Superstar skier Stein Eriksen died Sunday, December 27 at his home in Park City, Utah. He was 88.
He won the gold medal for Giant Slalom in the 1952 Winter Olympics, held in his native, Norway. A few years later, in 1954, he took three golds in the World Championships in Sweden.
To many older skiers, Stein was the embodiment of skiing: handsome, beautiful to watch with his reverse shoulder turns, a ballet master in classic Scandinavian sweater, graceful and effortless on the steepest runs.
Following his Olympic gold, Stein moved to the US where his on hill gifts were showcased at several ski resorts. I remember travelling to Sugarbush, Vermont to see something I thought impossible, a somersault on skis. Crowds gathered at noon to watch Stein perform that feat.
After Sun Valley, Aspen, Heavenly Valley, and a few others, he became Director of Skiing at Deer Valley, the high-end resort near Park City, Utah. The Stein Eriksen Lodge there consistently ranks among the world's top ski hotels.
In 1997, the King of Norway knighted him with the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit.
At the age of 80 a collision at Deer Valley with a young skier resulted in serious injury. Stein returned to the slopes following rehabilitation. In 2013 he was hospitalized for "neurological symptoms." He was in decline for the past few years.
In the 1990's, I was invited by some mutual friends to ski with Stein. We rode the lift a few times. He was curious, low-key, and very friendly. I followed him, amazed at how effortlessly he accelerated with every graceful turn. I think he was making micro skating moves that added to his speed. He didn't explain, and I didn't ask too many questions. It was simply a joy to be skiing with one of the greats.
A few years later, after my move to Park City, we sat together at a Rotary Club breakfast. Deer Valley had recently unveiled a life-sized bronze statue of him in front of one of its day lodges. I commented that it was a striking likeness. Turning to me with a smile, he said he agreed but had one minor complaint: instead of bronze, the statue should have been cast in gold.
Stein Eriksen was a gold medalist in skiing and in life. For skiers of a certain age, his passing is a loss.