It was a packed house for a presentation the father of skiing in Rossland, Olaus Jeldness at the Prestige in Rossland Sunday.
‘Who was Olaus Jeldness’ brought in dual perspectives, one from Ron Shearer, a Rossland-born historian, and the other from Svein Saeter, a Norwegian journalist.
Shearer talked about Jeldness’ time in and around Rossland, detailing his family life in Spokane, as well as his forays in mining. Saeter spoke about Jeldness as a boy skiing down the nearby mountains, as well as his legacy, which will include an exhibit in the upcoming Norwegian national ski museum. Saeter himself is the neighbour of the Jeldness family home in Norway.
Shearer said that when he first encountered the legend of Olaus Jeldness, it was one dimensional, with the prevailing notion that Olaus was a “maniac” who would strap skis to his colleagues’ boots and introduce them to skiing down the steeps of Red Mountain. He was also seen as a hero, but what was missing, was a real idea of the man he was.
Shearer said he “met the real Olaus,” when he found a number of letters, which unveiled Olaus as an honest miner and family man. He also held the record for the longest ski jump at the time, of 92 feet. Saeter later confirmed that it would not only have been a Norwegian record, but also a world record.
Shearer said that he was especially impressed with Jeldess after reading about a ski race down the face of Red at the winter carnival.
The weather was unseasonably warm, which almost called for the events to be postponed. However, on the night before the big race down Red, the temperature dropped, making the course treacherous, with patches of ice, bare rock and fog.
Despite world class skiers dropping out, and one crashing and breaking his ski, Olaus and his brother Andrew went ahead with the race. They skied through the thick fog, over the rocky terrain and finished the race, after which they were both so exhausted they had to go home and straight to bed.
Shearer noted this was so they could rest up for the next day’s ski jump competition on Spokane Street.
Shearer said Olaus was also an honest man. When asked to evaluate the feasibility of finding oil on land that his company owned, he stated that it didn’t look promising to the potential buyers. This cost Olaus $30,000 ($700,000 today) but earned him a lot of respect as a geologist.
To elaborate on the respect the mining community had for Olaus, Shearer said, when he died, the mining market in Spokane opened and closed early, so that workers could attend the funeral.
Saeter spoke from the Norwegian perspective. He noted that all four Jeldness brothers were swept up by the mining and emigration movement in Norway at the time, as they all left their home country.
Saeter said that when he came to Canada, all Olaus brought was “a bright head and his skiing skills.”
Thos skills developed from a childhood skiing the hills around his farm home.