondane National Park: Gliding through enchanted landscape

Written by Dick Mason, The Observer April 27, 2012 12:34 pm

Dick Knowles, left, his daughter Brenna Warburton and Robert Molnar ski at Rondane National Park in Norway. Molnar is the director of the Venavu Center in Norway, which Dick Knowles and his wife Siobhan worked for in March, providing ski tours at Rondane National Park. BILL WARBURTON photo
Dick Knowles, left, his daughter Brenna Warburton and Robert Molnar ski at Rondane National Park in Norway. Molnar is the director of the Venavu Center in Norway, which Dick Knowles and his wife Siobhan worked for in March, providing ski tours at Rondane National Park. BILL WARBURTON photo

Haines pair lead cross-country ski tours in Scandinavian country 

Reindeer are elusive in Norway’s Rondane National Park but wisdom on the art of ski instruction is easy to find.

Dick and Siobhan Knowles of Haines know this first hand after one of the most fulfilling experiences of their lives — a month spent in Rondane National Park leading cross country ski tours.

Rondane National Park has one of the last remaining wild populations of reindeer. The Knowles though were not lucky enough to spot any of the reindeer while leading their tours.

“They are very elusive,” Dick Knowles said.

Rondane National Park has 2,000 to 4,000 reindeer and steps are being taken to protect them. In the Moen mountain range area of Rondane National Park, 20 kilometers of roads are closed from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. everyday. This allows reindeer to move on to their feeding range without being bothered by people.

Reindeer were not spotted by the Knowles last month but their tour groups saw plenty of wildlife, including moose, elk and deer. One tour group also saw wolverine tracks.

The Knowles, lifetime skiers, did more than serve as tour guides, they also provided instruction to many skiers. The Knowles are experienced ski instructors who love sharing their art. Dick taught Nordic skiing at the Anthony Lakes Ski Area while he was its Nordic Center director for about 15 years through 2011 and Siobhan has about 30 years of experience as a Nordic and alpine instructor.

Dick, when asked what he likes most about teaching skiing answered the question with an illuminating one of his own.

“Do you have an hour?’’

This barn on the edge of Rondane National Park in Norway was built in the mid-1800s. BRENNA WARBURTON photo
This barn on the edge of Rondane National Park in Norway was built in the mid-1800s. BRENNA WARBURTON photo
 

The Knowles met many other ski instructors at Rondane National Park who have an equal love of teaching. 

“We exchanged a lot of information about teaching techniques,’’ Dick said.

He said teachers with Scandinavian backgrounds approach education from a different perspective. One told Dick he assumes every person he teaches has been skiing since age 2, which many people in Scandinavia have.

He also pointed out that people from Scandinavia have a different cultural perspective on skiing than many people in the rest of the world, one which must be considered when providing ski instruction. He explained that in Scandinavia people are exposed to skiing constantly in the media, influencing their view of it.

Most people on the Rondane National Park tours, regardless of how long they had been skiing, are open to learning how they could improve.

“They like learning techniques which make skiing easier for them,’’ Dick said.

The tours the Knowles led took skiers past many old farmhouses, some of which were close to two centuries old. Dick was struck by their beautiful architecture and how they give people a sense of how hard life was long ago. Most of the farm houses today serve as summer cabins.

Dick and Siobhan Knowles were one of only a handful of Americans leading ski tours in Norway. They landed heir positions because of their experience and many Scandinavian connections. The couple have been traveling to Scandinavia for annual ski trips for at least a decade.

They were joined for a portion of this year’s trip by their daughter, Brenna Warburton of Bend, who grew up in Haines. Warburton found skiing in Rondane National Park to be an exhilarating experience.

“I was enchanted by the landscape. It feels like you are skiing on the moon.’’

This was not the first time Warburton has skied in Norway. A few years earlier she had helped coach the U.S. Nordic ski team there.

The skiers led by the couple were from all parts of the world and spoke a diverse range of languages. This put the Knowles’ considerable linguistic skills to the test. The couple found themselves speaking with skiers in French, German, Russian, Danish, Italian and Swedish. 

The countless hours the couple spend mastering languages served them well.

“We study languages everyday at our house,’’ Dick said.

The couple were aided in their communication by a universal understanding skiers share.

“Skiers relate to what others are doing and thinking,’’ Dick said.