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Norwegian converts bring love of skiing to new home in Utah

SHARE Norwegian converts bring love of skiing to new home in Utah

Utah's acclaim as an international ski destination and now host of the 2002 Winter Olympics has its roots, at least in part, in the simple beginnings of a few young converts from Norway. At a time when skiing was unknown, these young members anticipated a day when Utah would play prominently in winter sports.

Skiing in the old country had long been a means of getting around during the winter for these young men and their families. As the 20th century began, skiing gradually developed into a sport of recreation as skiers pitted their skills against each other.

As converts to the Church, these Norwegians brought their love of the winter sport with them as they immigrated to Utah. Except for a coal miner or two who used skies to get around the mountains of Park City, skiing was unknown in Utah.

Several of these young men arrived in a period between 1910 and 1915. They looked to the mountains to the east of Salt Lake City and saw possibilities for reviving their participation in winter sports.

"One day after a heavy snowfall, I was walking along South Temple [in Salt Lake City] enjoying the refreshing atmosphere and the beauties of the snow covered trees, when my dreaming was cut short by someone using rather uncouth profanity," wrote Marthinius A. Strand, one of the early converts, in The Utah in 1937.

"I stopped to see what was wrong and found a man shoveling snow. He was tired and cold, so I . . . offered to help him, and he gladly accepted.

"I asked if they did not have winter sports here in Salt Lake City. He asked me what [winter sports were]. I explained to him as [best as] I could with my meager English vocabulary, and he became interested. He also remarked that the only winter sports he knew was carrying ashes and shoveling snow.

"Around Christmas of 1914, Axel Andresen, Chris Christopherson and myself bought the first jumping skis ever sold in Utah," wrote Brother Strand. "Soon we had all the young Norwegians with us and among them were the Berntsen brothers, Bernt Hovik, Olaw Strand and several other good skiers."

That handful of skiers formed the "Norsk Ungdomsforening" or Norwegian Young Folks Society and began preparing Utah's first ski jumping competition.

"Our . . . thoughts were to find a jumping hill where we could practice and be able to show the people in Salt Lake how much enjoyment and pleasure really could be derived from the snow," Brother Strand wrote.

"We held our first ski jumping tournament in January 1915 on the Dry Canyon hill [above the current-day location of the University of Utah]. We made arrangements with the local street car company to take care of the transportation, but lo and behold, they underestimated the crowd. Nevertheless, 5,000 people attended our first tournament."

The first day of official jumping ended with Edwin Rosenberg winning with the longest jump of 50 feet. Axel Andresen had jumped 68 feet but was unable to maintain his balance.

"The affair was a grand success and the people went wild over this new sport. . . . Never will I forget the first few seasons in the new sport and how we watched for the snow to come," Brother Strand continued.

The popularity of the sport and the skill of the participants increased over the years. The need for better, more challenging facilities led the group to create other ski jumps. By the early 1930s amateurs and professionals were competing on Ecker Hill near Park City.

Here, Alf Engen delighted the crowd with a new record jump of 252 feet. (Please see article about Engen brothers on page 8.)

Over the years, the Norwegian Young Folks Society gave way to the organization of other associations that continued to develop and market Utah as a world class ski destination.

"Oh, if only our people could see it as I do," continued Brother Strand in 1937, "that here within our grasp lies Utah's hope for future recognition as the nation's most outstanding center for winter sports. . . . Am I dreaming? No, merely stating facts which some day in the near future will be a reality."

E-mail: shaun@desnews.com