As important an
influence on Stein as either his father or his brother, was his mother, Birgit,
known as Bitten, who oversaw the busy Eriksen household with warmth and
evenhanded hospitality. "I thank my mother again and again for her openness
and love for all kinds of people," says Stein. "Whoever was part of the
sport of skiing was part of the family, and she transferred that to my brother
On a winter
morning in 1929, when Stein was two and Marius was seven, a tall, 19-year-old
German skier named Willy Bogner came for breakfast and stayed. For the next 10
years Bogner was a wintertime member of the Eriksen family and an idolized
older brother to Marius and Stein. The arrangement was a cultural exchange, of
sorts. Bogner was a good Alpine skier who wanted to learn more about
cross-country and jumping; Marius Sr., who was working in the sports department
of Gunerius Pettersen, an Oslo department store, wanted to know more about
Alpine skiing because he had been thinking of opening his own sports store and
manufacturing Alpine skis.
brought a brown paper bag," says Stein, "and he sits down and he takes
out four pieces of bread with butter on it. Meanwhile we had goat cheese, jams,
eggs, bacon, all sort of goodies. My mother said, 'Help yourself,' because she
spoke German, which she had learned in high school. Father was not so good.
Willy said, A cup of coffee will do. I brought my own breakfast.' "
telling the old family story while seated at a table near a window in the bar
of the lodge at Deer Valley. This is Utah, and it is not yet 1 p.m., so the
drinks available are coffee, tea, hot chocolate and 3.2 beer. Eriksen passes.
Two grown men in red ski suits with goggles around their necks clomp toward
him, their heavy molded plastic ski boots adding to the awkwardness of their
errand. They are carrying ballpoint pens. A little sheepishly, they ask for his
autograph. He smiles, signs their trail maps and after saying he hopes they are
enjoying themselves, thanks them.
father and Willy had spent a day together in the woods," Stein continues,
"my father asked him to stay with us for the winter. My mother hesitated at
first but finally she said, 'When someone brings four pieces of bread with
butter on, they can come and stay as long as they want.' "
and within a year Stein's father was producing solid hickory Alpine skis, and
soon after that, a laminated version called Streamlines, which Stein says were
the best skis on the market from 1930 to 1940. Bogner was the company's
technical consultant. In the winter he worked in the ski factory and raced; in
the spring he carried samples all over Europe. Eventually, he would do the same
with clothing, and the still-flourishing Bogner skiwear empire would be born.
Meanwhile, though, for Marius Eriksen skis to develop a market, Norwegians had
to be sold on the Alpine version of their native sport.
"In 1930 or
'31, Willy was to demonstrate for the [Norwegian] national ski
association," says Stein. "He had a sports car with a ski rack on the
back, from which the skis stood straight up. He was all ready to leave the next
day. He drove his car into the garage and broke both skis off just above the
bindings. So he demonstrated anyway, using the widest available cross-country
skis with cable bindings put on. It was on Galdhøpiggen, the biggest mountain
in Norway, and everybody said, 'That's a beautiful sport.' "
contact between the Eriksens and their wintertime son ended. "Willy Bogner
was a German who was very Norway-friendly, but Norway was not friendly with
Germans," says Stein. "They occupied our country. So we cut off our
relation with Willy. He was, after all, fighting for his country. It was
natural. We didn't hear anything for five years, but then we heard from some
Norwegian underground people who had been in German prisons that Willy in 1941
was stationed in Norway and that he got many of them out of prison. So, after
the war he was more or less like a hero. He was never in a prisoner-of-war
camp, and I think he became an assistant to an American general. My brother was
in a German prison camp for the last two years of the war, but he survived and
came home via England. The first thing he did was drive down to Munich and
shake hands with Willy. He said, 'We did our jobs. Let's resume our old
Before the war,
Stein trained with the neighborhood boys on the mountain above his home. Every
winter day after school, he did his homework, ate his dinner and then, in the
dark, went down the hill to a commuter train. He tied his skis to leather
straps on the outside of the train, and in 15 minutes he was up on the mountain
above his house, where two slalom hills and two ski jumps were lighted until 11
p.m. After three hours of skiing down and running up the hills—because the T
bar was too slow and because his weekly allowance, he felt, was better spent on
chocolate and doughnuts—he would make his way down a trail cut through the
trees, past the family tennis court, to his house. "When I knocked on the
wall, that meant I was home."
During the Nazi
occupation, almost everything changed. Food was rationed, whale substituted for
red meat, the bread was bad. No one starved, but nourishment was poor. Stein's
schooling was interrupted repeatedly as the Germans commandeered one building
after another. In 1944, even the Eriksens' house was taken from them.