Stein Eriksen, skiing legend and Deer Valley icon, dies
Stein Eriksen was already a star skier in his native Norway by the time the 1952 Winter Olympics opened in Oslo, the nation’s capital.
He enjoyed two solid seasons in 1950 and 1951 leading up to the Olympic winter. It was his chance to win the most recognized prize in skiing, a gold medal in the Olympics.
Few people, though, realized what was occurring at the start house of the giant-slalom course at the beginning of what would be his gold-medal event. Eriksen, who died at 88 years old at home in Park City on Sunday, recounted decades afterward the Olympic giant-slalom run that almost ended disastrously.
In an interview as the 2002 Winter Olympics approached in Park City, Eriksen described his jitters in the start house 50 years before. He was readying to begin the run and inadvertently swatted the wand that starts the timing clock with one of his ski poles. He hit the wand 10 seconds prior to starting down the course, Eriksen remembered, an eternity in a sport in which races are decided by hundredths of a second.
"I could only hear the official saying ‘Stop electric, start manual. Stop electric, start manual," Eriksen said, explaining that the judges caught the error and timed the race manually.
He also captured a silver medal in the slalom competition in 1952. Two years later, at the Alpine World Ski Championships in Are, Sweden, he won three gold medals, becoming the first to win three golds at the world championships.
Eriksen was one of skiing’s first, and biggest, celebrities as he pursued a career on the slopes that eventually brought him to Park City. He lived in the United States starting in the mid-1950s. He spent a short time in Sun Valley, Idaho, returned to Norway and then moved back to the United States to run the ski school at Boyne Mountain, in Michigan. In 2003, as Eriksen was inducted to the Intermountain Ski Hall of Fame at the Utah Olympic Park, he credited W. Averell Harriman, a railroad magnate and the founder of the ski resort in Sun Valley, as the reason he was in the United States. He said Harriman introduced him to "the beautiful life of skiing in the United States."
He made career stops in Colorado, Vermont and California. Eriksen used his background as a ski racer to teach others how to ski, becoming a renowned instructor. He also was a pioneer in what became freestyle skiing, completing the first forward somersault with a full layout on skis.
Eriksen’s post-ski racing career, though, is most linked to Park City. In 1969, he relocated to the fledgling ski community. There was one resort at the time, Park City Ski Area, and Eriksen’s life in Park City largely mirrored the wider community’s growth into one of the world’s top skiing destinations. He spent the 1970s at the ski area before moving into a role that would define his later decades of his life.
Eriksen moved to Deer Valley Resort two years before the resort opened in 1981. Eriksen frequently spoke with great admiration for Edgar Stern, the patriarch of Deer Valley Resort. Stern and Eriksen were seen as having a great partnership as Deer Valley rose in prominence. Eriksen once said he "loved the man from the first moment I met him."
Eriksen quickly became the most recognizable figure at a resort that would become one of the ski industry’s elite destinations. He was the director of skiing at Deer Valley, often wearing brightly colored ski outfits on the slopes and drawing attention from the crowds as they watched him gracefully make his turns down a run.
"His influence in the ski industry and at this resort was infinite and his legacy will always be a fundamental aspect of Deer Valley. He was a true inspiration and we are honored to have had him as part of the Deer Valley family," Bob Wheaton, the president and general manager of Deer Valley Resort, said in a prepared statement released by the resort.
Eriksen would ski with VIPs and regular Deer Valley customers alike, describing the joys of the sport to eager skiers. His name is attached to the Stein Eriksen Lodge in Deer Valley, long one of ski country’s top-ranking hotels. There is a ski run named in his honor, Stein’s Way, on Bald Mountain at Deer Valley Resort. A bronze sculpture of Eriksen in a skiing pose stands in a central location outside Snow Park Lodge in lower Deer Valley.
"The racing years were unbelievable. But the fun part about skiing for me later was to just excel on style, to try to inspire people to take up the sport of skiing," Eriksen said in the interview prior to the Olympics in 2002.
Deer Valley Resort said Eriksen died as a result of unspecified complications related to aging. Eriksen is survived by his wife, Francoise, son Bjorn and daughters Julianna, Ava and Anja. He had five grandchildren. Deer Valley Resort said a private memorial is planned for the family and a celebration of Eriksen’s life will be held later. Details were not immediately available. Deer Valley Resort said the Eriksen family suggests someone donate to the Stein Eriksen Youth Sports Opportunity Endowment in lieu of flowers.
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The Park City Police Department last week and early this week received several reports of parties, a common complaint to the agency during busy times of the ski season. The cases did not appear to be serious, but they seem to show an uptick in activity in the community.