Gretchen Fraser

Gretchen Kunigk Fraser (February 11, 1919 – February 17, 1994) was an alpine ski racer, the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in skiing.

The daughter of German and Norwegian immigrants, Gretchen Kunigk was born in Tacoma, Washington in 1919. Her Norwegian-born mother was a skier and Gretchen first skied at age 13, at Paradise on the south slopes of Mount Rainier in December 1932. Under the tutelage of Otto Lang she became a proficient ski racer and later competed on the ski team at the University of Puget Sound.

In 1938, she traveled to Sun Valley to compete in the second Harriman Cup, a new international event featuring the best racers in the world. She met 1936 Olympian and Northwest ski champion Don Fraser of the University of Washington on the train trip to central Idaho. Their paths crossed frequently over the next year, and they were married in October, 1939. Sun Valley became their home.

She was the skiing stand-in for ice skater Sonja Henie in the movies Thin Ice (1937) and Sun Valley Serenade (1941).

Both Frasers were members of the 1940 Olympic team, games that were cancelled due to World War II. She spent the war years skiing in Otto Lang's military training films and helping to rehabilitate wounded and disabled veterans through skiing, setting the stage for a lifelong commitment to working with disabled skiers.

After the war, Fraser finally got her chance to compete at the Winter Olympics. A week before her 29th birthday, she won the gold medal in the women's slalom and a silver medal in the women's combined event at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Following the Olympics, Fraser became a mother and an ambassador for Sun Valley (and skiing in general), easily recognized in her braided blonde pigtails. Later in life she was a mentor to aspiring female ski racers at Sun Valley, including Susie Corrock, Christin Cooper, Picabo Street, and disabled skier Muffy Davis.

Fraser was inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame in 1960 and the Intermountain Ski Hall of Fame in Park City in the inaugural class of 2002. She was also inducted into the State of Washington Sports Hall of Fame and the University of Puget Sound Hall of Fame.

"Gretchen's Gold," a ski run at Sun Valley's Seattle Ridge is named for her, as well as a restaurant in the Sun Valley Lodge, "Gretchen's."

Gretchen Fraser died at age 75 in February 1994, fittingly during the Winter Olympics held in her mother's homeland of Norway. Her husband of 54 years, Don Fraser, died a month earlier.

By Dean Hanley

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