Every Friday at 10 a.m. sharp, the countdown begins: Five, four, three, two, one, go . . . and Stein Eriksen is on course.
For the rest of the day skiers step up behind the same start wand, wait for the same countdown, run between the same gates and then stop at the bottom to look at the same clock. Occasionally, someone will come close to Eriksen's time. Rarely does anyone beat him.At age 70, Stein Eriksen retains the gold. At age 70, Stein Eriksen can ski with the same stylish fervor he did half a century ago when he won his Olympic gold.
Every Friday he sets the pace; every Friday skiers try to keep pace. For the cost of a $6 ticket skiers can race and compare their time against the ageless pacesetter. And, if they are close they can medal.
"Only the very best skiers, the ones with significant (racing) experience can beat him. Even then it's not easy. I timed a group the other day and he was less than a second behind Heidi Voelker (two years off the U.S. Ski Team). The form and the skills are all there. The best part is that even now, after all these years, he enjoys doing it," says Mike Keesey, head of Deer Valley's race program.
Eriksen says he does enjoy it.
"I look forward to it," he admits. "It reminds me of how great it was to race. It reminds me that you should never fade away but should always look forward to something tomorrow.
"It would be easy to say I'm too old or the course is too difficult. Once I'm in the starting gate it takes me back 50 years. I feel the same challenge to do well. Once the wand has broken and I know the clock is running, I ski as hard and aggressively as I can.
"When someone is next to me I don't say, `Oh, go ahead, I don't care.' I don't care who they are, I'm going to do my utmost to beat them, so they'd better ski well."
The program is simple enough. Skiers buy a ticket, race and get a time. Based on how close they come to Eriksen's time, factoring in their age, they can win a gold, silver or bronze medal.
Eriksen's time through the 13 gates placed in a giant slalom pattern on a good, competitive race hill is around 20 seconds. Doing a rough calculation, Keesey says to win a gold medal a skier, age 70, would need to be within five or six seconds of the pace.
He also encourages others to run gates.
"It enhances the ability of the recreational skier because it develops timing and concentration. People tell me they can't do this because of the poles and because it's too difficult. I tell them it's the same as when they ski - they turn left, they turn right, they turn left. The only difference is now the poles are in the way. So, you go around them. People who try it come up to me after and say `Thank you, I loved it so much' . . . and they're hooked," he says.
Eriksen has, at this time, no intentions of giving up his pace-setting.
"Maybe in five years or so I may be a couple of seconds slower, but it will still be fun for me. It's nice to now that you can still compete on a competitive level. There's a certain amount of satisfaction in that. The memories of racing are still vivid in my mind.," he says.
"If I quit racing or quit skiing the steep runs or quit taking the challenges, then it means I'm slowly fading, and there's no reason to fade. Every day I look forward to a little challenge. I look forward to going out every day and skiing . . . and remembering how it used to be. And it's nice to prove to others that they can do this."
So, every Friday at 10 a.m. sharp, Eriksen steps into the start gate, ready to set a pace for others to try to reach.