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Norway's Alpine racing pioneer and war hero

 

SKIING HISTORY

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Norway's Alpine racing pioneer and war hero

By Einar Sunde

At the FIS meeting in Oslo in 1930, the Norwegians finally voted to include Alpine skiing into the FIS championship program, and they would soon reap dividends. A number of youngsters living in the Holmenkollen area quickly took advantage of the steep slopes on the west side of the mountain. This biography focuses on one of them, the exceptionally talented Alpine skiing champion Andreas Wyller.

As Liv Wiborg documents, the emergence of Alpine skiing in the Holmenkollen/Tryvann area above Oslo was enabled by the extension of the “T-Bane” (municipal commuter rail system) to Frognerseteren in 1916. The improved access resulted in more residential development. Wyller’s family moved to the “heights” at Voksenlia. With his siblings he could ski from the front door. By the late 1920s the neighborhood included many youngsters who would make their mark in Alpine racing, including Wyller’s next-door neighbors Stella and Johanne Dybwad, his good friends Thorleif Schjelderup and Tomm Murstad and, down the road at Besserud, the Eriksen family (Marius was three years younger than Andreas).

In 1933 Tryvannskleiva, one of the relatively steep slopes on Holmenkollen’s west side, opened as a slalom hill. Wyller then focused on slalom and downhill. National championships and selection to the Norwegian FIS teams followed. The Dybwad sisters and the very precocious Laila Schou Nilsen also qualified. But war clouds were gathering. On the night of April 8-9, 1940, Wyller and a group of racers returned from the national championships, arriving in Oslo to a station in chaos. German troops had invaded Norway by air and sea. The royal family and the cabinet were desperately trying to escape northward by train.

Wiborg captures the confusion, uncertainty and isolated moments of heroism following the invasion. The young men gravitated to Nordmarka, the extensive forested part of Oslo that they knew so well. There, a number of huts provided temporary shelter as they discussed how to respond to German occupation. Gradually, networks arose to enable resistance, routes were established to assist those fleeing to the relative safety of Sweden or England, and connections were made to the British Special Operations Executive (formed to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance). After roughly a year Wyller made the dangerous escape to England via a fishing boat to the Shetland Islands, and from there went to London to join the RAF. He was quickly sent to Canada for flight training, at the base outside Toronto known as “Little Norway,” arriving there on June 11, 1941.

Norwegians stationed there wanted to ski. The camp commander, Ole Reistad, who was a noted athlete (Holmenkollen ski jumping competitions in 1916, modern pentathlon at the 1920 Summer Olympic Games, and gold medalist at the 1928 Winter Olympics in the military ski patrol), encouraged participation in civilian ski events. The flight school received invitations from a number of colleges and from both the Canadian and American ski associations. Reistad took a group of skiers, including Marius Eriksen, to the Winter Carnival at Dartmouth in February 1941. Wiborg explains how flying cadet Ola Gert Myklebust Aanjsen, of Trondheim, became the 1942 U.S. National Jumping Champion.

After finishing his training in multi-engine aircraft, Wyller was named pilot on a 10,000-mile tour around the U.S. to raise funds for Little Norway. He returned to London on February 11, 1943, and was assigned to RAF Coastal Command 333 (Norwegian) Squadron out of Leuchars, Scotland. With navigator Bård Karl Benjaminsen, he flew fast Mosquito fighter-bombers, attacking German shipping off the Norwegian coast. On February 23, 1944, they tangled with a twin-engine Ju 88; both planes crashed into the sea. In 1994, on the 50th anniversary of his death, a plaque honoring Wyller was installed at the base of Wyllerløypa, the longest, steepest run at the Oslo Winter Park.

This is a valuable book. Wiborg has appended a helpful list of sources by chapter. An index and better editing would have been appreciated.  

Andreas Wyller: alpinist, motstandsmann og krigsflyver by Liv H. Wiborg, John Grieg Forlag (2020), hardcover, 340 pages. In Norwegian.

 

 

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