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Former Norwegian ski great Stein Eriksen dies at 88

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Norwegian skiing great Stein Eriksen had the perfect hair, the perfect form and typically the perfect line down the course.

So stylish and graceful on the slopes, the Olympic champion helped usher in modern skiing. He died Sunday at his home in Park City, Utah. He was 88.

His death was confirmed by Deer Valley Resort, where Eriksen served as director of skiing for more than 35 years.

Eriksen rose to prominence at the 1952 Winter Olympics in his hometown of Oslo when he captured gold in the giant slalom and silver in the slalom. Two years later, he won three gold medals at the world championships in Are, Sweden.

The charismatic Eriksen became the face of the sport and portrayed it in a new, exciting way. He could perform all sorts of stunts on skis, including somersaults - an early prelude to the tricks in freestyle skiing.

''He's a legend,'' Norwegian World Cup racer Kjetil Jansrud said.

Although from Norway, Eriksen lived in the U.S. for the last six decades, holding one position after another at various ski resorts around the country. He was director of skiing and a ski school instructor at Snowmass, Colorado. He taught skiing at Sugarbush, Vermont. He even owned his own shop in Aspen, Colorado, in addition to being the ski school director.

There were also stops in Heavenly Valley, California, and Boyne Mountain, Michigan, before settling in at Deer Valley.

''His influence in the ski industry and at this resort was infinite and his legacy will always be a fundamental aspect of Deer Valley,'' said Bob Wheaton, Deer Valley president and general manager. ''He was a true inspiration.''

So much so that he became an honored member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1982, one of the many awards and accolades he received throughout his lifetime. According to a Deer Valley release, Eriksen even earned the Knight First Class honor in 1997 by His Majesty the King of Norway as a reward for outstanding service in the interest of his country.

This much also is certain: Eriksen left an indelible impression with Norwegian racers.

''It's sad that he's gone, but he had a lot of cool experiences in his lifetime and I'm guessing he was blessed and happy with what he accomplished,'' said Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, who won Olympic gold, silver and bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

As an up-and-coming racer, Jansrud was once invited to Eriksen's house - along with the rest of the Norwegian team - and regaled with story after story.

''He did a back flip every day at noon in Park City until he was like 80 years old,'' Jansrud said. ''He was doing what he loved.''

About that hair, it was always styled just right. Or as Jansrud said, ''flawless.''

When helmets became more and more prevalent, the folks at Deer Valley presented Eriksen with one that featured his hair painted on it.

''He's a world-class human being, which in turn made him a world-class skier,'' Lessing Stern, owner of Deer Valley Resort, said in a phone interview. ''His passion for skiing touched hundreds of thousands of people. He was universally loved.''

His skiing was something to behold. He made turns look so easy and so elegant.

''I guess that's why he went to the U.S. and got on the pro (tour). He was way too smooth for World Cup,'' Jansrud joked.

Soon after Eriksen's death, four-time World Cup overall champion Lindsey Vonn posted on her Twitter account: ''Stein was a legend in skiing. So sad. RIP.''

American Steven Nyman added: ''STEIN ERIKSEN - visionary ski legend. RIP thank you for all you gave to the ski community - well done.''

Tiger Shaw, the president of U.S. ski and snowboard, said in a statement that Eriksen's ''legacy will live on in the ski racers of today and in the sport he loved so much.''

As a show of respect, the torch outside the Deer Valley lodge bearing Eriksen's name was extinguished.

''His celebrity charisma created a special ambiance whether within the Lodge, our restaurant or out on the mountain, that was warm and inviting,'' said Dennis Suskind, the president of Stein Eriksen Lodge. ''He was a real friend and will be missed.''

Eriksen is survived by his wife, Francoise; son, Bjorn; three daughters, Julianna, Ava and Anja; and five grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son, Stein Jr.


AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf in Italy contributed to this report.