Nordic Legend: George Hovland
by Dave Johnson
June 8, 2001
On Sunday, June 10, 2001, Minnesota skiing legend George Hovland
turns 75 years old. Three quarters of a century of living is
a fine accomplishment all by itself. When you factor in Georgešs
excellent health, flat stomach, the ability to ski fast and
his ten-hour workdays, then 75 becomes quite an impressive number.
George still skiing the Snowflake
trails in late April 2001
George Hovland was born in Duluth, Minnesota and lived in
a house just 100 feet from his present home that now overlooks
Chester Creek. He began his life long love of skiing at the
age of two years old. He skied all his early life on homemade
wooden skis. While attending junior high school at Washington
Jr. High, George would walk the mile home from school, pick
up his wooden skis and walk the two blocks to the ski jump
at Chester Park. His normal winter routine was to take about
10 jumps of the 30-meter jump, then take his skis and head
off on what was known as the Three-Mile Trail. This trail
would take him up and out of Chester Park into the area behind
St. Scholastica, then back across Kenwood into Chester Park.
(Note to the younger generation, ski jumping off of 30-meter
jumps was to George what skateboards and snowboard half pipes
are to today's young athletes.)
He continued his winter skiing routine during high school,
even though the walk to school doubled in distance. (Uphill
both ways and very deep snow!) During his high school years
he grew to love and respect two champions of the Nordic sport,
Peter Fosside and Eric Judeen. Peter, the winner of a winter
carnival ski race from Duluth to St. Paul was a strong influence
on George. Peter skied with a technique called continual change
up. (It would take more ink than is in my printer to describe
this unusual style of poling, kicking and gliding.)
Another early influence on George was a skier by the name
of Charlie Banks. Charlie was just a few years older than
George. George and Charlie Banks both skied for Duluth Central.
In 1942 Charlie Banks won the State meet and a year later
George won state as well. The state meet at that time was
comprised of jumping, slalom, and cross-country. When George
won state in 1943 he won both cross-country and slalom and
in his words "survived" the jumping. George's individual success
at state helped start a team success that was to continue
with eight consecutive team titles for Duluth Central.
After high school George joined the Navy and for two years
sailed on a geodetic survey ship in the Pacific during World
War II. The role of his ship was to go in and survey the harbors
in preparation for the arrival of large destroyers and battle
groups. When the war and his enlistment ended, he turned down
a chance to re-enlist and see the Bikini Atoll turned to a
mushroom cloud by an atomic blast. Instead, George decided
it was time to return to Minnesota and do a little skiing.
For college he attended the Twin Cities branch of the University
of Minnesota. There he met and skied on the club team with
Twin Cities legend John Burton. In 1946 George competed in
the national Nordic Combined meet. George finished third,
one place behind his childhood hero, 46 year old Peter Fosside.
During college George worked several odd jobs, one job that
also afforded him the opportunity to train for skiing, was
working as a bellhop. George would take the elevator up with
the baggage and then his habit was to run down the stairs
in a race with the returning elevator.
After college and a brief marriage to the prettiest girl
in his high school class, George left Duluth to be a ski bum
at Lutsen. While bombing the hills at Lutsen, George caught
the eye of an USSA national team official who invited him
to try out for the national alpine team. George accepted the
invitation on the condition that he could instead try out
for the cross-country team. George was granted his request
and given a train ticket to Sun Valley where he spent the
ski season of 1950-51 training with Leif Odemark. That winter
he attended the national team trials in Rumford, Maine and
was named to the Nordic combined team. He then returned to
Sun Valley to train in preparation for the 1952 Olympics in
Oslo, Norway. His summer training consisted of long hikes
into the mountains and hard days of cutting trails for skiing
under the watchful eyes of Olympic team coach Leif Odemark.
George boarded a plane and flew with the rest of the team from
New York to Oslo, Norway for the 1952 Olympics. He was chosen
to be a member of the relay team and dropped from the jumping
team to prevent any loss of life on the Holemkollen ski jump.
George was the lead off man on the relay team. Black and white
movie film of the event shows George in second just on the tail
of the Finn Hieki Hasu. It was to be Georgešs 20 seconds of
fame, by the time his leg of the relay was finished he had dropped
to last place. Upon seeing him come back into the stadium Georgešs
coach said, "George are you all right? We thought you had broke
George competing at the Wooden
Ski Rendevous last April.
He is racing in his original
1952 Olympic racing outfit.
While George did not achieve Olympic glory he did achieve
excellent results in skiing at the national level. Consider
this list of accomplishments since 1952.
George Hovlandšs greatest accomplishment in skiing has been
his desire to share the sport with others. To accomplish this
he has been involved with the creation of almost every ski area
in the Duluth region. Here is a short list of his ski area developments.
- Four times Central USSA four-event champion. (jumping,
cross-country, slalom, and downhill)
- Completed every Birkie except the first one. Age group
winner, approximately ten times.
- National age group champion for National Alpine NASTAR
- First non-European to complete the Swedish 90 kilometer
- Co-owned Mt. Du Lac, an alpine ski hill on the western
edge of Duluth.
- Created and developed an alpine area called Ski Kenwood,
the first alpine ski area in Duluth.
- Founded Spirit Mountain Ski Area. Designed the Nordic
ski trails at Spirit Mountain.
- Designed and implemented the creation of the downhill
runs at Chester Park.
- Designed the initial layout of the Superior Nordic ski
- Assisted Al Merrill with the layout of Nordic trails
at Giants Ridge.
- Along with Tom Jordan designed trails in Hartley Field
- With the love of his life, Jane Hovland, George designed,
developed and continues to operate Snowflake Nordic Ski
The real measure of a person is not in how many races they
have skied or in what they have built but rather what has
that person done for others. In this area George Hovland has
excelled. Through the development of Snowflake Nordic Ski
center, George has become a mentor and a hero to hundreds
of local young skiers. Kindergartners on skiing field trips
to state champion high school skiers have all been enriched
by their contact with George Hovland. He willingly gives tips
on technique and training to any skier who shows up at his
area. When low snow keeps other trails closed, George can
be found shoveling snow from the woods onto the trail. From
a business stand-point it makes no sense to open a Nordic
ski area, it is a true labor of love that only on the best
years pays for itself.
George Hovland is a man driven by ideas. He has one speed,
full speed ahead. It is rare to see George sit down. When
he has an idea, in his mind it should have been completed
yesterday. In other words he lives life like he skis, at a
fast pace, with excellent technique, yet as this writer has
learned, George will take time at the top of the hill to take
a breath and chat with a friend before flying down the next
Writers note: Dave Johnson, a Nordic ski coach in Duluth,
wrote this short bio. Please forgive any misspellings of places
or people names. This article was written to help the skinnyski.com
reader learn a little bit about a local skiing legend on his
75th birthday. I would love to hear your comments. You can
email me at firstname.lastname@example.org