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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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April 4, 2020

2/6/2020 7:30:00 AM
Rhinelander's Nienstaedt cherishes wooden ski tradition
Stephanie Kuski
River News Features Reporter

Sports can be a cathartic way to blow off steam, a means of meeting new friends or simply a fun way to stay active. But for others, participating in a sport can mean much more than that.

For Rhinelander resident Mark Nienstaedt, skiing is a lifestyle.

"I ski just about every single day during the wintertime," Nienstaedt said. "It's the best part of the day for me."

Throughout the winter season, the 65-year-old reserves his weekends for various ski races.

On Jan. 18, Nienstaedt competed in the Seeley Hills Classic, the second largest classic cross-country ski race on the Birkebeiner Trail in Cable.

This 23k race was a special occasion for Nienstaedt.

"One unique feature of this particular race is it has a wooden ski division," Nienstaedt said. "This is the one weekend of the year I get my woodies out."

Nienstaedt took first place in the wooden ski division, coming in 50th place overall among the 206 total skiers who took on the challenge. Nienstaedt said he was the only skier on wooden skis to complete the race in under two hours.

According to Nienstaedt, it takes time to prepare wooden skis to be in peak condition for such a race.

"This year I decided to go through the whole process of properly preparing a wooden ski," Nienstaedt said.

The process requires stripping the ski base and then painting the clean ski with pine tar, Nienstaedt said. Then a blow torch is used to heat the pine tar so it is impregnated into the wooden base of the ski. After a few minutes, a clean rag is used to wipe the pine tar back down the ski so that the pine tar resin remains mostly in the base of the ski.

After the skis are left to dry overnight, Nienstaedt repeats the process, then applies a regular kick wax to the base of the ski. Nienstaedt said he applies upwards of five coats of wax on top of the pine tar base, then a styrofoam block is used to rub the wax application smooth.

"At that point, the skis are ready to rock and roll," Nienstaedt said.

Nienstaedt said this process of treating wooden skis is a tradition his father passed down to him at a young age.

"My father Hans Nienstaedt was born in Denmark and learned to ski as a very young man, probably in the 1930s or '40s, as a Boy Scout in Denmark," he said.

Nienstaedt said his father ordered two pairs of wooden skis from Norway when he was a young teenager, a purchase that was very impactful to the young Nienstaedt.

"He proceeded to teach me how to ski," Nienstaedt said. "He also taught me very specifically this whole process of treating the skis."

Although most skiers today favor high-tech carbon fiber skis, Nienstaedt holds to the Dutch tradition his father passed on to him.

"To me, it's totally about tradition," Nienstaedt said. "This is the origin of the sport."

Nienstaedt recalls many winters spent skiing with his father in Rhinelander.

"At that time, there was no groomed tracking of ski trails anywhere," Nienstaedt said. "My dad and I used to go into the woods out by the old Camp 10 downhill ski facility. We would go and ski for miles on ski trails that we made ourselves."

While there are many opportunities for skiers to engage in the sport today, this hasn't always been the case, he noted.

Organizations such as RASTA (Rhinelander Area Silent Trails Association) have now made it possible for skiers of all skill levels to enjoy a multitude of groomed trails, Nienstaedt said.

A member and volunteer himself, Nienstaedt said organizations like RASTA are important for keeping trails groomed and allowing the public to enjoy accessible ski trails in our area.

"There's a lot of dedicated people in Rhinelander who are out there creating silent sports activities and maintaining venues so that people can enjoy the outdoors," Nienstaedt said.

Nienstaedt is also an active member of the Northwoods Nordic Club and volunteers in the after-school group "Snow-Dags," which meets every Tuesday from January to mid-February at the Rhinelander High School to provide ski lessons to children.

"We introduce them into the sport of skiing so they may one day become skiers themselves," Nienstaedt said. "These kids are so enthusiastic when they get up on their skis."

Nienstaedt's racing season is far from over.

On Feb. 22 he will take on the American Birkebeiner Ski Marathon for the 24th time.

The American Birkebeiner is North America's largest cross-country ski marathon and an iconic event in northwestern Wisconsin.

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