Howard Peterson, influential ski figure who led USSA, dies at 69

Tom Kelly
Park Record contributor
Howard Peterson, an influential figure who led the U.S. Ski Association and Soldier Hollow, died Monday.
Tom Kelly/courtesy

PARK CITY, Utah — Howard Peterson, an influential leader of the U.S. Ski Association and Soldier Hollow, died Monday in Heber City. He was 69.

As secretary general of USSA in the late 1980s, Peterson pushed the U.S. Olympic Committee to select a candidate city based on its willingness to develop legacy facilities for athletes. His efforts resulted in Salt Lake City winning over Anchorage in 1989 by two votes and building venues that continue to serve athletes and the public today.

A Maine native, Peterson was one of the founders of the National Ski Touring Association (now Cross Country Ski Areas Association) before moving to a role with the U.S. Ski Association (USSA) that would change the face of the sport globally. In 1988, Peterson engineered a deal to bring together the U.S. Ski Team and U.S. Ski Association into one entity, basing the new organization, which would later change its name to U.S. Ski & Snowboard, in Park City.

Always an advocate for athletes, Peterson pushed an agenda that U.S. Olympic bid cities should develop venues to provide a living legacy after the Games. While his initiatives were not well received at the start, his relentless push led to the selection of Salt Lake City and the development of venues that remain in active use.

Peterson retired from the USSA in 1994. Five years later, he led an initiative to form the Soldier Hollow Legacy Foundation. The venue proved to be one of the most engaging of all the 2002 sites. Its legacy resulted in training facilities for athletes still used today, as well as a regional outdoor recreation center that continues to thrive. He retired from that role in 2014.

Soldier Hollow became his pride and joy. He helped raise $1 million to build the Day Lodge, started the Soldier Hollow Charter School in 2002 and brought events like the Sheepdog Classic to the region, generating millions in economic impact to Wasatch County.

In his longtime engagement with the International Ski Federation (FIS), he advocated for integration of adaptive skiing, freestyle skiing and snowboarding into the Olympic and Paralympic programs. He also pioneered cash prizes for athletes in 1990. Peterson was also a vanguard of ethics in sport, tackling the issue with both the U.S. Olympic Committee and FIS. He served for many years as the head of the FIS Advertising Committee.

“He was a loyal soldier for the USSA and FIS, making a difference for both organizations,” said former U.S. Ski & Snowboard President and CEO Bill Marolt. “He was always a positive proponent.”

“We will miss Howard as a friend, a colleague and a leader,” said Luke Bodensteiner, chief of sport development for the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation and general manager of Soldier Hollow Nordic Center. “He was steadfast in his vision that the Olympics in Utah would leave a legacy for winter sport for generations to come. And we continue to enjoy the impact of his tireless efforts today, particularly at Soldier Hollow, which became so near and dear to him, and into which he invested so much of himself.”

“Howard was a visionary who knew that operating a nordic center required additional activities and community offerings,” said Colin Hilton, CEO of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation. “His leadership brought not only world class cross-country skiing to Utah, but also year round tourism with summer events such as the Sheep Dog Classic and winter tubing.”

Peterson died after a long illness. His wife, Susan, passed in 2016. The two met ice climbing on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington in 1976. They were married in 1989, enjoying a life of travel and adventure — visiting 80 countries together. Peterson was also a noted climber, pioneering many first ascents. Family and friends intend to plan a tribute when conditions are appropriate in the future.