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Ray Grass: Skiing legend Eriksen became an icon for his sport and for Utah

SHARE Ray Grass: Skiing legend Eriksen became an icon for his sport and for Utah

As the story goes, after a field of instructors, racers and local ski talent had completed a community ski race and left a course carved and rutted, and winners were celebrating, Stein Eriksen skied by the start and was prodded into racing “just for the fun of it.’’

He did and beat the entire field by seconds — not inches or feet, but yards and yards. He was in his 50s at the time and, said the source, he looked every bit an Olympic champion.

Stein Eriksen died at his home in Park City on Sunday. He was 88.

And even though he was born and raised in Norway, he would in the six decades he lived in the United States become a Utah icon. His style, grace and charisma and his love for Utah would become recognized around the world.

The word most often used by those remembering Eriksen was “approachable.’’ He was always kind, gracious and humble to both friends and strangers.

He was once quoted as saying: “Be tough, be confident. But you will never be a whole and happy person if you aren’t humble.’’

“That was Stein. He was humble. He was endearing. It didn’t matter if you were his best friend or met him for the first time, after 30 seconds you felt you had a new best friend,’’ said Bob Wheaton, president/CEO of Deer Valley.

“He was an outstanding competitor and gymnast that allowed him to become a very stylish skier. Although many have tried, no one has been able to imitate his skiing style. He always looked terrific. And he’s had a big impact on Utah skiing and Utah. His skiing and the examples he set extended into his teaching career. Often he would ride up the lift with someone, a stranger. They would talk and he would end up skiing down with them and teaching them as they skied,’’ recalled Junior Bounous, director of skiing at Snowbird.

He was, recalled Raelene Davis, vice president of marketing for Ski Utah, “a great ambassador for Utah skiing. He helped promote Utah and the Greatest Snow on Earth. We always enjoyed introducing Stein to the media and tour operators. They could always tell he was passionate about Utah and Utah skiing.’’

Eriksen is often referred to as the founder of modern skiing. His grace and style on the slopes was his trademark. It has been said that with his good looks, style and charisma he was skiing’s first “superstar.’’

And, in the same breath, he is said to be the pioneer of aerial freestyle skiing. While growing up in Norway, Eriksen was both a talented skier and gymnast. He would combine the two and could often be seen on the slopes doing forward somersaults on skis long before inverted maneuvers were considered.

He stepped into the public spotlight by winning gold and silver medals in the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway, becoming the first skier living outside the Alps to win a gold. In 1954, he won three gold medals in the World Championships in Sweden, thus becoming the first alpine skier to win the triple gold. In 1997, the king of Norway knighted Eriksen with the Royal Norwegian Order ion Merit, which is the highest honor given by the Norwegian government.

Other honors include the Pioneer Award from the Intermountain Ski Areas Association, and a place in the Intermountain Ski Hall of Fame and the Professional Ski Instructors of America Hall of Fame.

He often said, however, his greatest accomplishment was teaching others to ski. After the 1952 Olympics, he moved to the United States and became a ski instructor at Sun Valley. From there he moved to teaching at Boyne Mountain in Michigan, Sugarbush in Vermont, Heavenly Valley in California, Snowmass in Colorado and Park City. He moved over to Deer Valley when the resort was nothing more than an image in the mind of its founder, Edgar Stern, and would stay on as director of skiing until his death.

His trophies and medals are housed in the Stein Eriksen Lodge at Deer Valley, which is the only five-star lodge in Utah.

Also remembering Eriksen was Mitt Romney. “One of the greats has left us," he said. "Stein Eriksen was a champion for Utah and for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games just as he himself was a champion Olympic athlete. His prowess was not only on the slopes but also as a visionary entrepreneur and leader in the development of Utah's burgeoning industry … his enthusiasm, exuberance and grace will long warm our hearts.’’

Tiger Shaw, new president/CEO of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, said, “As an Olympic and world champion, Stein Eriksen set a standard in his sport of ski racing which he carried into life as one of skiing’s greatest ambassadors. His legacy will live on in the ski racers of today and in the sport he loved so much.’’

As was often said by those remembering Eriksen, his skiing and influence on Utah and Utah skiing will be missed.

Eriksen is survived by his wife of 35 years, Francoise, a son, three daughters and five grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a son, Stein Junior.