Leif Hovelsen is this year's grand marshal of the Winter Carnival.

Photo by Tom Ross

Leif Hovelsen is this year's grand marshal of the Winter Carnival.

Winter Carnival grand marshal: Leif Hovelsen

Hovelsen a living link to Steamboat skiing roots

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— The grand marshal of the 96th Winter Carnival, Leif Hovelsen, is a fascinating link to the genesis of recreational skiing in Steamboat Springs.

Hovelsen's father, Carl Howelsen (as we have come to spell the family surname), came to Steamboat in 1913 and ignited an interest in the sport that is more alive in 2009 than ever.

"As far as I can understand, he had some charisma that people caught," Leif (he pronounces his name "life") said.

Leif Hovelsen, 85, has made periodic trips to Steamboat during winter for several decades. He clearly feels a strong emotional connection to the small Colorado city where his father lived for nine years before returning to Norway for good.

Hovelsen made a lasting contribution to ski history here in 1984 when he wrote "The Flying Norseman," an account of his father's life and his role in promoting skiing in North America. Carl's influence was widespread, from establishing a ski jumping club in Chicago to touring the country with Barnum and Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth. His brief stint under the giant circus tent included a triumphant indoor ski jumping performance in Madison Square Garden in March 1907.

However, to describe Leif Hovelsen solely in the context of preserving his father's legacy would be a disservice. He is a complex man himself, who as a 20-year-old, survived imprisonment by the Nazis and went on to pursue a career in international relations. Through an organization called Moral Rearmament, he worked closely with dissidents Russia and in Eastern European countries that struggled to resist Soviet Cold War dominance. Hovelsen recently re-edited his original papers into a new book about the subject.

"I wrote it for my 12 godchildren," he said.

Hovelsen continues to thrill at the successes of Steamboat athletes who are competing in international Nordic skiing competitions, and marvels at the 1,000 youngsters who now take part in Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club programs. His interest is sincere, and he is up to date with the progress of young men who represent the future of the U.S. Nordic Combined Team.

"I'm particularly keeping a close eye on Bryan Fletcher," he said.

Hovelsen is particularly excited for the arrival of Feb. 6, when a full-length statue of his father created by artist Barbara Robison will be unveiled in the lobby of the new Howelsen Place building at Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue.

That his father worked as a mason on some of Lincoln Avenue's historic building is just as important to Leif as his role in skiing.

"It's symbolic that he's in a building of his own, and it is a quality building that lets him gaze out on his own quality work. That was his hallmark."

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