A native of Oslo, Norway, Even Brande is no stranger to skiing.
“It’s pretty much like everybody here grows up with football,” he said. “In Norway, everybody grows up with skiing.”
Brande came to the U.S. for college and attended the University of Wyoming’s College of Business. He has been involved in his community and state ever since, founding Handel Information Technologies in 1997, graduating from the 2006 class of Leadership Wyoming, serving on a number of state boards and teaching at UW.
In March, Brande plans to return to Norway for a 54-kilometer, two-mountain pass ski race known as the Birkebeiner.
“I just need a race to stay motivated, because if I don’t have anything on the horizon, I don’t tend to go and exercise,” he said.
Around the turn of the 13th Century, the fate of the Norwegian throne was uncertain. As the Bagli Party — one faction fighting during Norway’s 90-year civil war era — sought to solidify its control, they set about hunting down the bastard child of the late King Haakon Sverresson, according to the race’s website.
But Birkebeiner loyalists, in true Nordic fashion, whisked the infant heir to safety, carrying the child in a backpack and traveling on skis.
The famous rescue has been commemorated since 1932 with the annual Birkebeiner cross-country ski race in Norway, during which participants carry a weighted backpack in place of the rescued infant.
“It’s considered one of the more challenging ski races because it’s a lot of up and down — and then the backpack — and it’s also later in the season, so you’re weather can be unpredictable,” Brande said.
Aside from being in shape, he said, one of the most important things in cross-country skiing is keeping one’s skis waxed — a task made more challenging by the region’s weather in late winter.
“This race is known for having challenges when it comes to waxing skis,” Brande said. “It may start in the morning really, really cold and by the time you’re in the afternoon and finishing up, it’s really, really warm. So very often, you have to stop along the way and wax your skis. It’s kind of like the equivalent of a pitstop when you’re doing NASCAR.”
The Birkebeiner in Norway is “the big one,” but Brande has competed previously in the U.S. version — which takes place in Wisconsin — and in Canada’s Birkebeiner earlier this month.
Rather than racing to win, Brande said he travels to large races out of love for the sport.
“It’s a sport you can do your whole life,” he said. “It allows you to travel around the world and meet different people and I think it’s just an incredible source of motivation. And it also attracts skiers from all levels, from the 80-year-old guy who is just there to finish to World Cup racers who are the top of their game.”
Brande said he trains about three times a week, typically doing one longer practice, one with interval training and another with his family.
“I am the most undisciplined person when it comes to training, so you’ll never see me in the fitness room,” he said. “If I can’t exercise outdoors, I don’t do it.”
Brande is married and has three children, all of whom share his passion for skiing to some degree.
“It’s a nice thing you can do as a family,” he said. “Not many sports that I know of that you can do as a whole family. When the kids were younger, we would always go out as a family. Now that they’re older, they often have races on their own.”
But Brande said he likes skiing alone, for the same reason he likes running — his summer sport.
“I find that my whole life, I’m surrounded by people, and so part of why I love cross-country skiing is the solitude,” he said. “Unless it’s my family, I don’t like to go train with others, other than my dog, because I love the solitude.”
Brande will not be going to Norway alone, however.
Brande’s friend Bill Schilling, now in his 70s, will also come on the five-day trip to Europe.
“I always had it on my bucket list to do the Norwegian Birkebeiner, but I just could not do it with my work schedule,” Schilling said. “So, now I’m retired, and I’m going to do it.”
Brande suggested Schilling join him. Schilling thought about it, and the idea grew more attractive. Schilling was eventually convinced when he realized Brande could be his translator, making 2018 the perfect year to cross the Norwegian race off his list.
“The more you talk to people, at a certain point, you cross the rubicon,” Schilling said. “In other words, you’re committed, lock stock and barrel … So, I went out and hired a trainer myself in December and I’ve been working out ever since and getting ready.”
Schilling — another active member of the state community, best known for his work in establishing the Hathaway Scholarship — has known Brande for nearly two decades and described him as a “true community champion.”
“He’s very authentic in his approach to life and he’s a very thoughtful and strategically oriented individual,” Schilling said. “He’s a wonderful, dedicated community- (and) civic-minded individual and a great family man — and a very good business person. He’s a real mentor for people that he hires in his business.”
The race will be attended by roughly 16,000 participants of varying skill levels. Skiers start in waves, starting with the older skiers, followed by elite skiers, then everyone else.
“The way this race is set up, I go with the first grouping because of my age,” Schilling said. “I don’t know what grouping he’s in, but he’ll pass me without question, and probably sooner rather than later.”
Brande, however, said he’s going for the fun of it.
“I don’t do these things to win,” he said. “I do them to complete them and to have a great time.”