Ketchum resident and three-time U.S. Olympian Jon Engen, 61, died on Thursday, April 26, after a Herculean battle with pancreatic cancer.
Jon was an inspiration and mentor to many, someone who was dedicated to helping others in myriad ways.
Born in 1957, Jon was raised in Raelingen, Norway. He developed a passion early in life for Nordic skiing, and began ski jumping at age 4. He trained and raced throughout his childhood and young adulthood, excelling in the highest ranks in Norway. After serving in the Norwegian army and attending the University of Oslo, Jon came to the U.S. in the early 1980s to ski for Montana State University after seeing photos of the Montana mountains in National Geographic. Jon graduated from MSU in 1983 with a B.S. in civil engineering.
After graduation, his ski racing career continued on an upward trajectory. He became a U.S. citizen, and in 1988 he competed at the Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada, for the U.S. Nordic team. Jon represented the U.S. again as a biathlete at the 1992 Olympics (Albertville, France) and 1994 Olympics (Lillehammer, Norway). During his World Cup career, Jon reached the top 20 in the world in both sports. He raced for many years thereafter at international and national races, winning more than 20 Masters World Cup medals, 12 of them gold. He was sponsored by Rossignol for most of his career.
His love for the sport, and for athletic competition generally, led Jon to dedicate his life to racing, coaching and working with the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association, where he served on the board of directors, to raise the profile of Nordic skiing. He was also chair of its Cross Country Sport Committee for 10 years. In 2014, Jon was honored with a USSA Special Recognition Award. Just two weeks ago, Jon was named the recipient of the prestigious USSA Al Merrill Nordic Award, which is presented to an individual or group involved with any aspect of Nordic skiing who or which demonstrates an exceptional level of commitment, leadership and devotion to excellence. Over the years, he coached and led hundreds of elite cross-country ski clinics around the world.
Jon was smitten by the Sun Valley, Idaho, area and Darlene Young. Jon and Darlene were married on the beach in 2006 in Hawaii. They both were fixtures on the Harriman and Galena cross-country ski trails and at local races, including the Boulder Mountain Tour, where he had many top finishes. He continued his ski racing career up until his cancer diagnosis, and he even continued some coaching this winter while undergoing treatment. Jon founded the Sun Valley masters Nordic ski program and was also an instructor for Sun Valley Co. for 15 years. He was inducted into the Sun Valley Ski Hall of Fame in 2014.
During warmer months, to nurture his passion for sport and the outdoors, Jon could be found hiking Baldy, running and riding his bike. He regularly competed in road races and time trials, as well as running races and the Baldy Hill Climb. One of his favorite places to ride his bike was the island of Hawaii, where he and Darlene shared a second home and vacationed several times a year. When at home, he and Darlene also chased after their big white dogs, first Geilo and for the last seven years, Bamse. He and Bamse spent many hours seeking out grouse to bring home for dinner.
While not training, racing or coaching, Jon supported Darlene in more ways than can be conveyed in writing. He was the “behind-the-scenes” partner in her real estate business, personal chef, equipment manager and, of course, ski coach extraordinaire.
Jon was known for his sense of humor and unique observations of human nature. He also had an unwavering ability to manage pain and suffering to achieve his athletic goals. Those characteristics were readily apparent throughout his battle with cancer. He never gave up hope and remained optimistic and fiercely determined to overcome his illness.
Jon is survived by his beloved wife, Darlene Young; his father, Rein Engen, of Norway; his uncle and aunt, Bjarne and Ragnhild Johansen, also of Norway; and many close cousins there.
A memorial service celebrating Jon’s life will be held this summer. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in memory of Jon to the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association (donations.usskiandsnowboard.org).
Jon was a true ambassador for the sport of Nordic skiing, and the tracks will never be the same without him. Irreplaceable and never forgotten.