Every year since 1984, a group of 200-ish hardy souls Nordic ski from Russia to Sweden, in the Border to Border Ski. Some of those years, including this one, Methow Valley Nordic skiers have been amongst the finishers.
“It’s all Kelle’s [Ronnfeldt] fault,” says Annie Budiselich, who traveled to Lapland (Finland’s northernmost region, home to the Indigenous Sami people) to complete the roughly 420-kilometer grueling trek across Finland.
Kelle says she was watching the 2018 Winter Olympics when she first learned about the Border to Border Ski. The event only happened one more year — in 2019 — before it was shut down for three years due to COVID. In the fall of 2022, the event reopened for registration and Kelle roped in her friend Annie to join her.
The two women spent this past winter training for the event — and oh, what a winter it was to train, with 145 nights of grooming in the Methow Valley. As it turns out, however, training on expertly groomed Nordic trails doesn’t really prepare one for the more rugged ski on snowmobile tracks through the wilds of Lapland.
“Instead of skiing over the Rendezvous and back to Winthrop, we would have been better off driving up to Eight Mile and skiing on the snowmobile tracks there,” Annie says. “We are really spoiled by the conditions here. Sixty kilometers feels a lot easier here than it did on twisted, winding, bumpy snowmobile trails with tracks set in them in Finland.”
Adding to the skiers’ challenge was the fact that their luggage — including all ski gear and clothing — didn’t make it to Finland with them. “We flew Seattle to Heathrow, to Helsinki, to Kuusama,” Kelle said. “Annie was sitting by the window watching the luggage ramp in Heathrow and she never saw our bags get loaded.”
Spoiler alert: The women never reconnected with their luggage, neither in the two days before the Border to Border, nor during the seven days of the event itself.
Kelle and Annie found themselves embarking on 420K of skiing through woods, across lakes, and around frozen blueberry and cloudberry bogs, wearing clothing borrowed from other travelers and on skis rented from a local ski shop — something Annie knows a thing or two about, given her employment at Methow Valley Ski School.
“When people come in to rent gear, we get their height and weight, ask them about their skiing experience, etc.,” Annie says. “At the place we rented skis, they just handed us some equipment — really soft boots and skis with big gouges in them.”
Annie and Kelle didn’t make a big deal of the worn-out gear, since they were sure they’d be reunited with their own gear soon enough. That was not the case, and lucky for them, some other women on the trip had extra clothing and were able to lend the travelers the gloves, pants, long underwear, jackets and other clothing needed for the tour. “Every night we washed our socks and underwear in the sink and let them dry on the heated towel bars,” Kelle said.
(Lest the phrase “heated towel bars” make you envision luxurious accommodations, I’ll now point out that while some of the lodging was in upscale condos, most of it was either school gym floors or youth camp bunkrooms.)
“This was no vacation,” Annie says of the 60K/day ski tour. “It was an expedition. It felt like we had to go at race pace all day just to get the day’s terrain covered in time. If you weren’t at a certain checkpoint by 5 p.m., they’d send a bus for you to take you to the lodging. And we weren’t going to let that happen.”
Although our Methow Valley skiers aren’t the fastest in the valley, they’re pretty darn solid skiers. Not in comparison to some of the other skiers on the trip though, Kelle says. “It was so great to be surrounded by excellent skiers. It takes your own game up.”
Annie adds, “With these long days on the trail, we had hours to try on all kinds of techniques. We had to adapt our technique for our borrowed gear. We even invented a new kind of double poling to accommodate our gear and the terrain.”
At the end of the trip Annie and Kelle were told they were “sisu,” a Finnish concept that encompasses “strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.”
As is the case with many trips, the best part was the other people, Annie and Kelle say. “We maybe got in with the others quicker because we were the poor Americans who didn’t have any clothes or gear, but still, we spent so much time skiing, eating, meeting, and trying to locate our lost luggage that we didn’t have enough bonding time. But the very last night was delightful — and sad. We did skits and sang songs, and wished for more time with these incredible individuals.”