Her remarkable endurance and spirit at age 77 are what Nina MacLeod would simply call Norwegian. She’s had four major surgeries in five years, including a new hip and a battle with cancer. To say MacLeod is a survivor would be selling her short. Most winter days you will find her skiing at Heavenly, cross-country touring in Hope Valley or dancing where there is good music. Spring and summer are for mountain biking, hiking and fly-fishing, according to MacLeod, who has traveled the world to cast her line.
Most winter days you will find her skiing at Heavenly, cross-country touring in Hope Valley or dancing where there is good music.
MacLeod fell in love with fly-fishing in her hometown Oslo, the capital of Norway. She was 16 and her boyfriend, who was an avid fly-fisherman and fly-caster, introduced her to the sport. MacLeod practiced every day for hours to improve her skills, but it was when she began to enter international competitions that she became hooked.
In 1957, 17-year-old MacLeod competed in Kiel, Germany, at the International Casting Federation’s first competition. She left with two world records, one for distance and one for accuracy. Those sentimental fishing rods decorate the walls of her South Lake Tahoe home.
MacLeod has called Lake Tahoe home for 37 years. Her journey to the Sierra Nevada began after an invite from Stein Eriksen, an Olympic gold medalist, the father of freestyle skiing and the first alpine skier to win triple gold medals at a World Championship. Eriksen worked for Sugarbush Resort in Vermont and wanted Norwegian instructors for the ski program. He recruited MacLeod, who was certified in downhill and cross-country in Norway and Switzerland. “Stein knew the rigorous requirements of being certified in Norway,” says MacLeod, who was placed on wooden skis as a toddler.
After her first season in Vermont, MacLeod accepted a job modeling ski sweaters in New York for Beconta, one of the most prominent ski-wear manufacturers of the 1960s and 1970s. The following season she met and married her husband in Marin County. The couple often traveled from the Bay Area to their home in Tahoe with their two sons, who became avid skiers — one of whom qualified for the U.S. ski team. In 1980, the family made Tahoe a permanent home. When MacLeod became a single mother, she worked as a ski instructor at Heavenly. Also, the rivers and creeks throughout the Sierra offered her many opportunities to put her fly-fishing certification to use as an instructor and guide. MacLeod earned her credentials through the Golden Gate Casting Club led by Mel Krieger, a world-renowned fly-fisherman, instructor and author.
Years later, when visiting Genoa, Nev., MacLeod happened on Snowshoe Thompson Day. The celebration was in honor of the famous Norwegian who delivered mail on skis in the dead of winter from Placerville to Genoa from 1856 to 1876.
“Before I knew it, I was co-chairman of the Snowshoe Thompson Committee in Genoa,” says MacLeod. “In Norway, we honor Snowshoe Thompson with an annual 20km cross-country ski tour.”
MacLeod, who participated in the celebration twice, felt she could do something similar in the Tahoe area. In 1998, she launched the Snowshoe Thompson Ski and Snowshoe Tour in Hope Valley, where she is a cross-country instructor. The tour includes snowshoeing, skiing, music, food, some traditional Norwegian attire and an historian who details the magnitude of what Thompson accomplished during blizzards for 20 years.
“Besides the winter conditions think of the canyons and mountains he crossed,” says MacLeod. “If anyone thinks it was easy, just try it. I know of good skiers who tried it for four days. Their feet were covered in blisters and they couldn’t finish.”
MacLeod was involved in raising funds for a Snowshoe Thompson statue that stands in the Mormon Station State Historic Park in Genoa. In 2003, Friends of Snowshoe Thompson was formed and MacLeod serves as the liaison between Genoa and Norway. The mission of the nonprofit organization is “to honor the memory of Snowshoe Thompson, including promotion of international cooperation between Norwegian and American communities.”
MacLeod still appreciates her time on the snow and is passionate about fishing new places, which will include Arkansas and Alaska this summer. But, Friends of Snowshoe Thompson is her real baby. Unfortunately, this year’s annual Snowshoe Thompson’s Ski and Snowshoe Tour in Hope Valley was canceled due to severe weather. MacLeod is working hard planning next winter’s tour and hopes to include new members.
For more information or to volunteer, visit Friends of Snowshoe Thompson at snowshoethompson.org.