Hovland grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, within view of the Chester Park ski jumps. He skied there with all the neighborhood kids, and in 1943, while attending Duluth Central High School, won state championships in cross-country and slalom. Then he went off to the Navy, serving in the Pacific.
Back home, George studied engineering at the University of Minnesota and captained the ski team. He took third in the national nordic combined championships and was named an alternate to the 1948 U.S. Olympic Team; from 1949 to 1952 he was four-time winner of the Central Division Skimeister championship.
George was a busy man during the next decade. He got married. In 1952, he raced on the U.S. Olympic four-man cross-country relay team at Oslo. He opened Duluth’s first full-service ski shop, creatively dubbed The Ski Shop. He coached the ski team at the University of Minnesota– Duluth, and competed at the 1954 FIS World Championships in Falun. He built and operated Ski Kenwood, the city’s first alpine ski area, then, with Ivan Iverson, purchased Mount Du Lac Ski Area. He worked as a sales rep for the Constam and Hall ski lift companies, and for a variety of ski, boot, and skiwear companies.
George went on to help launch a number of ski clubs, trail networks and alpine ski areas, while designing and building custom homes. He became national master’s champion in 10k and 30k cross country, and national NASTAR champ five times, including a 2014 victory at age 87 (he
hopes to repeat as age- group champ next winter). He completed the American Birkie 32 times, often winning his age class.
Around 1982, George met and married his current wife, Jane, a clinical psychologist. Together, in 1993, they founded the Snowflake Nordic Ski Center on 200 acres of woodland in Duluth. They cleared 15k of trails and a biathlon shooting range, and put up a lodge. At the time, George says, high school racers had access to city trails but had no warming hut to change and hang out. “The city wasn’t doing the job, so we did,” he says. “I wanted a place for skiers to enjoy the sport.”
The couple finally retired last year and sold the Snowflake land for development as a charter high school, on condition that the skiing facilities would remain open for five years under the management of the Duluth Nordic Ski Club.
“The staff at ISHA deserves gold medals,” George says. “I attack every issue of the magazine, and get to relive my life in skiing. I send half a dozen copies of every issue to old ski friends.”