Aspen icons elected to Hall of Fame
The Colorado Ski Museum recently recognized what Aspenites have known for decades: Former U.S. Ski Team trainer Tage Pedersen, 78, and alpine racing icon Stein Eriksen, 76, deserve a place in the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.
These two local legends are among five “pioneers, competitors, ski sport builders, and inspirational individuals” to be inducted to the Hall of Fame for 2004 and featured in the museum in Vail.
Both men helped develop skiing in Aspen, one with his healing hands and the other with his groundbreaking acrobatics and Norwegian charisma.
Healing hands: Tage Pedersen
Although Tage (pronounced tah-geh) Pedersen has trained and rehabilitated members of the U.S. Ski Team for more than four decades, he remains humble about his contributions.
“He’s like a silent Viking,” his daughter Lorna Petersen said. “He doesn’t think he’s worthy.”
The soft-spoken Dane said the reward for his work was watching injured athletes return to the sports they loved.
Christin Cooper-Tache, who won the 1984 Olympic silver medal in the giant slalom, among other medals, said she and her husband, Mark Tache, another member of the U.S. Ski Team, benefited firsthand from Pedersen’s intuitive touch.
“In those years, the American team was known as this really tough, resilient group of athletes,” Cooper-Tache said. “That was the legacy Tage gave us.”
Pedersen immigrated to Aspen from Denmark in 1956. That same year he became the assistant director and then director of the Aspen Institute Health and Fitness Center, after doing landscaping outside the nearly completed facility. Pedersen remained director until 1983.
Originally trained as a gymnast, he used his Danish schooling in physical education to develop ski training and physical therapy regimens that quickly caught the attention of Olympic racers.
“Tage pioneered a lot of the early rehabilitation programs before these existed in orthopedics and medicine,” said John McMurtry, an Aspen High School graduate and coach of the U.S. Ski Team from 1976-84. McMurtry is now the vice president of program advancement of the nonprofit Steadman-Hawkins Sports Medicine Foundation. “Physical therapy just didn’t exist,” he said.
Rather than immobilizing a broken leg in a plaster cast for months, as most doctors then prescribed, Pedersen believed motion was necessary for a speedy recovery.
“At the time, that was almost like sacrilege,” Cooper-Tache said. She described how Pedersen and Dr. Richard “Steady” Steadman, who later co-founded the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic, developed partner resistance exercises that “didn’t seem revolutionary because they made sense.”
In 1968, Pedersen received an invitation to become the official U.S. Ski Team trainer.
He worked with the U.S. Alpine Team until 1980, conducting spring and fall training camps in Aspen, and then continued with the Nordic Team until 1985.
He accompanied the teams to four Olympic Games and four World Championships, all as an unpaid volunteer. Lorna said her father would only accept dessert for payment.
Pedersen’s constant, often innovative care for his athletes quickly became Ski Team lore.
“He was always thinking practical,” Lorna said.
At the 1970 Amateur World Championship in Val Gardena, Italy, downhill racer Billy Kidd suffered back spasms that threatened to take him out of the race. But Pedersen found a novel solution – in a lingerie shop.
He searched the nearest town for a back brace without success, and had the ingenuity to buy a women’s corset instead. Pedersen laced up Kidd, who then won the gold medal in the combined event. According to former U.S. Ski Team member Andy Mill, the 1970 championship contained the longest slalom in the history of the sport, making Kidd’s performance and Pedersen’s treatment of the back injury all the more impressive.
“Tage hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves because he’s not a surgeon,” Cooper-Tache said. She believes that Pedersen’s contributions to skiing and sports medicine have gone largely unnoticed because he “never toots his own horn.”
Yet for 45 years, Pedersen has put hundreds of Roaring Fork Valley skiers back together, including fellow Hall of Fame inductee Stein Eriksen.
Ski Ambassador: Stein Eriksen
Eriksen, the renowned ski racer from Norway, moved to Aspen in 1958.
“Stein is the best ambassador to skiing we ever had,” said contemporary Klaus Obermeyer, owner of the successful ski clothing company.
In fact, the king of Norway knighted Eriksen in 1997 for his contributions to his home country’s most popular sport. The handsome Norwegian, usually clad in a Scandinavian ski sweater, is one of the most famous skiers in the world, and is already in the National Ski Hall of Fame.
An accomplished racer, Eriksen won a gold medal in the giant slalom and a silver in the slalom for the Norwegian Ski Team at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, as well as numerous medals from the 1950 and 1954 World Championships.
But perhaps he is best known for his vibrant presence in ski schools, teaching his graceful style of skiing and inspiring Americans to try the sport.
Eriksen started at Boyne Mountain, Mich., then moved to Heavenly Valley, Calif., before landing at Aspen Highlands and eventually the Snowmass Ski School. Each morning, crowds would gather at the Highlands school to watch Eriksen execute his famous aerial somersault, a stunt he learned as a gymnast in Norway.
Obermeyer referred to Eriksen’s tricks as the X Games of the early days in Aspen ski history. Eriksen was the first skier to execute a forward flip, also called a Moby Flip, and helped usher in the beginning of freestyle skiing.
“He did it with a layout, like a swan dive,” said Magnes Nostdahl, one of the six or seven Norwegian instructors who Eriksen invited to help teach the Aspen ski school in the late 1950s. “That thing has gone a long ways.”
Mac Smith, director of the Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol, remembers skiing when he was 9 or 10 years old during Eriksen’s reign in Aspen.
“I thought he was an icon,” Smith said. “God’s gift to skiing.”
Eriksen remains a fixture in the American skiing scene with a luxury ski lodge in Deer Valley, Utah, named after him and the Stein Eriksen Sport Shop in Snowmass Village. The Norwegian sweaters he made popular 50 years ago continue to warm skiers today.
Still active, friends say he skied every day last ski season and can outpace many skiers half his age.
“He’s still at it, at 76,” said Anne-Lisa Parker, another of the imported Norwegian instructors who now lives in Sandpoint, Idaho. “He’s a terrific skier.”
Known for his outgoing personality, Eriksen has developed a reputation for being both charming and fun loving.
“He could talk just as well to an 80-year-old lady barely moving down the hill as to the king of Norway,” Nostdahl said.
Pedersen added: “He’s a super gentleman, liked by everyone. He’s the best.”
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