Steamboat Springs Sven Wiik didn’t know, but with a grin, he admitted he should have.
There was the oddly missing section of the newspaper every morning, unusual suggestions from his daughter Birgitta Lindgren on Sunday morning and throughout the week, the calls of congratulations from friends near and far.
Although he’s had 90 others since he came into the world Feb. 27, 1921, Wiik said the birthday celebration organized by Lindgren and her daughter Kajsa that he walked into Sunday at the Steamboat Ski Touring Center took him completely by surprise.
Much that has defined Wiik’s 91 years was on display, both in the location and in the crowd that shuffled through, dozens of people coming away smiling after sharing a few minutes with one of Steamboat’s elder statesmen.
They filed into the lodge, traded stories and many eventually filtered out for a lap on the center’s groomed trails, a fitting way to honor Wiik, who has spent a considerable portion of his life strapped into skis, and who still takes to the snow nearly every day.
“There are two reasons I ski,” he said. “It’s enjoyable, and I do it to stay in shape. I need the exercise. I eat a lot.”
A day shy of his 91st birthday — today is the actual day — Wiik spoke clearly and offered a firm handshake. Plenty of people had the chance Sunday to experience as much.
That’s another thing about Wiik that was immediately obvious: he has friends, generations of friends, and he was delighted in greeting each one of them.
Wiik, born in Sollefteå, Sweden, always has been fixated on sports. He started skiing when he was 2 years old, participated for Sweden in the 1948 Olympics in London in the then-demonstration sport of gymnastics and spent 19 years as an assistant professor of health and physical education and ski coach at Western State College in Gunnison.
Along the way, he was the head coach for the U.S. cross-country and Nordic combined ski teams, guiding them to the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif. He eventually started the Scandinavian Lodge in Steamboat Springs and has called the town home ever since.
Representatives from throughout that history were on hand Sunday, demonstrating that Wiik didn’t just work with or coach skiers. He befriended them, and then befriended their brothers, sisters and parents, and then their children and their grandchildren. Relationships ran deep Sunday, layers of loved ones traveling from across the state and the country for Sven’s big 9-1.
“I couldn’t have done it without him,” said Tiger Demers, a two-time NCAA skiing champion and 1964 Olympian who Wiik brought to Western State from a New Hampshire high school.
He flew in from Oregon for Sunday’s party.
“I did it, but I couldn’t have without him. He was a good coach,” Demers continued. “He made training fun. Everything we did, he made it fun.”
Even present Sunday was Wiik’s advice, what he said has been a key to his 91 years. A cake decorated with a picture of Wiik Alpine skiing in the early 1950s commanded a table, surrounded by a field of decorated cupcakes. He carefully selected one, but only one.
“Moderation,” he stated simply. “I’ve been teaching all my life and that’s the word I use more than any. Moderation in everything.
“The thing that doesn’t appeal to me is when people start to talk about when you shouldn’t eat this or shouldn’t eat that. Eat dessert. But eat it in moderation.”
Outside that one cupcake, though, there was little that was moderate about the overwhelming reception for Sven Wiik on his 91st birthday.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com