Norwegians were mourning the death of one of their most internationally famous skiers on Monday. Stein Eriksen, the alpine skiing legend, died during the night at his longtime home in the US, at an age of 88.
Eriksen, a handsome and superb skier known for his especially elegant style, became a national hero when he won the gold medal in the giant slalom at the Winter Olympics of 1952, at home in Norway. The Olympics that year played an important role in Norway’s national rebuilding efforts after World War II. Oslo hosted the Winter Games and Stein Eriksen became the first male skier to win gold who didn’t come from one of the countries in the European alps.
He went on to win three more gold medals at the World Championships at Åre in Sweden two years later, and his older brother Marius was a well-known skier as well. Their mother is widely credited with knitting the iconic red-white-and-blue Mariusgenser that remains a classic ski sweater today.
‘Pioneer’ who moved to the US
Stein Eriksen ended up moving to the US not long after his triumphs on the slopes and became as famous in skiing circles there as he was at home, possibly even moreso. “He was a pioneer and a skiing legend,” Erik Røste, president of Norway’s national skiing federation, told newspaper VG. “Everyone in the sport had a relationship to Stein Eriksen. He was big in Norway, but maybe even bigger in the USA. He will probably best be remembered for the job he did there, that he was part of creating interest for alpine and skiing in general in the US.”
Many credit Stein Eriksen with making downhill skiing so popular in the US, as he tirelessly promoted the sport and worked as a ski instructor at such high-profile resorts as Sun Valley in Idaho, Sugarbush in Vermont, Heavenly Valley at Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada state line and Snowmass and Aspen in Colorado. He later settled in the Park City, Utah area and remained the director of skiing at the posh Deer Valley resort, where the Stein Eriksen Lodge was named in his honour. He was known as a friendly man who chatted easily with other skiers while riding the chairlifts, for example, and surprising many who weren’t aware they were sitting next to “the famous Stein Eriksen.”
Proud of his Norwegian roots
Norway’s current star skier, Olympic and World Champion Aksel Lund Svindal, called Eriksen “a great guy and a legendary skier.” Others called him “a wandering advertisement for Norway,” as he continued to proudly promote his Norwegian roots as well as skiing. He often donned a traditional Norwegian costume (bunad) for festive events and was decorated by King Harald V as a Knight First Class in 1997, for outstanding service in Norway’s best interests. He also won a long list of other awards in addition to his skiing medals.
In an interview with VG in 2007, Norway’s multiple gold medal-winning downhill racer Kjetil André Aamodt called Eriksen on the “greatest ambassadors” the alpine sport had ever had. Aamodt’s father, former national skiing coach Finn Aamodt, noted how Eriksen usually invited the entire Norwegian ski team to dinner at the Stein Eriksen Lodge when they were in or around Utah. “Stein Eriksen was a pioneer, he stated the modern alpine sport in Norway,” the elder Aamodt told VG on Monday. “We had alpine skiing in Norway before him, but Eriksen represented a new era.” Former professional skier Ole Christian Furuseth said that Eriksen’s handsome head of hair also made an impression on the Norwegian skiers. No matter what the weather was like, Eriksen’s hair was always perfect, Furuseth recalled.
“His influence on the ski industry and on this resort was infinite, and his legacy will always be a fundamental aspect of Deer Valley,” Bob Wheaton, Deer Valley president and general manger, told the ski resort’s own website. “He was a true inspiration.”
Stein Eriksen was also referred to as “the patriarch of elegant skiing” and one of the fathers of modern and freestyle skiing.”
Eriksen, whose brother Marius died in 2009, is survived by his wife Francoise, his son Bjørn, three daughters Julianna, Ava and Anja, and five grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son Stein Jr. Memorial services were pending, and the family suggested donations fo the Stein Eriksen Yourth Sports Opportunity Endowment fund (external link) as an alternative to flowers.