At the White Pass Nordic Center he is, according to the center’s director, “no doubt the most requested instructor we’ve ever had.”
If you encounter him while cross-country skiing at White Pass or elsewhere, he’ll probably assess your technique at a glance and make some salient suggestion like: “Y’know, if you thrust your hip forward at this point, you’ll get more drive on the uphills.” And you’ll think, “Yeah, right ...” right up until you do what he said and find the uphills not nearly so challenging.
And you’ll think, “Who WAS that old guy?”
One answer to that question: He’s the guy who, if you’re skiing cross-country almost anywhere in the Pacific Northwest, helped make that possible.
Almost anywhere in Washington or Oregon your legs have been on Nordic skis, Dick Kendall had a hand in that trail being there. The Nordic routes at White Pass? He laid them out. Ditto with the ones from Pleasant Valley to Hells Crossing, the original circuit at Bumping Lake and the trail system at North Fork Tieton. When the Forest Service created the vast Echo Ridge circuit overlooking Chelan? Yep, he’s the guy they called.
For the last 30 years, whenever somebody wanted to create a cross-country ski trail network or simply wanted to make an existing one more efficient or safer for winter recreationists — from Mount Rainier to Mount Hood and from Mount Spokane to Mount Bachelor — Dick Kendall has been the go-to guy.
“As a representative of the sport, you couldn’t ask for anyone better,” says Rich Brooks, Nordic director at White Pass, where — a month shy of his 83rd birthday — Kendall still spends four days a week instructing visitors and mentoring the other instructors. “I do marvel at it, but I’ve worked with him so long that marvel has turned into respect, admiration and appreciation.”
A New England native with a taste for adventure, Kendall has at various stages of his life been a speed skater, raced motorcycles and later road bicycles, been a competitive alpine skier and been a marathon runner. But it wasn’t until well after he moved to the Yakima Valley as a new Forest Service employee in 1968 that he found his true calling.
A decade later, Kendall was heavily involved in cross-country ski racing, which was still in its infancy in this part of the country. “I had to travel all over the place to find a trail that was groomed,” he says. “There wasn’t very much in the state, just small stuff.”
That, though, was about to change.
Aware of Kendall’s background in engineering and surveying and his obvious enthusiasm for all things adventure- and trail-related, it wasn’t long before the Forest Service named him as a Nordic-skiing “master performer” for the Pacific Northwest region. What that did, in essence, was mean Kendall would spend nearly his entire Forest Service career creating cross-country ski trail circuits on federal lands throughout the Northwest.
Which, for Kendall, was like giving him a job he would have done for free.
“You just couldn’t have a job that would fit me so well,” says Kendall, a Naches resident for the last four decades. “I would tell people, yes, I had to get on my skis and go look for another trail, and they’d say, ‘You’re working? And they PAY you for that?’ It’s just been a perfect job.”
One of Kendall’s biggest accomplishments, of course, was being the driving force behind the Nordic Center at White Pass, with its 11 miles of trails groomed for (and with instructors trained in both) classic and skate skiing.
Its genesis came in the winter of 1979-80, when Kendall began pestering then-White Pass ski area manager Nelson Bennett about putting in trails for cross-country enthusiasts.
“He was from New Hampshire like I was,” Kendall says, “and I gave him a hard time, saying, ‘Hey, back there in New England all the ski areas have cross-country trails? Why don’t we have that here?”
Bennett agreed, and the process began. Kendall’s weeks were filled up with his Forest Service responsibilities elsewhere, but he still had his weekends and they were spent laying out the plans for the trail circuit that became the White Pass Nordic Center.
“The benefit of having a trail designed by someone who not only skis but also has an engineering background has given us some tremendous terrain,” says Brooks, the center’s current director. “He knew how to make it flow very well for a skate skier and a classic skier. He got it started way back when and he’s been here ever since, in a mentor-type position (to the other instructors) and also as one of the instructors.”
Kendall has been a fixture at White Pass for so long that he has literally taught the sport of cross-country skiing to generations, and the joy he takes in the process is evident to those he teaches.
“I think I met Dick the first time about 40 years ago at a cross-country ski clinic he was teaching,” says Carol Fletcher, a Cascadian who, along with her husband Evans, now chairs the Cascadians’ ski committee. “
“I had a chance to work with him again 35 years later when he trained some of us to instruct at the (Yakima Ski Council’s) ski jamboree. Many of us had been skiing for quite a few years, and Dick still managed to teach us new things and make us better skiers. He not only did this one time, but each time we’ve had a training before the jamboree, we’ve learned new things from him.
“When I see him in the yurt in the Nordic area, he’s always upbeat and very friendly. He is a great role model.”
Kendall’s enthusiasm for the outdoors has never been confined to the ski trails; he was also one of the driving forces behind the inception of the Valley of the Sun Triathlon, which had a 25-year run before finally ending after the 2007 race. He was one of the founding fathers behind the Yakima Marathon Association, which ended before the inception of the Yakima River Canyon Marathon in 2001.
Those days of Kendall running marathons took its toll on his knees and ended years ago, but two knee replacements and one hip later, he’s still going strong on cross-country skis. He created the skiing club that later became the White Pass Athletic Association, became a nationally-certified coach, trained and took athletes to the Junior Olympics and mentored young skiers who went on to become world-class competitors.
“It makes you feel good,” Kendall says, “to have done something like that.”
But few of the beginners he instructs on those crowded weekends at White Pass know anything about Kendall’s accomplishments because bragging about them just isn’t something he’d do.
“He’s humble,” Brooks says. “And you just can’t find a nicer fellow. He’s an employee and he doesn’t get paid near enough, but he does it for the love of the sport. And his wife Robbie (who used to instruct at White Pass and still routinely accompanies Dick to the center) is an absolute angel.”
Since they’re up there nearly every Thursday through Sunday at the Nordic Center, though, the Kendalls have a pretty good sense of Dick’s impact on the sport. They can see it everywhere they look, in any direction.
“We do stand up there sometimes on a crowded weekend,” says Robbie Kendall, “and I think, wow, it’s a good thing Dick decided he liked cross-country skiing.”