“‘Sisu’ is a Finnish term and it means ‘enthusiasm, spirit, drive.’ All of the ingredients that you think of getting yourself going and being happy about what you’re doing and challenging yourself, that’s what ‘sisu’ is,” explained Elliot Norquist, Mount Sopris Nordic Council board member and trails/grooming manager. “‘Sisu’ is like your life’s cup of coffee.”
Paul Lappala, an early participant, introduced the term to the Carbondale Nordic skiing community after living abroad in Finland. As it became more expensive to run Spring Gulch, the Mount Sopris Nordic Council created an event around this concept, calling it Ski for Sisu.
Norquist continued, “Spring Gulch started out just as the locals, sort of supporting their own deal. Our numbers and the people that ski up here have increased over the years. Since the ‘80s, I would say maybe 10 times, maybe 20 times the number of people we had before. So we had to build this bigger parking lot and now we’re filling the bigger parking lot on the weekends, not even for an occasion, just for normal skiing. So, this thing has really taken off.”
The fundraiser was designed to be inclusive of all levels of skiers who utilize the more than 21 kilometers of trails in the Spring Gulch trail system. Participants can get sponsored by individuals or companies who sponsor a skier by pledging an amount per kilometer skied.
“There’s some tremendous days,” said Norquist, “Andrew Gardner, from Colorado Rocky Mountain School, came up here in the old days and started really putting the [kilometers] in. Ever since then, somebody always skis at least 70 [kilometers] for the fundraiser.”
The money raised largely goes toward keeping the trails open and well-maintained. Between three groomers, the snowmobiles, gas, employee wages, insurance and other expenses that come up, Spring Gulch costs about $500 per day to maintain.
“It is an example of people taking the initiative to build something that they can actually keep going that is a benefit for everybody. You know, it’s very much a shared effort. I think that the beauty of it is that we made it and we get to live it, we get to participate in it,” said Norquist. It’s value lies in the “community connection, for one thing; physical exercise and the beauty of being out here in this environment; and, maybe the third thing is just a sense that you’re contributing to something that the whole community can enjoy and it’s free. I mean we ask for donations, but nobody has to pay every day that they come up here and ski.”
In years past Ski for Sisu has been a one-day event full of skiing, community and “jive,” as Norquist put it. The past two years it has been spread out over multiple days due to COVID. This year, Ski for Sisu is taking place Feb. 6 through Feb. 14 and skiers report their kilometers on the honor system. “We’ve created a good thing and this is a good way to celebrate it,” concluded Norquist.
Learn more at www.springgulch.org/