Snow and Water:

A Life outside

With Nunavut Flag on Baffin Island, Nunavut

Meet Manager O’Hara at the JV Conference Championship race at Como

By Claire Temali

January 31, 2020

Anyone who has ever been to a Twin Cities Nordic Ski Conference race has heard the staple voice of Bob O’Hara ringing out over the loudspeaker counting down the seconds to race. Retired 18 years, O’Hara coordinates, sets up, and times every race of the season along with running the Minnesota State Championship race in February.

Aside from being an avid member of the nordic ski community, O’Hara has a reverent presence in the backcountry canoeing community. He has spent over 40 summers traversing through the rugged wilderness of northern Canada, deep into the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. He was one of the first people to brave the isolated outback without the commodities of modern technology. He paddled there each summer for around eight weeks to escape the stifling atmosphere he lived in the rest of the year as a high school teacher.

“Why do you keep going back?” I asked him. “Wow, tough one to answer. The excitement of adventure travel, the problem solving of navigating a true wilderness river, the thrill of whitewater, being free of all people and electronics,” he said. “The peace of mind found in nature [is] very unique, [as is the] wildlife. [There are] no trees on the tundra [and] 24 hr [of] daylight.”

From these adventures, he has become a member of the Explorers Club based out of New York, and has been inducted in the Minnesota Hall of Fame. On his trips he rode the first descent (aside from Canada natives) down the Arrowsmith river ending in the Chesterfield Inlet. There, he was introduced to Inuit art which he collected and now has plans to donate to the Dennos Museum in Traverse City, Michigan.

(Two wonderful articles written about O’Hara can be found here to read more about his northern adventures: and The River Man )

O’Hara accidentally stumbled upon nordic skiing when he was out snowshoeing with his friends. Laughing, he reminisced as he told me about that time. “There was little organized skiing in the 60’s,” he said. “I was winter camping with snowshoes and a friend came along with wooden skis that had a strap for a binding. I tried them out and virtually ‘flew’ down the trail,” he told me smiling. “I bought a pair when I got home and fell in love with the skis.” After that he took lessons and polished up his technique, got certified to coach, and began to spread the love of this sport.

He began coaching in 1972 at Armstrong H.S. and started one of the first girls teams without additional funding from the district, and before it was an official MSHSL sport. In 1974 he got transferred to Cooper H.S where he coached the boys team and once again started a girls team. One of those girls was the state champion in 1979. He never got paid for coaching the girls teams, but he did it fervently regardless. O’Hara retired in 2001, and immediately got whisked away to start a ski team at Benilde- St. Margaret H.S., which is when he became involved with the Twin Cities Nordic Ski Conference. He realized quite quickly that the meets were very chaotic, so he took the responsibility of running the meets on top of coaching. After 8 years at BSM, he retired with 38 years of coaching under his belt. He still continues to run the meets for the TCNSC races and still seems to enjoy being outside in the winter.

When I asked him what continues to draw him to this sport in the freezing cold and often unpleasant weather he said, “It is a great sport [and it’s] outdoors. [It] attracts a unique type of athlete, [and] can be a lifelong activity.” It definitely has been a lifelong activity for O’Hara as he will turn 79 on February 3rd where he will spend his birthday managing the Section 3 meet at Wirth Park.

Bob was inducted into the Minnesota State High School Nordic Ski Association Hall of Fame in 1996.

Planning a Trip - Expedition Bound by Bob O'hara