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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, June 23, 2004


Leif Odmark, Sun Valley icon, dies

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 Willy Cook

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.



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