South Colby ski enthusiast still a top competitor at 55
June 12, 2008 · Updated 1:54 PM
"While some skiing enthusiasts may exaggerate their love for the sport on a license plate frame that reads Born to ski, South Colby's Per Johnsen lives that same inscription.Born and raised in Norway, Johnsen said he can't remember when he didn't play snow sports.At 55, Johnsen is showing no signs of wearing down, as he continues to pile up wins in cross-country skiing races all over the nation.Most recently, he won four medals at the National Masters Cross Country Ski Championships in St. Paul, Minn. for the 55-59 age bracket.Johnsen said cross-country skiing is comparable to wine: You get better with age.Twenty and 25 year-olds don't do well in this sport, Johnsen said. The best tend to be in their 30s and 40s. I'm skiing faster and better than ever. It's all about improving your technique. To get good was real hard.Johnsen may win his age brackets, but he also places in the top 10 of the whole field.He attributes his success to the pure joy of the sport, along with the thrill of competing.The last few years, I've been training a lot more, he said. I enjoy doing something well, and it fun finding out how I do.The world championships are being held in his native Scandinavia, but he said he will not go because of prior obligations.When Johnsen isn't on the trails, he devotes his time to teaching. He's the education training coordinator for Kitsap Transit and also teaches at Olympic College and Bangor.After immigrating with his parents to Seattle in 1957 at the age of 13, Johnsen quickly found the pleasures of the snowcapped Cascades, though he lacked the convenience of the mountains he had at his fingertips as a boy in Norway.I'd build a little bump in the back yard and do downhill, he said. As kids, we would set up a slalom course. My parents were active skiers and my parents kept me involved.In America there is Little League, select soccer, and pee wee football. But in Norway, Johnsen said snow sports is just something everybody does.Though he remembers being low-key about it, Johnsen said kids would get discovered at 10 to 12 years of age.At about that time, he was an active speed skater for his school and club, but he said he was never too serious.When Johnsen came to the states, downhill skiing was his main leisure.My dad was a ski instructor at Ski Acres (Snoqualamie Pass) and I would work there roping courses and be able to ski free that way, he said.Johnsen also worked as a ski instructor until a move to Wisconsin in the mid-1960s forced him to stop, since the midwest lacks mountains. There may not be mountains, but snow can be plentiful. That's where Johnsen got hooked on cross country skiing.My wife and I found some trails and we arranged clubs to develop a local ski scene, Johnsen said. I became certified as a cross country ski instructor with the Professional Ski Instructors Association, which is the only professional body in the country.What started out as a few interested skiers evolved into hundreds by the time Johnsen moved back to Seattle in 1990. Now he shares his joy on numerous trails with club members at the Kongsbergers Ski Club at Cabin Creek in the Snoqualmie region.Members come in all shapes, sizes and ages, Johnsen said. Some people in their 70s still ski.Cross-country skiers have strength and endurance, he said. They tend to be fit because you use every muscle group, so there are very few injuries. There's no pounding (like other sports) because you are on the snow and gliding.While downhill skiers and snowboarders pay an arm and a leg for a day of fun, Johnsen said cross-country skiers can enjoy a year of skiing with the purchase of a $20 trail permit, which can be purchased at most sporting goods stores.Cross-country skiing is a sport Johnsen said everyone should at least try.All you have to do is spend an hour learning how and you can be happy for years, he said."