DL native earns spot on U.S. Telemark Ski Team
Since his father Rick Larsen strapped on his first pair of skis almost as soon as he was able to walk, Detroit Lakes native Birk Larsen says he's never really known what a life without skiing felt like.
"I can definitely say that I've skied every year of my life, whether I remember it or not," he joked in a telephone interview from his current home in Park City, Utah.
"When I was really young, my dad was a ski instructor at Val Chatel Resort outside Park Rapids, and my mom (Rikki Given) was on the ski patrol," he said, adding that he divided his time between skiing at Val Chatel and at Detroit Mountain, which he jokingly referred to as "my babysitter from fourth grade through high school."
Fortunately, the young Birk quickly discovered a love for the sport that has followed him into adulthood -- and a spot on the United States Telemark Ski Team.
"It's been a part of me for so long," he said. "Number one, I just love being outside, and number two, there's just something intrinsically good about me being on my skis in the snow and the cold air, sliding around -- sometimes with my friends, sometimes by myself, it's my place to go to just get away."
When Larsen was still in junior high school, some friends of his started a Nordic ski team at Detroit Lakes High School, and he joined the fledgling program during his sophomore year.
"I was with the team in 1996, 1997 and 1998, and I was the team captain in '97 and '98," he said.
After graduating from DLHS in 1998, Larsen moved to Bozeman, Mont., where he attended Montana State University until 2003, earning a Master of Architecture degree.
"Then I moved to Park City, Utah, to be a ski bum," he said.
After just a little over a year in Utah, Larsen was so hooked on the sport that he moved to New Zealand in 2005, "to chase winter for a season," he said.
While he was living "down under," Larsen became interested in Telemark skiing, a form of downhill skiing where the binding that holds the boot and skis together covers the toes only, leaving the heels free instead of locked down, for added maneuverability.
After his year in New Zealand, Larsen started racing the Nastar gates at Deer Valley (where he was working at the time), qualified for the national championships -- and won.
He has since won a total of five Nastar Telemark National Champion crowns, in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012.
In 2009, he raced in the Telemark Classic event at the USTSA (U.S. Telemark Ski Association) Nationals for the first time, and the following year, he was invited to compete with the U.S. Telemark Team in the World Cup events they hosted in Colorado.
"In 2011, I was officially invited onto the 'Regional' team, where I continued to develop my skills, and in 2012 I was offered a spot on the (national) 'B' team, where I continued to race World Cups and nationally," he said.
"On July 16, 2012 I was offered a spot on the 'A' team, and will continue to race and represent my country throughout the 2012-13 National and World Cup season."
Though he is now a part of the national World Cup team, traveling all over the U.S. and Europe to compete in Telemark races, Larsen also continues to work full-time as an architect.
After several years of working for other firms, Larsen started his own business this past spring, specializing in "green" architecture.
He comes by his talent naturally; Birk's father has owned and operated Richard Larsen & Associates in Detroit Lakes since 1982.
"He (Richard Larsen) was the architect who designed the Lakeside Tavern," Birk said, referring to one of Detroit Lakes' best-known local restaurants.
His own work is mostly in residential architecture, with a few commercial jobs thrown in. Larsen specializes in making his clients' homes as environmentally friendly as possible.
"That's how I've built my firm, to emphasize sustainable designs -- buildings that are healthier for the environment, and healthier for the occupants," he said.
Some of the methods he employs to achieve that end include geothermal heating and cooling systems, "passive solar design" -- orienting the structure of the home so it maximizes sun exposure during the winter months, for warmth, and minimizes it during the summer, for cooling -- energy efficient doors and windows, and other environmentally conscious design elements.
Since he is now his own boss, Larsen said, he has greater flexibility to weave his skiing into his daily work schedule.
"As long as I get my work done, nobody really cares when I do it," he said, adding that he often goes skiing in the mornings, then works on his architecture projects during the afternoon and evening.
In his spare time, Larsen also volunteers with the Park City Tele Tribe and Alta Youth Tele programs, to promote and support the sport of Telemark skiing with younger athletes.
"This winter I'm hoping to be able to make it over to at least a couple of World Cup races in Norway and France," he said, adding that Slovenia and Spain are possibilities as well.
But even though his sport has taken him to ski slopes on the other side of the globe, Larsen still has fond memories of his growing years spent skiing on Detroit Mountain.
"I don't know what I would have done without that place, growing up," he said, adding that he had been quite upset to learn of it being shut down a decade ago -- and equally happy to learn of plans to reopen it, with a little help from the city.
"It'll be a great thing for the community to have that again," he said.
And since Larsen tries to get back to Detroit Lakes at least once a year, maybe he'll have the chance to experience it again himself.
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.