Olav Ulland - Olav Ulland, jumper, retailer

Passing Date

Kongsberg ski jumper became great coach, pioneering retailer in Seattle.

By Mira Oberman
Seattle Times staff reporter

Olav Ulland, a champion ski jumper and Olympic coach and judge probably best known locally for the "Sniagrab" sales at his now-defunct sporting-goods stores, died in his sleep June 7. He was 92.

Mr. Ulland opened Osborn & Ulland in 1941 with local slalom champion Scott Osborn after their friend Eddie Bauer — founder of the eponymous outdoor-clothing retailer — loaned them about $1,000 each.

The Sniagrab ( "bargains" spelled backward) pre-season ski-equipment sales began in the 1950s and soon became a celebrated annual event. Bargain hunters camped for days outside O&U's main store at Second Avenue and Seneca Street — leading one inebriated passer-by in the late 1960s to mistake the gathering for a Vietnam War protest. The crowds often swelled to 5,000 eager shoppers, with the last in line waiting four hours to cash in on great buys like a $200 pair of skis at half price.

O&U had five stores in Washington and two in Oregon at its peak in the 1980s. Competition from large national chains forced the closure of stores in Tacoma, Southcenter, Northgate, Bellevue Square and Beaverton, Ore., in the early 1990s. By 1996 the main store had closed.

Mr. Ulland grew up on a farm seven miles from Kongsberg, Norway, which was then the ski-jumping capital of the world. He began jumping at the age of 3 or 4 and became part of the legendary Kongsberg jumping team that boasted Olympic gold-medal jumper and lifelong friend Birger Ruud. Mr. Ulland won a number of championships in the early 1930s and earned a spot in ski-jumping history as the first to break the 100-meter barrier, soaring 103-½ meters — 339 feet — at Ponte di Legno, Italy, in 1935.

As his international career wound down, Mr. Ulland turned to coaching, taking the Italian team to the 1936 Olympics in Germany. He came to the United States in 1937 to coach Seattle Ski Club jumpers and decided he didn't want to leave. Mr. Ulland later coached the U.S. team at the 1956 Olympics in Italy and the 1958 World Championships in Finland. He also served as chief of jumping competitions at the 1960 Olympics in California, as a measurer at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., and an International Ski Federation jumping judge. Mr. Ulland was inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1981.

"Ski jumping was just in his blood, that was his life," said Rudy Maki, a former member of the U.S. team and a board member at the hall of fame. "He loved the sport and he'd do anything for the guys." Maki described his old coach as an easy-going character who would join his team on the slopes and off. He even took his turn jumping out of a hot sauna and into an icy-cold Finnish lake at the 1958 World Championships.

Mr. Ulland didn't let his business, coaching and judging careers keep him off the slopes. He won his last senior championship in Leavenworth, Chelan County, at age 52 and continued to jump until he was 60. Nor did he forget his Norwegian roots, although he served in the U.S. Army during World War II. In the years after he moved to Seattle, Mr. Ulland's home was often full of Norwegians whom he had helped through the immigration process.

"He was very generous," said Kjell Ulland, who explained that his uncle frequently gave ski equipment to students and competitors. He also described Mr. Ulland as a man who loved to sing and was always in a good mood. But his enthusiasm occasionally got him into trouble — like the time he spilled a drink down the back of a woman's dress while demonstrating the perfect jump position.

Mr. Ulland was preceded in death by his wife, Ruth.