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The Lost Heart Of Snow Shoveling
Old tales of the frigid and the dead.
There have been whispers for years now about the dangers of snow shoveling, particularly to amateur and recreational snow shovelers. It tends to make the rounds every winter as a warning from our helpful information gatekeepers in the media that moving from the comfort of the sofa to the toils of shoveling snow can be extremely dangerous and even deadly.
I did some digging of my own, of the digital kind, and found there was once a great competitive industry of professional snow shovelers, mostly from Nordic countries, though it was once as popular as curling or molson in Canada and as celebrated as fishing or Chess in Iceland today. My goal was to see how dangerous this activity really is, and if I uncovered anything of public interest to attempt to get this piece published in a serious and reputable outfit like The Guardian, Independent or Huffington Post.
The professional snow shoveler was a rugged man, an individualist, often stubborn and uncompromising who took immense joy in the simple act of moving snow from one place on this earth to another place very nearby. According to the great work of ethnographic research by the sports sociologist Heinrich Wolfgang Pfalz the professional snow shoveler or schaufelmensch, “…was of grand stature, sternly and stoutly built to withstand the uncompromising physical battery of repetitive motions that would leave an average figure in mortal danger.”
With the news media and the sociological research both confirming the dangers of this activity I set out to interview the 5-time world champion snow shoveler from Norway Jørn Kristiansen to understand just how dangerous this activity really is. Jørn is now 86 and lives in a remote region of the Nordland with his wife Hilde, the women’s national snow shovel champion from 1959-1961.
I found him to be extremely pleasant and very sharp in mind and spirit and like most Norwegians his English was excellent. We explored details of his youth and he spoke fondly of his childhood and recalled each winter shoveling snow to clear the barn doors of the farm and the roadways. It was his first business as a teenager until he took up competitive snow shoveling, winning in five different divisions six different years throughout his professional career. He was six time champion in: doorway clearance, roadway clearance, home roof clearance, barn roof clearance, and three times the world champion in outhouse roof clearance.
After thirty minutes I began to probe about the serious dangers of recreational snow shoveling, or amateur snow shoveling.
GC: And so you’re saying it’s not dangerous to any part of the body?
Jørn: Well, you must prepare the shoulders of both arms and be capable of doing just as much with each, sometimes rotating from right to left every few shovels. It helps to have strong torso, hips and firm buttocks.
GC: Okay. You’ve been doing this for 70 years, almost every winter. Tell me Jørn, have you heard of anyone being injured, or…even dying?
Jørn: Dying? (laughter) Are you serious? (more laughter) You Americans!
GC: Well actually Jørn there’s been some reports…
Jørn: You’d have to be already near your death bed to die from shoveling snow. I’ve never in my years…oh wait…there was one.
GC: One who died shoveling snow? A professional? How?
Jørn: No, no, it was afterwards. We went back to the cottage after one competition to drink late into the night. Bjorn was upset for only getting the bronze in the barn door clearance competition. He was drinking like a mad man. At some point that night he went outside to relieve himself and never came back. Blizzard conditions. We found him after the spring thaw.
GC: Oh, I see. It wasn’t from snow shoveling?
Jørn: No! The vodka! The losing can do that to a man. He was a great competitor.
GC: I’m sure he was.
Jørn: What is with this obsession with danger and death? This is one of the more, how do you say, uhhh…maca…mac…my English is not what it..
Jørn: Yes, macabre interviews I have done. You were not sent by that maniac Heinrich Pfalz? He’s been obsessed with interviewing me for hours on the most tedious of details. An idiot he is, passing his writings off as scholarly research, calling our great sport a mortal danger to the average man, works of fiction are all he is capable of.
GC: Was he wrong about the mortal danger, to the average man, not the well conditioned professional?
Jørn: Of course he was wrong. I am 86 and I am no longer in the physique I was and I go out every day with Hilde and we clear as many cottages around us as we can when the snow piles up. They have machines now, but I installed a road block to keep them out.
GC: What about Hilde, has she ever seen anyone injured or in danger from, or heard of anyone?
Jørn: Don’t be ridiculous! Is this all you wish to discuss with me? Maybe we are done here. I must go clear the drive now, goodbye.
GC: No, wait, sorry Jørn, I…
This was the last I spoke with Jørn just before the new year. I attempted to call him back this past week to resume my investigation but his grandson answered the phone and told me of his passing just after the start of the year. I tried to get some details from the grandson but all he said was he and Hilde were driving back from the local medical center where they had just received their boosters when there was an unfortunate accident involving the Kristiansens and a very large industrial snowplow coming toward them.
Jørn Kristiansen: 1935-2022
Hilde Kristiansen: 1939-2022
You always live your life
Never thinking of the future
You are the move you make
Take your chances, win or loser
You are the steps you take
You and you, and that's the only way
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