There’s an old joke that goes something like this:
A skier passed away and was awaiting St. Peter’s approval to get into heaven when he spotted what looked like Stein Eriksen carving beautiful arcs on the side of a cloud.
“Wow!” the newcomer exclaimed. “I didn’t know Stein was here!”
“Oh, that’s not Stein,” says St. Peter. “That’s God. He just wants to be like Stein!”
Yes, if you were a Retro-Skier, you wanted to be like Stein. Or at least all the men wanted to be like Stein. All the women wanted to be with Stein! It’s probably difficult for anyone born after 1960 to appreciate the effect Stein Eriksen had on skiing in the United States and around the world for that matter.
The announcement that Stein Eriksen died on December 27, 2015 at age 88 made news throughout the skiing world. It particularly hit me hard because he had been my skiing idol, my inspiration to become a better skier and “Ski Like Stein.” It also hit me hard because it occurred on my birthday so I’m not likely to forget the coincidence.
What did it mean to be like Stein? Well, first there was the way he skied. The skis, boots, and legs were locked together. You never saw any daylight between his legs no matter what maneuver he was executing. I remember holding my ski hat between my knees to practice keeping my legs together. Nothing like having to hike back up the hill to retrieve your hat a few times to help you achieve that locked leg technique. People who see me ski today probably still would say my skis are close together, but trust me, they are further apart now than at any time in those early years.
Then there was the exaggerated counter-rotation of Stein’s upper body. At speed this allowed Stein to hang his hips over the slope at a gravity-defying angle. All you needed to see was a silhouette in this position and you knew it was Stein. The first time I ever achieved that same feeling was skiing down Spar Gulch at Aspen. That trail has banked sides sort of like a natural halfpipe although not as steep. I found that with some speed I could bank a turn off the sides and with counter-rotation hang my butt over the downhill side of the bank.
However just being able to achieve the same position as Stein didn’t mean you skied like Stein. Stein did everything with ease and grace. Stein said “To me, gracefulness on skis should be the end-all of the sport…” And nobody was more graceful than Stein!
We also had to dress like Stein. I’ve talked about the “uniform” before: in-the-boot stretch pants, turtle neck, wind shirt, ski sweater, and for cold days a parka. The goal was to ski in a sweater any time it was possible. Almost every picture of Stein showed him skiing in a sweater. The style was even referred to as a “Stein” sweater. And you never saw Stein skiing in a hat! So any time you could ski in a sweater, you’d also lose the hat. There’s a rumor that the reason Stein left Sugarbush was the cold winters that limited the amount of time he could ski in a sweater and no hat!
Stein did have one asset that most of us could only envy: his good looks. He was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Norse god. As skiing gained popularity in the 1950s and 60s, Stein was the face of the sport. I recently saw a video of a 1960 advertisement for the Chevy Corvair that featured Stein racing a Corvair down a ski trail!
This Fall when I was getting fitted for a new pair of boots by P.J. Dewey at Race Stock in Waterbury, I came across a copy of “Come Ski With Me” written by Stein Eriksen. P.J. let me borrow the book which was written in 1966 when Stein was at Sugarbush. It covers his life to that point, has illustrated learn-to-ski lessons, tips on physical conditioning, racing, and even doing flips!
Scott Dorwart who manages the Cross Country Center at Stowe Mountain Resort was the first to correctly answer last week’s trivia question. Scott’s wife Lyndall Heyer posted his answer on my blog.
Another correct answer came from Denny Hanson who has an autographed copy of “Come Ski With Me!” Denny and his brother Chris were the founders of Hanson boots which I wrote about a few weeks back. Denny’s latest company is Apex Ski Boot http://www.apexskiboots.com.