Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Nordic ski pioneer Rob Kiesel passes away

Founder of SVSEF program, Boulder Tour

Rob Kiesel, founder of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation's cross country program and former head coach of the U.S. Nordic Ski Team, has passed away at the age of 65, according to a report in Ski Trax magazine.

The Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) announced Kiesel's passing on its Web site news update Oct. 26.

Kiesel's body was found Monday, Oct. 24 at his home in Joseph, Ore, the SVSEF reported. An official cause of death has not been determined.

SVSEF Nordic Director Rick Kapala was quoted in the Web site report, "It is on the shoulders of Rob Kiesel that cross-country skiing was built here in Sun Valley. Rob was the driving force and he was a mentor to me as a coach."

Kiesel was honored with the SVSEF's Jack Simpson Dedicated Coaches Award in 2007 and was inducted into the Sun Valley Ski Hall of Fame last winter, in a group that included cross-country ski pioneers Leif Odmark, Kevin Swigert and Phil Puchner.

Bob Rosso, owner of the Elephant's Perch in Ketchum, told the SVSEF that it was Kiesel's idea to start the Boulder Mountain Ski Tour and also the Thanksgiving Nordic ski camps at West Yellowstone, Mont. Rosso said Kiesel was instrumental in the development of cross country skiing.

In an Oct. 25 email to the Ketchum-Sun Valley Historical Society, Rosso wrote, "We were informed today of the loss of Rob Kiesel, he died in his home in Joseph, Ore. We are devastated, and yet so very happy that he was here last January to receive the induction into the Ski Hall of Fame. I wanted you to know about the loss to this community and to the sport of cross country skiing worldwide."

A native of Ventura, Ca., Kiesel graduated from Denver University in 1965 where he was a member of the alpine ski team for three years. Kiesel was the son of an Olympian, Bob Kiesel, who won gold and set a world record in the 4x100-meter relay during the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Games, according to

Rob Kiesel moved to Ketchum in 1971 and, with Bob Gorton, started a climbing and backpacking store called Snug Mountaineering in the same building that now houses The Elephant's Perch. Kiesel recognized a trend and started to sell cross-country ski items.

Building upon Leif Odmark's initiation of the Wood River Valley's first Nordic team in 1971, Kiesel started, coached and administered the SVSEF's first cross-country ski program from 1972-76. He also became Nordic Program Director for the Intermountain Division from 1973-76.

He was hired by the U.S. Nordic Ski Team as an assistant coach in 1975, rising through the ranks to head coach in 1979. He took the team to the Olympic Winter Games at Lake Placid in 1980. It was Kiesel's second Olympics, having served as assistant coach in 1976.

Kiesel left the U.S. Ski Team after the 1980 Olympics and started a 28-year affiliation with Swix Sport. He became a pioneer in the glide-waxing revolution.

Kiesel was married at one time to one of the world's top Nordic skiers, the former Alison Owen of Wenatchee, Wash. Survivors include Rob's two children, Jess and Kaelin, who both raced for the SVSEF cross-country ski team.

Rosso, an organizer of the Boulder Mountain Ski Tour, has expressed a desire to dedicate the 2012 cross-country tour to Kiesel's memory.

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