Door County’s Ski Cowboy

From Frank Sinatra’s signature fedora to the famous Sullivan suits worn by the Beatles, clothing has long played an important role in pop culture.

For Sister Bay’s Greg “Fuzzy” Sunstrom, his unorthodox workout attire gained him entry to the oldest, longest, and biggest cross country ski race in the world.

Greg “Fuzzy” Sunstrom

Sunstrom wears blue jeans in long-distance ski races. As manager of the Little Sister Resort and part owner of Fred and Fuzzy’s Waterfront Bar and Grill, he takes advantage of the winter down time by skiing an average of two hours a day. His habit of wearing blue jeans on the trail stems from a desire for efficiency. Rather than wasting time changing after a day of work, Sunstrom would head over to Peninsula State Park wearing his working attire. He has completed 17 American Birkebeiners (also known as the Birkie, the iconic cross-country ski race from Cable to Hayward, Wis.) in blue jeans. This season, in addition to completing the Birkie, he decided to take on Sweden’s famed 90-kilometer Vasaloppet.

Sunstrom applied three months before the race, but it was already full. Sunstrom told a friend, whose neighbor’s son happened to work for the Swedish consulate in Milwaukee. Sunstrom’s friend sent the consulate a copy of the article written about him and his unorthodox skiing “style” in Door County Living magazine, which was passed along to race officials.

“They decided that if I were to ski the race in blue jeans they would let me in,” Sunstrom said. “The Vasaloppet’s website showed 15,900 skiers and the day after I was given permission it was changed to 15,901. It was the old mantra of who you knew, not what you know, at play.”

His reputation didn’t stop at the Swedish consulate. Various articles in Stockholm newspapers and radio shows featured the “ski-cowboy” from the United States. One aspiring filmmaker and journalist, Daniel Ingsten, even created a 12-minute documentary about Sundstrom skiing the race in his blue jeans (see sidebar).

“The day before the race, they hosted a radio show that told listeners about the American who was skiing in blue jeans,” Sunstrom said. “About 40 times throughout the entire race people pointed me out and yelled, ‘There’s the guy in the blue jeans. Go USA.’ It was really encouraging.”

The race itself, however, was not as inviting as the people of Sweden. With twice as many skiers as the Birkie and a shotgun start, in which all skiers take off at once, the Vasaloppet offers a rough first foray uphill.

“Once the race started, it was crazy,” Sunstrom said. “The first four kilometers of the race were completely uphill. The trail goes from 56 lanes at the start and tapers down to about 15 meters wide. You have all these people trying to get up this hill and in the process skis and poles are getting broken right and left.”

Sunstrom said he skied 15 kilometers before opening a gap between himself and fellow racers, and finished in 7 hours, 56 minutes.

“I would have done better if it weren’t for the shotgun start and a 20-minute interview Ingsten had me do during the race,” he said.

In addition to skiing, Sunstrom was able to uncover some surprising connections in his family’s homeland.

“We visited my grandfather’s native village in Sweden and researched my family lineage at the library,” says Sunstrom. “One of the most surprising connections, though, had to do with one of the journalists who wrote an article about me. He asked if I knew the ‘famous’ Weborg fishing family in Door County. They were cousins of his girlfriend. I told him not only do I know them but I buy all my fish from them as well!”

While it was the blue jeans that caused a stir, the man who wears them deserves the credit for their eminence. As many racers huff up huge hills in their name brand, skin-tight, moisture wicking ski-bunny suits, they are passed by a man wearing only a sweater and a pair of Levi 505 blue jeans. The uniform of Door County’s “ski cowboy.”