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Ty Olson finishes solo ski trek across top of Minnesota

The trip from Rainy Lake to Lake Superior took 27 days, and covered 270 miles, as he raised $43,000 to heat homes on a South Dakota reservation.

Ty Olson skied solo along the Minnesota/Ontario border for 250 miles, retracing the ancient route used by Native people and voyageurs and raising money for a Lakota nonprofit to pay for firewood to heat homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation. (Photo courtesy Ty Olson)
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Ty Olson finished his solo ski trek across the top of Minnesota late Tuesday, finishing the 270-mile journey three days early and with more than $43,000 raised to help heat homes on a South Dakota Indian reservation.

Olson left the Rainy Lake Visitors Center at Voyageurs National Park on Feb. 11 and finished the trip at Grand Portage on Lake Superior.

The expedition took him 27 days, a bit under the 30 days he had figured based on advice from famed polar explorer Will Steger, thanks in part to Olson moving faster to beat the rapidly melting snow and ice.

Olson crossed the frozen surfaces of 35 lakes and nine rivers and crossed land along 26 portages as he skied through Voyageurs and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, following the Minnesota-Ontario border nearly all the way.


Ty Olson ski for fire
Ty Olson stands on a dock on Lake Superior at Grand Portage on Tuesday after finishing his 270-mile solo ski trek across the top of Minnesota. He raised $43,000 to help heat homes on a South Dakota reservation. (Photo courtesy of Ty Olson)

He ran into wolves on several occasions, without incident, and also ran into polar explorer and Ely outfitter Paul Schurke, who happened to be in the area with a team of sled dogs.

Temperatures ranged from nearly 40 degrees below zero on the day Olson started, to 40 degrees above zero along his route in recent days. He said the cold made the conditions easier and that the hot sun and mushy snow of warm days made for tough going, forcing him to ski at night on several occasions.

Olson dedicated his ski adventure to raise money for the nonprofit One Spirit that operates on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation in South Dakota, one of the poorest places in America. Specifically, the money Olson raises will go to One Spirit's firewood program that hires Lakota workers, provides them with saws, log-splitters, warm clothing and safety equipment, and then pays them to deliver truckloads of free firewood to Pine Ridge families and elders in need.

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The effort, dubbed Ski For Fire, and raised more than $43,000 as of Wednesday morning — more than double his original $20,000 goal.

“It’s been a rough past few days,’’ Olson posted Monday via his satellite communication device. “I’m so grateful for all your support. But, more importantly, I’m proud of the money we raised for Pine Ridge: over $40,000 as of today. I’m blown away by all you people I’ve never met! This expedition is about more than just firewood, but that money will help a lot of people.”


Olson, 32, was unsupported on the solo trip, meaning he hauled all of his food, white gas fuel (for cooking and melting water; he has no heat source) and gear with him for the entire route. The Grafton, North Dakota, native started with 150 pounds of gear spread out on two sleds towed behind him as he skied. He varied from the actual border route only twice — once because of an open river, diverting to a nearby snowmobile trail, and then on Tuesday as he skied down the historic Grand Portage that skirts the untravellable Pigeon River as it runs into Lake Superior.

Olson, an independent filmmaker, said this will be his last big adventure before moving to Sweden to be with his girlfriend, who lives in Stockholm. He plans on staying in Sweden to pursue his filmmaking career.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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