Olav Pedersen, Breck pioneer, dies at 87
BRECKENRIDGE – Breckenridge lost a second ski pioneer this week with the passing of Olav Pedersen, who died Wednesday morning at 87.Dick Durrance, who helped bring ski racing to the United States in 1950, died Sunday at 89.Private family services will be held for Pedersen this weekend. A public memorial will be held at 11 a.m. on Aug. 14 at Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church in Dillon.Born in Voss, Norway, on Feb. 17, 1917, Pedersen first strapped on skis when he was 3, and began a life of competition in downhill racing and jumping. He won his first trophy ski jumping when he was 12.Nordic skiing was also a method of transportation in the snowy Norwegian mountains. He later used those skills to retrieve supplies dropped by parachutes from British planes during a stint in the Norwegian Resistance in the German occupation in World War II.In 1955, Pedersen chaired the organizing committee for the Norwegian Nordic Ski Championships.
Pedersen, who retired from the railways in Norway and worked as a freelance journalist, wrote a story about Erling Stordahl, a blind Norwegian musician in 1952. A few years later, Stordahl told Pedersen he thought it would be intriguing to teach cross country skiing to blind people.His vision took shape in 1963 as the Ridderrenn – the Knight’s Race – which now annually hosts more than 1,000 disabled skiers and guides from more than a dozen nations.In 1964, Trygve Berge and Sigurd Rockne invited Pedersen to join them in Breckenridge, where he taught alpine skiing at the Breckenridge Ski Area. He worked at the Rockne’s The Mine restaurant and in construction for Sigurd in the summer months.Like others, he fell in love with the mountains and made the town his home.He met his wife, Suzanne, an art, speech and drama teacher, at a Christmas party.”What didn’t catch my eye?” she said, remembering the night they met. “Every single woman in Summit County was after him. He had quite a following. He was a sweet man. Our friendship grew into a lasting love.”The two were married on June 7, 1969, in the Father Dyer United Methodist Church, then located behind the Summit County Courthouse.
Yet, Pedersen is arguably best known for bringing to the United States Stordahl’s idea of getting blind skiers out on the trails.In 1973, he returned to Norway to seek Stordahl’s advice, garnered support for the idea from the Summit County Lions Club and the Sons of Norway Foundation and founded Race For Light. King Olav V of Norway awarded Pedersen the Order of St. Olav in 1976. On Pedersen’s 58th birthday, 60 visually impaired skiers and their guides attended the first Race for Light in Summit County. That race received national publicity after Charles Kuralt featured it on his “On the Road” television series.To shift the focus from racing to recreation and instruction, the name was changed to Ski for Light in 1976. The first regional program began in New England in 1977.Ski For Light promotes the physical fitness of visually and mobility impaired adults.Pedersen wasn’t one to slow down. He coached the blind U.S. Ski Team, created the Frisco Gold Rush Citizen’s Race, was a founding member of the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center and participated in the Rocky Mountain Senior Winter Games and the Jimmie Huega Express benefit races. At 70, he won the national NASTAR alpine ski championship in his age group. He also coached elementary and middle school soccer and gardened well into his 80s.
After a fall from a roof that crushed his leg in 1980, Pedersen retired from downhill ski instruction and took up Nordic teaching at the Breckenridge Nordic Center.He was inducted into Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 1997 and the National Ski Hall of Fame in 2000. Last June, the Summit Foundation awarded him the Soul of the Summit Lifetime Achievement Award.The Frisco Arts Council dedicated a Ski for Light, Art for Sight sculpture at Main Street and Summit Boulevard in 1997 to honor Pedersen’s contribution to the sport. The sculpture, created by William Barth Osmundsen, features a sighted cross-country skier leading a visually impaired skier.He is survived by his wife, sons Terje and Arve Rauk of Norway, brother Bjarne, seven grandchildren and son Haakon of Breckenridge. He is preceded in death by two brothers.In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be sent to Ski For Light, Inc., 1455 West Lake St. Minneapolis, Minn., 55408, or Kremmling Memorial Hospital, P.O. Box 399, Kremmling, CO 80459.Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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