Part eight of a 12-day series profiling each member of the 2012 Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame, leading up to the induction ceremonies on Thursday, Nov. 15. Today's profile is on Vidar Nilsgard, All-American ski jumper that helped CU win four straight NCAA ski titles from 1971-74. Click here for more information and to register for the 2012 induction ceremony.
In January of 1971, Vidar Nilsgard left the Scandinavian region for the first time in his life, and arrived at his new home in Boulder. After settling in for just one day, he was on a plane to South Dakota to compete for the University of Colorado for the first time. This marked the beginning of a historic career of ski jumping for Nilsgard.
Nilsgard grew up in Norway, where ski jumping was very popular, and in his opinion, “the number one sport in Norway.” He picked the sport up at a very young age. “Skiing and ski jumping was the thing I enjoyed doing during the winter time since I was a kid of three to four years old.”
Along with building a passion for skiing at a young age, Nilsgard also contributes his success in becoming a great ski jumper to his father, as well as his time spent with the Norwegian Skiing Association from the ages of 16 to 19. During his last year in high school, and one year in the Norwegian Army, Nilsgard was communicating with other Norwegians who had gone to the U.S. on skiing scholarships.
|Vidar Nilsgard is presented with the 1973 Dick Schoenberger Award
Nilsgard had received offers to ski at Montana and Dartmouth, with the possibility of being offered from Denver and Colorado. CU’s engineering program was very appealing to Nilsgard, and from what he had heard about Colorado, the Boulder campus and Rocky Mountains were certainly “not a disadvantage.”
Bill Malrolt, the ski coach at the time, had reached the scholarship budget limit, and was only able to offer Nilsgard a half-scholarship. But when Terje Guldbrandsen, a ski jumper from Norway, decided to go to Denver instead of Colorado, it opened up a full ride scholarship for Marolt, which he offered to Nilsgard. It was then that Nilsgard decided to go to Colorado.
Upon his arrival to Boulder, the only people that Nilsgard knew in the state of Colorado were a few skiers, none of whom went to CU. Needless to say, it was a very new experience for someone who had never travelled outside of Scandinavia.
“It took me about two months to ‘settle in’,” Nilsgard said about his experience at his new school. “Being on the ski team helped a lot of course.”
Evidently, it didn’t take very long for Nilsgard to settle in as a collegiate skier. He became the NCAA champion in ski jumping in his first year at Colorado.
In his four years at CU, Nilsgard never finished outside of the top four in ski jumping, winning individual NCAA titles in 1971 and 1973, and coming in fourth and second place in 1972 and 1974 respectively. He was a three-time, first-team All-American, a three-time champion of the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association, and was a member of the All-RMISA Jumping team all four years. The only time he didn’t win the RMISA championship, he finished in second. In 1973, as a junior, he won the Dick Schoenberger Award for CU’s most outstanding overall skier.
Out of all of his skiing accolades and accomplishments, Nilsgard’s favorite memory of ski jumping at CU came in 1973 in Middlebury, Vt. The team was losing badly after three events, but Nilsgard and his teammates were able to sweep the fourth and final ski jump event, and help lead Colorado to its third straight national title.
His tremendous individual feats, and key role in part of what would be a series of eight straight national championships for Colorado, landed Nilsgard a spot in the Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame, an award he was very grateful of.
“My gratitude should be extended to all the skiers on the team during 1971-74, the coaches and the sponsors, and a special thanks to those who voted for me to become an inductee this year.”
On what being inducted into the Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame meant to him; “I couldn’t believe it. Me out of so many great athletes that have come out of the Colorado program... I’m touched, I’m overwhelmed, and what more can I say?”
He continued with a humbling statement, “I’m not sure if I deserve to be named together with such a fine bunch of people.”
Aside from skiing, Nilsgard kept himself busy with school as an engineering major, where a typical day consisted of “classes in daytime, training with the team in the afternoon, and library after dinner, six to seven days a week”. The studying paid off for him as he graduated with a bachelor of science degree and a 3.73 grade point average, earning himself an NCAA post-graduate scholarship.
Nilsgard also enjoyed playing tennis and soccer. He played on the Colorado club soccer team, for which he remembers “scoring some goals” as a forward and midfielder.
After he had finished his Master’s degree, Nilsgard moved back to Norway in 1976 with his wife and daughter, who had been born just a year earlier in Boulder. Their son was born two years later in Hamar, Norway. Nilsgard continued his skiing career in Norway, competing with the best qualified ski jumpers (the A-class) from 1976-77, ending his career in the B-class in 1979. In 1990, he became a manager with the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee, where he worked for five years helping with the preparation of construction sites (particularly ski sites) for the 1994 Winter Olympics.