Steamboat Springs Leif Hovelsen, the elderly Norwegian gentleman whose trips to Steamboat Springs throughout the years provided the community with a link to its roots in competitive skiing, is said by close friends to be battling serious illnesses at a care facility in Oslo.
Hovelsen is the son of Carl Howelsen, who came to Steamboat Springs in 1913 and established the remote town’s first Winter Carnival in 1914. He taught many local youngsters how to ski jump.
F.M. Smokey Vandergrift, who collaborated with Hovelsen on a film documentary of his life, relayed email messages from friends close to his situation who said Hovelsen was battling leukemia and lung inflammation against a background of heart disease.
Jens Jonathan Wilhelmsen, a frequent visitor to Hovelsen’s bedside in Oslo, wrote that Hovelsen was conscious and his face radiated peacefulness though he spoke sparingly.
Hovelsen was 85 in February 2009 when he came to Steamboat and took his role as grand marshal in the Winter Carnival Parade. He long has felt a close connection with Steamboat’s generations of Olympic Nordic combined skiers who represent the embodiment of his father’s influence on the history of skiing here. Carl Howelsen was a champion ski jumper in his native Norway and the United States. He won Norway’s King’s Cup for Nordic combined skiing in 1903, making him a celebrity athlete in his homeland.
Howelsen essentially introduced Colorado to recreational skiing, and a year after establishing a ski carnival in Hot Sulphur Springs in 1912, he moved to Steamboat, where he remained for nine years.
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 Howelsen’s influence was widespread, including establishing a ski jumping club in Chicago and 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 March 1907 at Madison Square Garden.
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
Re-Armament, he worked closely with dissidents in Russia and other Eastern European countries who struggled to resist Soviet Cold War dominance. Hovelsen re-edited his original papers into a book about the subject.
Hovelsen was thrilled in 2009 to see a life-sized bronze statue of his father by artist Barbara Robison installed at the entrance to Howelsen Place at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Seventh Street.
People who wish to correspond with Hovelsen may write to him at P.O. Box 3018, Elisenberg, N-0207, Oslo, Norway.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com