Friday, September 10, 2004

Friends, family salute skiing pioneer

Tears and laughter are shared at Odmark memorial

Express Staff Writer

Leif Odmark leads a cross-country skiing group in a photo displayed Wednesday during a memorial service for the Sun Valley skiing legend at Trail Creek Cabin. Photo by David N. Seelig

Beneath a wind-swept, blue Sun Valley sky, about 140 friends and family of Leif Odmark gathered at Trail Creek Cabin on Wednesday to share stories of how their lives were touched by the legendary skier.

A former member of Sweden?s Nordic ski team, an Olympic coach and a long-time Sun Valley ski instructor, Odmark died in June at age 84. His life was filled with athletic achievement and a love of sport that he communicated to thousands. The enthusiasm he projected, combined with his athletic prowess and striking good looks, made him a sought-after instructor by Hollywood celebrities during the 1950s and 1960s.

Local jazz singer Kathy Miller, who dedicated two numbers to Odmark at the memorial, described it as ?an occasion of joy, because we?re celebrating a life well lived.?

Though often expressed through tears, that sentiment was echoed by all of the dozen people who spoke.

?What I admired most about him was his ability to make me and those he touched better people,? said Anndel Kininmonth, who co-authored Odmark?s 2002 autobiography, ?Sun Valley Memories.? ?His joy increased my exuberance for life.?

In the memoir, Odmark made a statement that is probably as good a definition of success as any?that if he could live his life over again, he wouldn?t change a thing.

Laken Lindstrom, one of Odmark?s four granddaughters, said her grandfather was a man of few words, yet taught her many things.

?He taught me through the things he did and the way he lived,? she said.

Lindstrom said that one of the best lessons she learned from him was only about six months ago, when he was very sick and dying from skin cancer. She visited him at the cancer center in Boise where he was being treated, and the two went for a walk.

?I had never seen in my life my grandfather looking so frail. But then he said, ?Well, it?s time for my workout.??

Odmark took his granddaughter to the weight room, set the weight on a machine and told her to do 25 reps. Then 25 more. Then more until she couldn?t lift another pound. Then at age 84 and dying of cancer, he sat down and did 25 reps himself.

Ketchum resident Jake Jacoby, a long-time friend of Odmark?s told of a time when Odmark, in his athletic prime, bet a friend he could ski up to the Round House restaurant on Baldy faster than his friend could get there on the lift. He said Odmark collected on the bet.

Bob Rosso, owner of The Elephant?s Perch and a long-time cross-country skier, said he got one of his first local jobs at the Sun Valley Nordic Ski School and Touring Center, which Odmark created in 1970. Rosso said Odmark frequently yelled at him to get off the groomed trails.

?He thought that the way to learn to cross-country ski was cross country,? Rosso said.

Sun Valley resident Nils Ribi, representing the Sun Valley Community Trails Group, said the group and Sun Valley Co. have proposed to name the Proctor Mountain trailhead, not far from Trail Creek Cabin, as the Leif Odmark Trailhead.

?Every time we hit the trail, we will be encouraged to push our fitness a little bit further,? Ribi said.

Michael Capener, Odmark?s son, called his father his ?hero and inspiration.? He said that during the recent California gubernatorial election, he mentioned to his father that he was a lot like Arnold Schwarzenegger, having come from Europe with little money and a poor command of English. He said Odmark thought a moment, then said, ?No, son, Arnold is a lot like me.?

Capener said he wanted to thank the hundreds of people who had sent his father cards and flowers during his illness.

?I know those gestures meant a lot to him,? he said.

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