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Steinar Hybertsen - Norwegian Ski Legends
This three-disk set is part of a Norwegian TV series called "Et Ski-eventyr" (a ski adventure) or "Skispor fra fortiden" (ski tracks from the past). The first two disks have three half-hour episodes each. The third disk contains bonus features. The program is in Norwegian for the most part, with English subtitles available. Much of the program deals with the influence of Norwegian skiers in America.
Episode 1This episode centers on Jon Torsteinson Rue ("Snowshoe Thompson") who emigrated to America as a boy in 1837 from Tinn in Telemark. After trying his luck at gold mining in California, Thompson volunteered to carry mail over the Sierra Nevada, from Placerville to Genoa. The program also discusses the Alturas Snowshoe Club of La Porte, California, which developed longboard racing in the 1850s, the first alpine ski racing in the world. Curious about longboard racing, Snowshoe Thompson came to La Porte but was beaten by the local straight-running specialists. He later challenged the longboard racers to a down-mountain race involving turns over rough terrain but they declined, saying that that it sounded like suicide. After winning a silver medal in the Olympic slalom at Innsbruck in 1964, Billy Kidd was invited to race some of the longboard old-timers and they beat him in their specialty. This episode includes shots of a skier dressed in old-style clothing and equipment dramatizing the skiing of Snowshoe Thompson.
Episode 2This episode centers on Sondre Norheim, the founder of modern ski sports. In the late 1800s, Norwegian peasant culture was promoted as distinctly Norwegian, untouched by Danish and other foreign influences. Telemark was the place in Norway seen as having the best of peasant culture. Historian John Allen observed that this was a project in which peasant culture was appointed as the national culture.
Ski jumping was something the Telemark peasants did during their free time on Sundays. Sondre Norheim and other skiers from Telemark were invited to Kristiania to demonstrate ski acrobatics. When the Telemarkers came to Kristiania and displayed their wonderful skiing it reinforced what the city people had been thinking about Telemark already. "Just another wonderful peasant thing," said John Allen. Discussing the Norwegian ski tradition, Allen said,"Let's make no bones about it. It was not something that was traditional at all. It was invented. The invention [...] has become the Norwegian winter way of life." Sondre Norheim was the most important person to popularize skiing among the middle class.
Poverty forced many in Norway to emigrate. Sondre Norheim and his wife emigrated to America in 1884 when Norheim was 59. Mikkel and Torjus Hemmestveidt became ski heroes in Norway after Norheim. They emigrated to America in 1886 and 1888, respectively. Skiing in America was just getting started at that time. Towns in Minnesota competed to have the Hemmestveidts ski for them and the brothers made good money winning competitions. In 1891 both Hemmestveidt wives died. A couple years later Mikkel returned to Norway. For the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Torjus, son of Mikkel Hemmestveidt, was the first torch bearer, starting with fire from Sondre Norheim's fireplace.
Episode 3This episode centers on Carl Howelsen, who was born in Kristiania in 1877. Howelsen was inspired by Sondre Norheim and the other Telemark skiers. He became friends with the Hemmestveidt brothers and won the Holmenkollen ski jumping championship. In 1904, Howelsen emigrated to Chicago to find work as a bricklayer. In 1905, when Norway separated from Sweden, Howelsen and other Norwegians formed the Norge ski club in Chicago. After seeing Howelsen ski, the promoters of the Barnum and Bailey circus hired him to be their star attraction. In 1907 he ski-jumped with the circus and it has been estimated that four million Americans saw skiing for the first time this way. Billy Kidd called this the beginning of skiing in America.
After a year with the circus, Howelsen left for Colorado with a full bank account. He settled in Steamboat Springs where he started a winter carnival. Howelsen is regarded as the father of skiing in Colorado. World jumping records were set several times on Howelsen Hill, and Steamboat Springs has produced 54 Olympic skiers, according to Billy Kidd, director of skiing at the Steamboat resort. In 1922, Howelsen returned to Norway to visit his parents. He married there and decided to stay. The program includes extensive interviews with Howelsen's son Leif, who traveled to Chicago for the 100th anniversary of the Norge ski club.
This episode also touches on the impact of Fridtjof Nansen, whose crossing of Greenland on skis inspired a generation. The polar ski expeditions by Nansen and Roald Amundsen strengthened Norwegian identity and national spirit, which contributed to Norwegian independence from Sweden in 1905. Nansen used the term "idraet" to refer to the ski sport.
Episode 4This episode is about Norwegian skiing during the 1920s and early 1930s. The first Winter Olympics were held at Chamonix in 1924. The Scandinavians were reluctant to participate because they wanted separate Nordic Games. But after they entered, Norwegian skiers swept the field. Norway in the 1920s was a young nation and needed heroes. Thorlief Haug was the dominant skier during this period, winning the 50km Holmenkollen race five times. Historian Roy Andersen described those years: "The ski jump at Holmenkollen becomes almost an altar. The holiest in the country." It was symbol of Norwegian identity.
Allowing women to compete in ski jumping was discussed in 1910. The judges had difficulty with it because the women's skirts made it impossible to judge their jumping style. Johanne Kolstad was one of the first women to jump seriously for both length and style. Norwegian competitions required skiers to compete in both jumping and cross-country. The Swedes and Finns, who were allowed to specialize, eventually became better cross-country skiers than the Norwegians. The program examines the unique, close-knit ski community that developed at Kongsberg in the 1930s. The Ruud brothers (Sigmund and Birger) were central figures at Kongsberg during this time.
Episode 5This episode is about ski jumping in the 1930s. The 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid were the last to include only Nordic ski competition. Alpine resorts opened in central Europe in the 1920s and 1930s and pressure increased to include alpine skiing in international competition. In central Europe and America, bigger ski jumps were being constructed. The Norwegian Ski Federation resisted both alpine skiing and the larger jumps. The 1936 Winter Olympics at Garmisch-Partenkirchen introduced alpine skiing and women's sking events. Birger Ruud won both the jumping and downhill events at these Olympics. (The editing of this episode is erratic and some segments don't fit well into the overall narrative.)
Episode 6This episode examines the changes in Norwegian ski jumping from the late 1930s through the 1940s. Top Norwegian skiers continued to emigrate to America, including the Engen brothers (Kaare, Alf, Sverre) and Olav Ulland. The most famous and popular of all was Torger Tokle, who arrived in 1939. Over the next four years he won 42 of the 48 jumping championships he entered. Tokle set a world record at Snoqualmie Pass in 1941. He was described as the Babe Ruth of American ski sports. Tokle, a member of the 10th Mountain Division, was killed in Italy near the end of World War II.
The Germans occupied Norway for five years during the war and Norwegian skiers boycotted attempts by the occupiers to stage the Holmenkollen. Sigmund and Birger Ruud and other prominent skiers were sent to concentration camps. Holmenkollen was again a symbol, this time of the Norwegian stand against the occupation. The final segments of the program examine Norwegian ski jumping after World War II, which was plagued by internal politics. After his death, Birger Ruud was given a state funeral, the first time a Norwegian sportsman received this honor.
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