A legend and pioneer much ahead of his time, Stein Eriksen, a Norwegian with Hollywood looks, promoted skiing beyond Scandinavian and the sport’s borders. Olympic and world champion with infectious charm, Eriksen is known as skiing’s first superstar.
Stein Eriksen was born in 1927 and grew up at Holmenkollen with parents Marius and Bitte along with older brother Marius junior. Both Stein and Marius were destined to become outstanding athletes: Marius Sr was a well-known ski jumper and alpine skier although he participated in the 1912 Olympic Summer Games as a gymnast. Mother Bitte (Birgit) led the ladies’ alpine ski club in Oslo and the Sons Eriksen grew up having their own home-made ski jumping hill in the garden, lit by a candle in the dark.
Stein Eriksen used to say that one of his greatest ”worries” as a kid was not knowing whether he should become a ski jumper or alpine skier. Eventually he chose the latter.
When Stein was 13 years old, his dreams were crashed. Germany invaded Norway on 9 April 1940 and Stein watched his 17-year-old brother Marius flee to Canada, only to be recruited into the British army. Marius flew for The Royal Air Force but was shut down over the Netherlands, becoming a prisoner of war in May 1943. Against all odds he came free in Zagan in Poland at the end of the war in 1945 and returned home uninjured. He went on to become an almost as well-known athlete as his brother, winning the Norwegian championships in slalom, participating in the Olympic Winter Games at St Moritz 1948, and working as a model and actor.
After the war, Stein developed into a skilled slalom skier. From 1949 to 1954 he won all Norwegian championships and in 1950 was part of the team representing Norway at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Aspen, USA. At that time, the Nordic countries were much behind the Alps nations in terms of Alpine skiing development, technique and speed. But Stein Eriksen was about to change that. Father Marius had become ill during the war and passed away that year but only after having witnessed the historic event in the world of Alpine Skiing.
”My coach called my father in Norway to tell him: ”Marius, your son just became world champion”. My father answered ”I don’t care about that”, and then invited his friends to come celebrate with a glass of champagne,” is a tale often told by Stein Eriksen
The incredible part of the story is that Stein led after the first run in the men’s slalom. No Northern European had ever performed that well in an international competition before. However, Stein did not win gold at that time, but while Marius Sr and his friends cheered between the two runs, Stein was a world champion.
The time for revenge came two years later when Stein won gold in giant slalom and silver in slalom at the Olympic Winter Games in Oslo. ”To ski like Stein” suddenly became a goal for all who wanted to succeed in the technical events in Alpine Skiing.
”For most of us, even the best ones, skiing was a power sport, something difficult. What Stein did was different. He delivered impeccable curves and delicate acts of balance, with the grace of a ballet dancer. When it comes to gravity, Stein seemed to have been governed by completely different laws”, wrote former ski racer Nicholas Howe after he saw Stein Eriksen ski at Bald Mountain, 1953.
Stein’s successes continued. The FIS Alpine World Ski Championships 1954 took place from 1 to 7 March with downhill, giant slalom, slalom and Alpine combined events where Sarah Thomasson and Stig Sollander won their respective bronze medals in slalom and Alpine combined. The Championships served as a first step for Åre to become the international ski resort that it is today, and 27-year-old Stein Eriksen was the King of the Championships, becoming the first skier ever to win three gold medals at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
After Åre 1954, Stein chose to emigrate to the USA and retire from active competition. Wearing his favorite outfit, the Norwegian sweater, he became prominent in the USA where he worked as ski instructor at several resorts, finally arriving at Deer Valley. He became especially famous for his ”mid-air somersault,” which today is a basic jump for freestyle skiers, for his charm and for always remaining down-to-earth, despite his many successes and immense popularity.
”Be tough and self-confident, but you will never become whole and happy if you are not humble,” was his motto.
Park City, Utah became his home in the USA and he helped develop Park City Ski Area (now Park City Mountain) where the Stein Eriksen Lodge Deer Valley, not owned by him but named after him, is located in the middle of the resort. Stein Eriksen was the first superstar in the history of Alpine Skiing and when he died in December 2015 at the age of 88, condolences were offered by friends of skiing near and far across generations.
Stein Eriksen in a nutshell
Born: 11 December 1927, Oslo
Died: 27 December 2015, Park City, Utah (88 years old)
Olympic Medals: 1 gold, 1 silver (1952, Oslo)
World Ski Champs Medals: 3 gold (1954, Åre), 1 bronze (1950, Aspen)
Family: Marius Eriksen (1886 – 1950), Birgit Heien (1900 – 1996), brother: Marius Jr (1922-2009)
Children: Björn Eriksen, Anja Eriksen, Ava Eriksen, Julianna Eriksen, Stein Eriksen Jr (died 2012).
Recognitions: Aftenposten Gold Medal, Holmenkollen Medal, Sport Journalists’ statue (twice), Norwegian Royal Order of Merit, Pioneer Award (Intermountain Ski Areas Association), Olympic Ambassador 2002, Intermountain Hall of Fame (2013), Lifetime Achievement Award (Utah Sports Commission), Outstanding Contribution to Ski Tourism (World Ski Awards)
Photo: Hallings foto/Jamtlis fotosamlingar