Stein Eriksen sat nobly, like a marble statue, in a downtown hotel lobby recently. One look made you want to sign up for ski school.
It wasn't just the turtleneck sweater, or the lilting Scandinavian accent, or the way he ordered a glass of Chardonnay, or that you swore you saw this guy in the movies once chasing Sean Connery down the Alps with bullets flying out of his ski poles.
It was more that Eriksen, who turns 65 on Dec. 11, looks 50 if he looks a day. He is skiing's walking billboard.
Not many men can call themselves ambassadors. Eriksen can. When he's not gliding down the slopes at his Deer Valley Resort in Utah, which is 80 to 90 days most winters, he's traveling the world, spreading the word.
Eriksen was in Los Angeles recently to lend his legend to the Ski Dazzle weekend at the Los Angeles Convention Center. What they do, basically, is prop Eriksen up on stage and wait for the cash registers to start ringing.
When people ask what skiing is all about, they point to Stein.
When people ask how skiing might change their body shape or their outlook, even as the Social Security checks roll in, they point to Stein.
"Skiing has really been my life," he says. "I don't see why it has to end at a certain age, as long as I don't have any severe handicaps."
It has been some life. There was that Christmas nearly 60 years ago when the hickory skis and bear-trap bindings first appeared under the tree in his home outside Oslo. There was World War II, when the Nazis stormed into Norway, then into the Eriksens' home, almost discovering a pewter dish holding illegal underground correspondence from England.
There was the young Stein, training illegally in the Norwegian backwoods because Nazis had outlawed open races in Oslo.
There was 1952, the year Eriksen won the Olympic gold medal in giant slalom at the Games of his hometown, Oslo. There were the Hollywood years, after Eriksen moved to America and began schmoozing Gary Cooper and other celebs.
There has always been Eriksen's gorgeous skiing style, born of an era when skiers had to race nimbly around slalom poles, not slam through them as some of today's skier-linebackers do.
Eriksen admits he milks his style for promotional purposes.
"I've been a recreational skier ever since I came to this country about 40 years ago," he said. "My goal has been to sell the product from the most positive, attractive way. I don't want to look like I'm fighting my way down the mountain."
The fight is to keep up with Stein, who doesn't spend much time in the lodge.
Would you believe he never wakes up sore after a hard day of skiing?
"I honestly don't," he says. "I feel good. Very good. I've been very lucky with my knees and very lucky with my back."
You imagine the movie of Eriksen's life might have starred a young Dean Martin in a T-top convertible, on his way to Lake Tahoe, surrounded by the Gold Diggers.
But Eriksen says reputations are misleading.
"I don't over-indulge in liquor or eating," he said. "I take a drink, but it's very conservative. I couldn't do that with all the racing I've done. You cannot come out there in the morning with a hangover and say, 'I'm going to ski another time.' "
That does not easily explain Alberto Tomba, the Italian Olympic ski champion who, some say, never met a nightclub he didn't like.
Just an act?
"Of course," Eriksen said. "I know how serious he has to be. You don't become the best in the world by doing what the press wants him to do, bringing him in by helicopters, closing all the nightclubs in Rome. All this is BS. This guy has not built up his body just sitting around being a playboy. That might be the image. Skiing is a romantic thing. You live in a different world. You live in a happy world."
Eriksen has spent his entire life trying to spread his happiness.
In March, Eriksen and film maker Warren Miller will be co-hosts on a skiing trip to Norway to kick off ceremonies leading to the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer.
Lillehammer will mark Eriksen's return to Norway and the 42nd anniversary of his gold-medal run in Oslo.
You would have thought he might have slowed down since then.
Southland ski areas with snow-making capabilities are already open for business. Bear Mountain in Big Bear was the first to open, on Nov. 11, and is operating four lifts that service seven major trails. . . . Snow Summit has three lifts in operation and two major runs open, top to bottom. Summit is reporting a one- to two-foot base.
Snow Valley near Running Springs is "blowing snow 24 hours a day," a spokeswoman said. It has three of its 13 chairs operating and hopes to have six chairs open this weekend. . . . Mountain High in Wrightwood is operating four lifts to the top and reports a base of one to three feet. Thanks to freezing temperatures, it too has been able make snow all week. . . . Snow Summit, because it limits ticket sales, recommends reservations for busy weekends: (714) 866-5841.
In the Sierra, Mammoth Mountain has been open since Nov. 1, its earliest opening in 20 years. Mammoth reports three to four feet of packed powder on the upper mountain and two to four feet on the lower runs.
On the international race circuit, the U.S. women open the World Cup season this weekend for slalom and giant slalom at Park City, Utah. Julie Parisien, the top-ranked woman slalom skier in the world, won a warm-up race last weekend at Beaver Creek, Colo. . . . A.J. Kitt, the United States' top-ranked skier in the men's downhill, and ranked fifth in the world, is recovering from a left ankle sprain he suffered while playing basketball Nov. 10 at the U.S. ski team's training camp in Beaver Creek. Kitt is expected to be off his skis for as long as a month, which would eliminate him from the opening event in the World Cup downhill season Dec. 4 in Val d'Isere, France.