Many significant figures shaped the sport of skiing. Men and women – from genius master artisans who created the first skiing gear to Olympic athletes who pushed the envelope. Here’s our list of the most influential people in skiing history (in no particular order.)
Dick Durrance dedicated his life to skiing. He started competing at age 17 and later participated in the 1936 Olympics. In 1939, he was on hand to cut the trails on Bald Mountain in Sun Valley, Idaho. He later bought and operated the lift and lodge in Alta, Utah. In 1947, Durrance was tapped as the new manager of the Aspen Ski Corp. He turned the fledgling organization around, eventually hosting the World Championships in 1950. The move established Aspen in skiing history as a ski destination for decades to come.
Norwegian Sondre Norheim is largely considered skiing’s first superstar. He invented the first modern ski, sidecut, and camber – and the first binding with a flexible heel strap. He also developed two distinct turning methods – Christiana and Telemark, respectively. In 1868, Norheim – in his 40s – demolished the field half his age at the National Championships. His celebrity status in Norway and worldwide inspired the generations through skiing history to love and respect the sport.
Who is the greatest skier of all time? First on the list of great skiers is most likely Ingmar Stenmark of Sweden. He is regarded as the greatest slalom and giant slalom specialist of all time. Stenmark has won more international races than any other alpine skier. He has an astounding 86 World Cup wins – 46 giant slalom and 40 slalom. (Second place has 54, see below.) Stenmark still holds the record for the largest win margin in a World Cup alpine race at 4.06 seconds ahead of the competition.
Lindsey Vonn is four-time World Cup overall titles — with three consecutive wins in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and another in 2012. She won the gold medal in downhill at the 2010 Winter Olympics, the first for an American woman. She also won a record eight World Cup season titles in the downhill discipline, five titles in super-G, and three consecutive titles in the combined. In 2016, she won a record 20th World Cup. The win set an all-time mark for males and females in skiing history, surpassing Stenmark, who won 19 World Cups between 1975-84.
For more than a half-century, Warren Miller made skiing come to life. Strapped with his trusty camera, Miller created an endless list of skiing classics over the years. In the ski movie world, he is John Ford, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Quentin Tarantino all rolled into one. Over the years, his films grew as the sport evolved. In 1985, Steep and Deep ushered in the age of extreme skiing. Miller made more than 750 sports films, many of which he narrated himself. His works helped shape the vibe of the skiing and snowboarding culture, seamlessly melding distinctive personalities, epic landscapes, big action, quick cuts, and trendy music.
Scot Schmidt is often recognized as the first professional extreme skier. He started his pro career in 1983 in Squaw Valley, where he tuned skis. There, he was approached by a cameraman for Warren Miller, who asked him to appear in their film, Ski Time. Schmidt would eventually appear in 39 films for Miller, mostly hucking off large, 60- to 100-foot cliffs. He parlayed his notoriety into a long career that included a stint as a stuntman and technical coordinator in the film industry.
Austrian Marcel Hirscher is widely regarded as the best alpine skier in history. He won 67 World Cup races, second on the all-time list for men. Hirscher won a record eight consecutive World Cup titles, competing mainly in the slalom, giant slalom, and some super G. He has 11 medals from the Alpine Skiing World Championships, seven gold. Hirscher took home the silver medal in slalom at the 2014 Winter Olympics and a pair of golds at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Inspired by Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen’s crossing of Greenland in 1888, Mathias Zdarsky adapted skis for use on alpine terrain. In 1890, he developed a steel binding, which made steep mountain slopes and gate runs possible. Known as the “Father of Alpine Skiing,” Zdarsky opened the first alpine ski school in 1897 and later wrote the first influential manual on skiing. In 1905, he trained the Australian army and founded the first slalom competition. Notably, Zdarsky only used one ski pole, steering with his elbows.
The quintessential 1970s ski bunny, former Olympian Suzy Chaffee made just as big of a name for herself off the slopes as she did on them. She was a three-time world freestyle champion and was the top-ranked American skier at the 1968 Winter Olympics in France. While she wasn’t the most prolific female of her time, her stunning good looks and charm inspired thousands of ski trips worldwide and helped promote skiing as a fun (and sexy) vacation destination. She is perhaps best known as “Suzy ChapStick” as a spokeswoman for the famous lip balm.
“The Herminator” has 54 World Cup wins, the second-most in men’s history, behind Stenmark and Hirscher (86). He has four overall titles, a pair of Olympic gold medals (1998), and three World Championships. His wins include 24 super-G, 15 downhills, 14 giant slaloms, and one combined. As of 2013, he holds the record for the most points in one season by a male alpine skier, with 2000 points in a season (2000).
After a lackluster skiing career at the University of Colorado, Jake Burton Carpenter transferred to another university in Vermont. There, he toyed with improving the “Snurfer,” a snowboard with a rope. He later evolved his designs into authentic snowboards with fixed bindings and bentwood laminate – and a revolution was born. Head to any ski resort today, and you’ll see his last name plastered on just about everything snowboard related. Whether you ride a Burton board or not, the brand’s take on snowboards has influenced the entire culture.
Known for his big air and signature red hair, Shaun White lived up to his moniker as “The Flying Tomato.” Widely regarded as snowboarding’s first mega-star, White destroyed the competition regularly and was untouchable in the halfpipe for over a decade. He owns the world record for the most gold medals for a snowboarder in the Winter X Games and Winter Olympics combined. He appeared in five Olympic games, bringing home two gold medals.
For 70 years, German-born Klaus Obermeyer has been an Aspen fixture responsible for several skiing innovations, including mirrored sunglasses, two-pronged ski brakes, and high-altitude sunscreen. Obermeyer developed the first goose-down parka as a ski instructor for extra warmth on the slopes. Today, his Obermeyer brand is a skiing staple. A true legend in skiing history and the ski industry, Obermeyer is a throwback to the early days of skiing. And, as of 2022, you can still find the spry gent on and off the slopes in Aspen – at age 102.