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Gretchen Kunigk Fraser

Hall of Fame Class of 1960

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Gretchen Fraser began skiing at a relatively late age but was a respected competitor within two years. In 1948 she became the first American to win an Olympic skiing medal.

Gretchen Kunigk Fraser was born of Norwegian-German parents in Tacoma, Washington on February 11, 1919. In 1994 she and her brother, William, received skis as a Christmas gift. She began her skiing career by winning several novice races on Mount Rainier in 1936.

In 1937 she met Don Fraser who had competed in Germany as a member of the 1936 US Olympic Ski Team. He was Gretchen’s first inspiration and was instrumental in her joining the Washington Ski Club Team. In October, 1939, they married. The couple lived at Sun Valley for a year; the proximity giving her an excellent opportunity to train under Otto Lang.

Gretchen and Don Fraser were both named to the 1940 U.S. Olympic Teams which did not compete because of the breakout of World War II in Europe. In 1941 the Frasers moved to Denver where Don worked for the Union Pacific Railroad. Much of their time was spent at Sun Valley where Gretchen was able to maintain her training. That year she won every major race including her first national alpine title, the combined. In 1942 she won the US Slalom Championship.

As World War II swept the world Don entered the navy. Sun Valley, no longer a skiing mecca, became a nave rehabilitation center, and skiing ceased for Gretchen for four years.

After the war the couple settled in Vancouver, Washington and worked hard at establishing a business. When the tryouts for the 1948 Olympics came, in 1947, Fraser felt she had been away from skiing too long to make the team. With her husband’s encouragement not only did she try out, she received the number one position on her team – a spot she held throughout the European training.

At the Olympic Games in St. Moritz in 1948 she skied nearly perfect runs and got the gold medal in slalom and silver in the alpine combined – the first Olympic medals won by an American woman or man.

During her skiing career she won dozens of major alpine ski races including two national titles. In 1952, she was a member of the Olympic Selection Committee and served as the Women’s Olympic Team manager for the games in Oslo, Norway. She was later involved in fund raising for the U.S. Ski Team.

The Frasers retired and returned to Sun Valley. They were supporters of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, the Wood River Trail System and the Nature Conservancy of Idaho. Her Olympic medals are on display in the restaurant named for her in the Sun Valley Lodge: Gretchen’s.

The world lost two world class skiers in 1994. Don died on January 12, 1994 and Gretchen died a month later on February 17, 1994.

Gretchen Fraser was elected to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1960.

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