Leif Odmark, Sun Valley icon, dies
By DICK DORWORTH
Express Staff Writer
Leif Odmark, often affectionately referred
to as "Mr. Sun Valley" and one of the legends of cross-country skiing, died
Monday in Boise. He was 84 years old.
Born in Sweden in 1920, Odmark was the
eldest son of a Swedish father and a Norwegian mother, but he lived in Sun
Valley most of his life, beginning in 1948. He was among the best known and
accomplished members of its ski community.
Leif Odmark Express photo by
Odmarkís father ran a textile and clothing
manufacturing company in Sweden and, as the eldest son, Leif was expected to
take over the business. A visit to Sun Valley changed that.
A superb athlete in several sports, Odmark
was a member of Swedenís National cross country and jumping ski teams. His life
was guided and defined by athletics, and he remained athletically active and fit
until shortly before his death.
Though Sweden was officially neutral
during World War II, Odmark was a member of the Kingís Artillery in the Swedish
army during the war, based in Osterund. Odmark was part of a group of Swedish
soldiers who unofficially assisted the Norwegian underground in sabotaging the
German military, which had invaded and occupied Norway.
After the war Odmark competed on the
Swedish National team and in 1948 he came to Chicago to play semi-pro soccer and
ice hockey. One night he saw the Sonia Henie film "Sun Valley Serenade" and
determined that he would visit Sun Valley before returning to Sweden. And when
he arrived in Sun Valley he was given a job on the ski patrol, fell in love with
the area and never left.
Though he was a strong Nordic skier,
Odmark learned how to alpine ski when he got to Sun Valley. He was a fast
learner and soon became a member of the Sun Valley Ski School. With his athletic
ability and physique, classic Scandinavian good looks and accent, hard work
ethic and cosmopolitan personality, Odmark was a successful ski instructor for
more that 20 years.
In 1970 he started the Sun Valley Nordic
Ski School and Touring Center, which was the first full-time cross-country ski
school and racing school in the U.S. He and his instructors at the Nordic Center
also became the first ski school in America to offer regular telemark
instruction. He ran the Nordic Center until 1988 when he sold it to Sun Valley.
"He certainly was the father of cross
country skiing up here. He was just a ski icon, is what Leif was," said Sun
Valley spokesman Jack Sibbach. "He was just a great person."
In 1952 he was chosen to be the head coach
for the U.S. menís Olympic cross-country ski team in Oslo, Norway.
Odmark also directed swimming and diving
programs in Sun Valley and in Newport Beach, Calif. In 1982 he ran the fastest
marathon of any person in the United States in the 60-64 age category. His time
was two hours, 57 minutes and 10 seconds. The following year he joined 2000
other elite marathon runners in running the original marathon course from
Marathon to the White Olympic Marble Stadium in Athens, Greece, winning a bronze
medal in his age division.
One old friend recently described him as
"a classic, old school European gentleman." Odmark was a gracious raconteur who
enjoyed an active social life and being involved in civic and professional
affairs. He wrote extensively about cross country skiing and ski touring,
including "X-C Skiing the Natural Way" and "Ski Touring Guide to the Sawtooth
National Recreation Area, Idaho." In 2002 he and Anndel Kininmonth published
"Sun Valley Memories," a book of photographs and tales of his life and of his
many friends from more than 50 years in Sun Valley. In the book he described
himself: "I am very health conscious and work out every day, and enjoy a
comfortable lifestyle. After two marriages I am content to be a bachelor and to
date when I wish. Being single, Iíve grown to appreciate the freedom of being
able to do what I want when I want, and it would take a very special woman to
understand my independent nature. I am always open to marriage, but it would
take a hell of a woman to get me back to the altar!" The book is dedicated "to
my children and grandchildren."
He is survived by his children, Michael
and Marcella and four grandchildren.