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Article: Catching Up with Nordic Guru Sven Wiik
By Cindy Kleh / Photos courtesy of Steamboat Springs Ski Touring Center

Nordic legend Sven Wiik
It isn’t easy keeping up with Sven Wiik, even though his 90th birthday is coming up in a couple of months.
Sven Wiik is a living, breathing, skiing legend – living proof that Nordic skiing keeps you young at heart. He has been inducted into both the Colorado and National Ski Halls of Fame; he has participated in the Olympic Games three times – once as part of a demonstration gymnastics team in 1949 (the first Olympics held after World War II), and twice as a Nordic coach. During the 19 years that he was a ski coach at Western State College in Gunnison, no less than 12 of his Nordic skiers went on to qualify for the Olympics. He has also penned several books on cross-country skiing and racing.

Sven emigrated from Sweden in 1949 to teach Physical Education at Western State. After five years of teaching there, he took a leave of absence to visit his homeland. It was then that he met his wife, Birthe, and brought her back to Colorado. She was in the hotel business in Sweden, and when he retired from coaching at Western State, they built the Scandinavian Lodge in Steamboat Springs. Today, their daughter, Birgitta, owns the Steamboat Ski Touring Center, and the entire Wiik family is an active part of the Steamboat legacy.

It isn’t easy keeping up with Sven Wiik, even though his 90th birthday is coming up in a couple of months. He’s a busy guy – he has Nordic races to train for, errands to run, and an active social life. But Nordic Ski Colorado Magazine was able to catch him recently and ask him a few questions:

NSC: Why did you leave Sweden in 1949?

SVEN: It was right after the war, and there were a lot of young people eager to see the world. I applied to go to the U.S., and an American friend signed for me so I could get a Green Card. I planned to stay for a half year … over the winter.

NSC: Which Olympics was your favorite?

SVEN: That was the one (the U.S.) hosted at Squaw Valley in 1960. We had great snow, and we were building the (Nordic) team. We showed some real improvement – Mack Miller took fifth place in the relay, and in the biathlon, it was the best we’d ever done. I got to shake hands with Vice President Nixon.

NSC: How did you end up at Western State?

SVEN: I was in Chicago staying with friends, and I went down to the library to find addresses so I could ask around about job openings for the winter. I knew about Sun Valley and Squaw Valley, and I had a job offer from Lake Placid. Then I got a letter from Jerry Groswold (who later became the president of Winter Park). He told me to contact Western State College for a job. My friends told me to go to the college – that there would be more opportunities there.

NSC: Are there many men in your age class when you race Nordic?

SVEN: There’s less and less in my class every year. I told my granddaughter that I would quit racing after the Birkebeiner this year. I want to have time to ski with her, just for fun. I have always been a skier. I still ski alpine half of the time and Nordic half time … but I don’t jump anymore.

Sven still has lots of sound advice for aspiring Nordic racers on course strategies, technique and waxing … but if you want to get it out of him, you’re going to have to catch up with him first.

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