Competitive skiing is generally considered to have begun in 1850s Norway, first popularized by Sondre Norheim, a true pioneer of the sport, credited with innovations such as improved bindings and the Telemark technique; the forerunner of the modern skiing method. These revolutionary advancements earn Norheim a prominent position among the most iconic and influential skiers of all-time.
Other legendary skiers who deserve ‘iconic’ status include France’s Jean-Claude Killy who became an Olympics legend during the 1968 Games in Grenoble, France when he pulled off the unprecedented ‘Alpine sweep’ by capturing the downhill, the slalom, and giant slalom. Arguably the first skiing ‘Superstar’ of the modern era, Killy’s feat made him a French national hero.
Austria’s Franz Klammer dominated men’s downhill skiing in the mid 1970s, capturing the World Cup over four consecutive seasons. In addition to winning gold at the 1976 Olympics at Innsbruck, Klammer finished his legendary career with 25 World Cup downhill titles.
A contemporary of Klammer’s, Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark, succeeded the Austrian’s dominance in World Cup competition in the late 1970s, winning three consecutive overall titles (76-78), two gold medals at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, and 86 World Cup career titles, an all-time record.
Undoubtedly one of the all-time greats is Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway. His accomplishments include eight Olympic medals, including four gold. His low-key personality and style probably kept him from higher name recognition, but his consistency was second to none and reflected by four Olympic appearances and for winning gold medals fourteen years (1992 and 2006) apart.
Just the second male skier to capture 50 World Cup titles (after Stenmark), Italy’s Alberto Tomba combined aggressiveness with an infectious charisma to become one of the sport’s most popular skiers of the 1990s. Truly dominant during his heyday, Tomba’s enduring legacy and influence may be his no-holds-barred approach.
Her early career often overshadowed by her ‘supermodel’ looks, Lindsay Vonn overcame that unfair characterization and a series of devastating injuries to win multiple World Cup titles, Olympic gold (2010), as well as holding the women’s all-time record for World Cup wins with 77, trailing only Stenmark’s 86.
In many ways symbolizing the style of Alberto Tomba (opinionated, occasionally undisciplined, fearless), Bode Miller has nonetheless carved his place among the modern era’s most influential skiers. Kjetl Aamodt is the only skier other than Miller to medal in all four Alpine events, and his five overall medals across two Olympic Games has helped to soften many of his other ‘bad boy’ transgressions.
We seem to be in the era of the “super-athlete” with more and more competitors coming forth and staking their claim as the newest, best to enter their respective sports, and skiing is no exception. While there have been a number of exemplary skiers throughout the sport’s history, we are sure to see more in the coming decades.