Tom Kelly: Celebrating what would have been Stein’s 92nd
I don’t spend a lot of time on the Mayflower side of Deer Valley Resort. But a few times a year, usually on a bluebird day, I head over to Stein’s Way to carve some glory turns down to the Jordanelle. At the top, I switch my iPhone playlist to Helan Går and drop in.
Stein’s Way perfectly embodies its namesake, the legendary Stein Eriksen. It’s an elegant groomer, best enjoyed on morning corduroy, with a steady pitch, nice width for carving stylish turns and a view to the reservoir below that gives you that feeling of cascading down the mountain. You cruise easily down the first blue pitch as a warm-up, then drop your skis into the fall line of the black diamond segment before leaning into a hard right-footed turn down to the lift.
It’s a run that simply makes you feel good about yourself. You truly sense that you’re skiing like Stein. It’s the kind of experience you enjoy as a visitor, then go home and tell your friends about Stein’s black diamond you skied at Deer Valley.
Last Wednesday, about a hundred friends, family and lodge employees gathered in front of the trophy case in Stein Eriksen Lodge to celebrate what would have been Stein’s 92nd birthday. This month will be four years since he passed.
It’s a day to celebrate the legacy of the skier whose life took him from the snowfields of his native Norway to the mountains of America, landing right here in our town four decades ago.
To me, Stein always represented style and elegance. But at his heart, he was a blue collar guy who loved sharing with others.
His father, Marius, was an Olympic gymnast who became an innovative ski technology pioneer in Norway. His mother, Bitte, was a leader, running the local alpine ski club and knitting amazing ski sweaters. His older brother, Marius, Jr., was a huge influence. When Norway was occupied by the Nazis during World War II, young Marius escaped and flew Spitfires for a Royal Air Force squadron of Norwegian fighter pilots, recording nine kills before being shot down and captured.
Stein’s gold and silver medals from the 1952 Olympics in his hometown of Oslo made a big impression in the ski world. His triple gold sweep in the 1954 World Championships two years later solidified his place in history.
But to me, his mark on how he would spend his life in skiing came in between. The winter of 1953, Stein and a cadre of ski racers from Scandinavia and Europe came to Sun Valley as ski instructors for the winter. I can only imagine the impact these strapping young men in ski sweaters made that winter. It was the rat pack of Sun Valley, foreshadowing the role skiing would play in future generations.
Stein’s pathway in America stems back to Everett Kircher, a Detroit Studebaker dealer who owned Boyne Mountain, who convinced him to return in 1955. Stein hopscotched from Boyne to Sugarbush to Heavenly and Aspen. There he met Edgar Stern, who eventually brought him here to help build Deer Valley.
Stein and Edgar were a perfect match. Stein was a symbol of elegance in skiing. Stern was a master of hospitality. What they built together in the 1980s with Deer Valley set a new standard for hospitality in winter sport.
Chef Zane Holmquist recalled Stein’s impact with great fondness. “He used to tell us, ‘just don’t screw it up,’” Holmquist laughed. “He loved to joke around with us.”
Stein would come to the dining room each day and ask the chef, “what do you have for me today.” His favorite indulgence, crème brûlée with a side of ice cream, and a nice glass of champagne or maybe aquavit.
Helan Går is a Scandinavian folk song used as a celebratory toast. Roughly translated, it says: ‘He who doesn’t drink the first, shall never, ever quench his thirst.’
Stein’s legacy was very much alive last week as his son, Bjorn, joined lodge CEO Russ Olsen in raising a glass to Stein. In the crowd was Stein’s wife, Françoise, smiling broadly as she held their little granddaughter who will someday learn about her famous grandfather.
At his core, what made Stein such a great person wasn’t his style and elegance. It was his ability to connect to others. He was more than a representative of Deer Valley and Stein Eriksen Lodge. He was literally the ambassador of a sport to generations. When you talked about skiing, you couldn’t help but talk about Stein.
The chef put it best when he said, “what we all respected most about Stein was that he made everyone around him feel great.”
Wisconsin native Tom Kelly landed in Park City in 1988 (still working on becoming an official local). A recently inducted member of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, he is most known for his role as lead spokesperson for Olympic skiing and snowboarding for over 30 years until his retirement in 2018. This will be his 50th season on skis, typically logging 60 days in recent years.
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