Cross country skier and jumper Irvin Servold was born and grew up in Camrose, later moving to Devon, Alberta. He and his brother Clarence were ski pioneers in the establishment of skiing in Alberta. With little or no coaching, training on their own, and using homemade equipment, they dominated competitions during the 1950s and 1960s.
In his own words:
“My dad made me a pair of oak skis from old wooden barrels, which were common in those days in the early 1930’s. The bindings consisted of a leather toe strap with a buckle into which I could slip my foot, so that the toe of my leather ankle-high school boots would extend far enough forward so that a rubber band – donated by my mother from her fruit preserving supplies – would stretch from the front of the toe strap to the back of the heel. My ski poles were made from small poplar trees, with a nail in the lower end and a piece of twine for the handle”. (Ski Trax, 24 April 2011)
Irvin began his competitive ski career in 1939 at age seven. He progressed rapidly to win many Alberta and Canadian championships in cross country skiing, ski jumping, and Nordic combined.
While a student at Camrose Lutheran College, Irvin won Canada’s first ski jumping championship in 1950 with a Canadian Junior title. Between 1955 and 1972, Irvin placed first in eight Canadian Nordic Combined championships and won the North American Nordic Combined title in 1967.
While attending the University of Alberta, he led the ski team to national prominence, capturing three intercollegiate cross-county titles in 1958, 1959, and 1961. In 1959 he was the first skier to be awarded the Wilson Challenge Trophy and named the university’s Male Athlete of the Year.
Irvin represented Canada at two Olympic Games. In the 1956 games in Cortina, Italy, he placed 27th in the Individual Nordic Combined event. At Squaw Valley, USA in 1960, he ranked 25th in Nordic Combined, 40th in 30K and 47th in 15K Cross Country events.
Involvement with ski organizations
Irvin served on numerous provincial, national and international ski bodies. He was a member of the Canadian Olympic Association. He was one of the founding members of Cross Country Alberta, and was an influential member in the Canadian Amateur Ski Association (later called Canadian Ski Association), serving for several years as chair of the Cross Country committee, and later as chair of the Nordic Combined committee.
He shared his technical expertise as advisor for many national and international competitions including the Canadian cross country and jumping, Nordic Combined and senior cross country championships as well as the Canada Winter Games. Irvin was involved with initial site selection for the 1988 Calgary Olympic Games and served with the study group for the Nordic World Ski Championships held at Oslo, Norway.
A member of the Canadian Association of Nordic Ski Instructors, Irvin coached at provincial, national and international levels in Nordic combined, cross country, and ski jumping including serving as coach of the National Cross Country team and the Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS) World Cup competition in Nordic Combined on the Scandinavian circuit. He is regarded most highly for his record in developing downhill skiers into Nordic Combined competitors which involves both cross-country and jumping. He also shared his expertise with other coaches by instructing at national coaching courses, and was instrumental in organizing a program for the certification of cross-country instructors. Closer to home, Irvin and his brother Clarence coached many Camrose athletes who went on to national and international competitions.
Awards and recognitions
Irvin’s contribution to skiing in Alberta and Canada has been recognized many times. He was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in 1980, and Canadian Ski Hall of Fame in 1985. He was recognized by the University of Alberta with placement on their Wall of Fame in 1987. The University of Alberta Augustana Campus recognized him with a Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2001 and in 2012 Irvin and his brother Clarence were among the first inductees to the Augustana Vikings Wall of Fame.
Irvin continued to ski in his senior years, skiing for pleasure and competing in Canada and internationally in the World Masters Championships. For example, in 1999 he was awarded the Ole Hovind by the Canadian Birkebeiner Society as best representing the spirit of the Birkebeiner – skiing for the sheer joy in it, having fun, and getting out there and enjoying it. In 2005, the Birkebeiner publicized that at age 73, he would be participating with his children and grandchildren before going on to compete in the World Masters Championship in Russia and other ski competitions in Norway. Ten years later, Irvin participated in the 55 km event at the 2015 Birkebeiner. In 2016, at age 83 years, Irvin raced 24 km in the Foothills Nordic Ski Club Annual Cookie Race.
Irvin Servold has spent a lifetime in dedication to skiing. In addition to being an outstanding competitor, he has represented Canada as a coach, judge, and technical adviser in many national and international competitions.
1. Canadian Ski Hall of Fame: http://skimuseum.ca/biodata.php?lang=en&id=117
2. Camrose Booster, 14 Jan 2014, “All you want to know about the Olympics” by Dan Jensen.
3. Team Canada: https://olympic.ca/team-canada/irvin-servold/
4. International Olympic Committee: https://olympics.com/en/athletes/irvin-servold
5. Alberta Sports Hall of Fame (profile missing, will be reinstated as per email)
6. Alberta Sports Hall of Fame: 22 Jan 2016, Interview on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNopVfqAkoo
7. Canadian Birkie Ski Festival: Ole Hovind recipients: https://canadianbirkie.com/ole-hovind-recipients/
8. Foothills Nordic Ski Club: https://foothillsnordic.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016CookieRace-February27_2016.pdf
9. Ski Trax, 24 April 2011, “Memories of the Development of Skiing in Alberta” by Irvin Servold. http://skitrax.com/memories-of-the-development-of-skiing-in-alberta/
10. Augustana Athletics Hall of Fame: www.govikings.ca/information/hall_of_fame/articles/Irvin_Servold
11. University of Alberta: https://bearsandpandas.ca/sports/2020/11/13/green-gold-awards.aspx
12. University of Alberta Sports Wall of Fame: www.ualberta.ca/swof-kiosk/index.html?sport=Skiing&details=irvin-servold