Obituary: Per Guldbrandsgaard
June 20, 1938 – October 15, 2022
Per Guldbrandsgaard, one of “Stein’s boys” who followed gold-medal-Olympian Stein Eriksen from Norway to instruct at his new American ski schools, passed away on Oct. 15, 2022 in Aspen after 84 years of a well-lived life comprised of skiing and traveling the world.
Born on June 20, 1938 in Drammen, Norway, Per grew up as an avid skier in the mountain town of Geilo, one of two sons working the family farm. Skiing was the mode of transportation from his toddler years on. He graduated from the two-year Stavern military school before taking off to sail around the world on a working ship. Upon return to Geilo, he became a banker, teaching skiing only on weekends, before realizing something about himself.
“Me, I’m an outdoors man. I said to myself, I’ve got to get out of this bank, I can’t sit here any longer,” he recalled. “I love to be outdoors and talking to people and helping them feel good about their skiing.”
Per taught full time in Geilo from 1960 through 1965, including a summer interlude of teaching at both Portillo and La Parva, Chile. In 1965, Stein Eriksen returned to the glaciers of Norway to evaluate and hire numerous European professional instructors, and he recruited Per, Norwegian-certified, to be on the staff of his Sugarbush, VT ski school.
Per taught for two seasons at Sugarbush, where the slick conditions were similar to those in Europe.
In 1967, Stein was asked to establish a ski school for Aspen Skiing Co.’s new gem, Snowmass-at-Aspen, so he hand-picked a team to bring west. The instructors were ecstatic to discover the powdery snow of the fledgling Snowmass ski resort. Per worked as Stein’s assistant and supervisor before he departed in 1969 in order to accept the opportunity to have his own school – at Snowcrest, Minnesota.
He spent the next 15 winters as Ski School Director at Snowcrest, a 300-foot-vertical ski area that catered to some 1,000 guests from 9 am to 9 pm daily. There, he was a PSIA alpine-instructor examiner, also establishing the district’s first certification process for cross-country ski instructors. He was the rep and advertising “face” for ski equipment, Gladiator sunglasses and ski sportswear.
He was often mistaken for Stein Eriksen for their similarities of facial features – and both had thick wavy hair that was never encumbered by a ski hat, even on the coldest of days. He was occasionally referred to as Stein’s “lille bror”.
Meanwhile, Stein had moved on to Utah, and was slated to be director of skiing when Deer Valley opened in 1980. Stein asked Per to run the ski school for him. “Their offer was missing a zero, however,” Per said dryly, “so I turned it down and stayed with Minnesota.”
Snowcrest’s season ended by March 1st, so Per would return to Snowmass each spring to continue teaching there for the last 6 weeks of its season. In 1995, he returned to Snowmass for good – bringing his “Norwegian New Year” tradition with him. At 4 pm Mountain Time every December 31st, Per rang in the new year at the same time that the clock was striking midnight in Norway, accompanied by fellow ski pros cheering “skål” at their favorite watering hole in Snowmass Village’s upper Mall.
He retired in 2014 after 55 years of teaching skiing, 47 of which were at Snowmass. He shared his love of skiing with legions of ski guests, most of whom became lifelong friends, incorporating him into their own families to initiate each new generation into the joys of winter sport.
When he finished each ski day, après ski, he was always surrounded by colleagues and co-workers at the plaque-marked spots known as “Per’s Corner”, not only at Venga Venga but also at The Mountain Dragon/Slow Groovin BBQ.
When he first arrived at Snowmass, he set down roots and his heart, explaining that “I have been in heaven ever since”. He was a vital part of the large Norwegian community in Aspen/Snowmass. For many years, he returned annually to Norway in the summer, but he also looked forward to his mid-January respite on Waikiki Beach in Hawai’i. During recent interviews for the Aspen Business Journal and Skiing History magazine, he reflected, “I have had a great life doing exactly what I like to do.”
He is survived by the two sons of his late brother Svein (who had taught at Snowmass too), both of whom live in Norway. Per also leaves behind a multitude of friends, colleagues and ski guests, all of whom loved him dearly.