(ATR) Norwegian Olympic champion and skiing legend Stein Eriksen forever changed the sport as a competitor, ambassador and innovator on the slopes.
Eriksen, who rose to prominence at the 1952 Winter Olympics in his hometown of Oslo, winning gold in the giant slalom and silver in slalom, died Dec. 27 at his home in Park City, Utah.
His death was confirmed by Deer Valley Resort, where Eriksen served as director of skiing for more than 35 years.
Norwegian Alpine ski racers Kjetil Jansrud and Aksel Lund Svindal fondly remembered Eriksen at a World Cup downhill race in Santa Caterina Valfurva, Italy.
"He definitely nailed it in the 1950’s,"said Svindal, a three-time Olympian with three Olympic medals, about Eriksen’s days as a champion racer.
Svindal admitted that he never knew Stein closely, but recollected a time that Eriksen contacted him after a near career-ending crash.
"When I was in the hospital in Beaver Creek in 2007, he called to give support after I just got out of surgery," Svindal said. "I think that showed his character. He wasn’t just a fantastic skier. Great Guy."
Jansrud said that Eriksen warmly welcomed him into his home during one of his first World Cup races in Park City. The Norwegian ski great recounted stories to the up and coming talent about the old days of ski racing.
"He was such a smooth skier – he had the perfect turn," said Jansrud, a three-time Olympian with three Olympic medals. "He was a legend living the skiing life."
Eriksen followed up his 1952 Olympic performance capturing three gold medals at the 1954 world championships in Are, Sweden.
Stylish and graceful on the slopes, the Olympic champion helped usher in modern skiing.
The charismatic and handsome Eriksen became the face of skiing and portrayed it in a fresh, exciting way. In addition to being known for his perfect technique, he could also perform all sorts of stunts on skis, including somersaults — an early prelude to the tricks in freestyle skiing.
"He did a back flip every day at noon in Park City until he was like 80 years old," Jansrud said. "He was doing what he loved."
I had the privilege of having Eriksen as a regular guest on my morning television show while living in Park City, Utah.
He would come into the station wearing a traditional telemark sweater, his red hair perfectly styled. On occasion, he would bring in vintage wooden skis with Bear Trap bindings and leather boots to reminisce about earlier eras of the sport.
Eriksen was at his absolute best while carving turns on the perfectly groomed slopes at Deer Valley Resort and socializing around the opulent Stein Eriksen Lodge. The beautiful lodge was the ideal setting for numerous television interviews that we conducted with him.
He continued to race in charity events against fellow former racers well into his seventies.
Once during a race at Deer Valley, Eriksen smacked his head on a gate while charging down a giant slalom course and entered the finish area with his face bleeding. Nearly half a century since his Olympic glory, Eriksen displayed the fierce competitor that he was, receiving some quick treatment and proceeding back up the mountain for his next run.
Eriksen lived in the U.S. for the last six decades, holding one position after another at various ski resorts. He was director of skiing and a ski school instructor at Snowmass, Colo. He taught skiing at Sugarbush, Vermont. He was ski school director in Aspen, Colo., where he also owned his own shop.
Eriksen also spent time in Heavenly Valley, Calif., and Boyne Mountain, Mich., before he settled in Deer Valley, the resort where freestyle skiing and slalom were held during the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
Eriksen became an honored member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1982, one of the many awards and accolades he received throughout his lifetime.
He also was awarded the Knight First Class honor in 1997 from the King of Norway for outstanding service to his country.
"I think he had a lot of cool experiences in his lifetime and I’m guessing he was blessed and happy with what he accomplished," Svindal said.
In memory of Eriksen, the burning torch outside the Deer Valley Lodge bearing his name was extinguished.
Written by Brian Pinelli in Santa Caterina Valfurva, Italy.
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