"I may be the only person on the magazine who handles every bit of physical material except the copy," Kenneth Tomten of our production department observed last week when asked to explain his role at SI. But "handles" is hardly the half of it. All photographs, artwork, headlines and layouts go through Tomten, who among other things counts—and recounts through often numerous revisions—the number of lines in each layout, checks and re-checks picture sizes and typefaces, and generally gets everything in good order to our printers and engravers. "It's a crucial responsibility," says production manager Gene Ulrich. "He has to be sure that all the layouts are totally correct."
As might be expected of a man in his job, Tomten, a native New Yorker who studied art at that city's Pratt Institute "until I realized I wasn't cut out to be a painter," is a stickler for detail. A dedicated skier, he studies world weather maps for a month before each ski trip—he went to Vail, Colo. earlier this winter and is going to the French Alps in February—trying to anticipate weather trends. "I watch storms developing over the Bering Sea," he says. "I keep track of temperatures in Geneva, Milan, Vienna."
Tomten didn't ski until he was in his 20s—he's 41 now—but he vividly recalls that first time: "I felt, 'This is where I belong.' Maybe it was my Scandinavian ancestry." (Both his parents were born on the Finnish island of ?land in the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland.) Once while skiing in Austria, though, he proved not to be exactly where he belonged. "I was on a mountain near Kitzb√ºhel," he says, "and a storm came up, a complete whiteout. You couldn't see a thing. I started skiing down a trail to get off the mountain. I kept going and going. I thought I'd never get down—and then I slammed into something. It was a cow. I'd been skiing down a cow path instead of a ski trail.
"But that wasn't the dumbest thing I've done," he says. "When I was 18 I entered the Golden Gloves. I did it on a dare. I'd never fought, except the way kids do. I weighed 185, but my opponent was a teen-age Mr. T and he knocked me down with his first punch. I got up, but he knocked me down again, and they stopped the fight. That was the end of my boxing career."
January 30, 1984
Tomten, who now particularly enjoys teaching English to immigrants in a neighborhood church, joined SI 16 years ago, and though his work is still demanding, it's probably less so than when we had our engravings done in Chicago: Tomten had to fly there with layouts, artwork and photographs for late-closing stories. He says, "Once when it was snowing we had to land in St. Louis. We flew from there to Rockford, Ill. and drove to Chicago, where we got stuck in a drift. I walked the last two miles to the printer."
Even so, skier Tomten continues to think fondly of snow. He jogs and swims, but, he says, "They're just things you do. Skiing is something you dream about."