Steamboat Springs Leif Hovelsen, the Norwegian pacifist whose trips to Steamboat Springs throughout the years have provided the community with a link to the roots of its competitive skiing tradition, died at 2 a.m. Oslo time Sunday. He was 88.
Friends said his energy level had been flagging since spring, but he wasn’t diagnosed with advance-stage leukemia until six weeks ago.
Hovelsen was the son of Carl Howelsen, who came to Steamboat Springs in 1913 and established the remote community’s first Winter Carnival in 1914. He taught many local youngsters how to ski jump. Leif (pronounced “Life”) visited Steamboat many times during his adult life to reconnect with the town that continues to honor his father’s memory.
J.P. Nelson, of Menlo Park, Calif., one of many of Hovelsen’s godchildren, said Monday that, at first, Hovelsen had difficulty accepting the diagnosis he received Aug. 7. But in his last days, letters and visits from friends across the world comforted Hovelsen.
“People came from all over Europe to see him,” Nelson said. “He was cheered for that, and he became quite peaceful. His last words were, ‘At last, I am ready.’”
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 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. And he lived to celebrate the Olympic medals they claimed in 2010.
Carl Howelsen was a champion ski jumper in his native Norway and in the United States. He won Norway’s King’s Cup for Nordic combined skiing in 1903, making him a celebrity in his homeland.
Nelson said that on a visit to California, Hovelsen had entrusted him with the care of his father’s trophy from the famed Holmenkollen Nordic festival outside Norway.
Howelsen essentially introduced Colorado to recreational skiing, and a year after establishing a ski carnival in Hot Sulphur Springs, he moved to Steamboat in 1913, where he remained for nine years.
His son made a lasting contribution to ski history here in 1984 when Hovelsen 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 Madison Square Garden in March 1907.
However, to describe Leif Hovelsen simply as his father’s son would not do the man justice. As a teenager during World War II, he smuggled radio parts out of Oslo to members of the resistance fighting Nazi occupation. Betrayed by a friend as a 20-year-old, he survived imprisonment.
Later in life, he worked through an organization called Moral Re-Armament to encourage cooperation among the nations of the world. 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 installed at the entrance to Howelsen Place at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Seventh Street.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com