On this date in 1868, Sondre Norheim competed in Norway’s very first national skiing competition. He had never competed outside his home territory of Telemark before and had to make the three-day journey to Christiania (now known as Oslo) on foot.
At the competition, Norheim was not only the undisputed winner, he demonstrated revolutionary new moves that came to be known as the Telemark turn and the slalom, or Christiana Turn. He was using radically different equipment, including foot binding that facilitated sharp turning. He also perfected a shorter, curved ski.
Rock carvings indicate skis had been used in Norway for at least 4,000 years by the time Norheim came along. While skiing was simply a mode of transportation for most people, Sondre and others turned it into something more, with increasingly stiff competitions and much experimentation with techniques and equipment.
Many considered Norheim reckless – like his skiing off the rooftop of his father’s house. But he usually succeeded with his experiments. For example, in 1866 he took first place in what’s now considered to be the world’s first ski jumping competition.
Norheim struggled to make ends meet and, when he was 59, moved his family to Minnesota to join two of his children who had already emigrated there. After a short time, the family moved to a McHenry County farm near Denbeigh, midway between Rugby and Minot. There’s little record of him skiing after that, but it’s said he taught skiing to area children.
Sondre Norheim died on March 9, 1897, at the age of 71 and was buried in an unmarked grave west of the farm. In his hometown in Norway he had become a folk hero, and a memorial ceremony was held when he died. Books were written about him, and in 1925 a memorial was erected. In 1949, one of his childhood homes was turned into a museum.
Dorothy Lyon, Sondre Norheim’s great-grandchild, identified Sondre’s grave at the Norway Lutheran Church Cemetery south of Denbeigh in 1965, and a memorial plaque was placed there. Princess Astrid visited the grave in 1983 when she attended the NorskHøstfest in Minot.
The “Father of Modern Skiing” was inducted into the US National Ski Hall of Fame, and four years later, identical statues of him were erected in Minot and also back in Norway. Now, a wreath-laying ceremony takes place each year at Norheim’s grave in conjunction with Høstfest.
Dakota Datebook by Merry Helm