Henri Oreiller was born on the 5th of December 1925 and died on the 7th October 1962 after a car crash accident. Born in Paris, the son of Léon Oreiller, of Italian origin, and Marguerite Favre, from Val d’Isère he lived in Paris and stayed in Val d’Isère for holidays. Oreiller was a member of «Section Eclaireurs Skieurs», a specialist skiing section of the French Resistance during World War II. After the liberation of Paris he fought in the Alps in an elite winter combat unit of the French Army. Nicknamed the “Parisian of Val d’Isère” or the “madman of downhill”, he was the first Olympic downhill champion in 1948 at St. Moritz, with a record margin of four seconds over the runner-up. He also took the gold medal in the combined event, and the bronze medal in the special slalom. He missed one of his medal ceremonies because he was playing the accordion in a local bar, and received his medal a week later. He competed in the 1950 World Championships at Aspen and finished fourth in the new event, the giant slalom. At the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Oreiller was 14th in the downhill and 16th in the giant slalom.

Obsessed with speed, Oreiller retired from ski racing in 1952 at the age of 26 and started a career in motor racing. Ten years later, he had a racing car accident which took his life on the 7th of October 1962.

A black slope bears his initial along with Jean-Claude Killy’s , la «OK».

His life

His parents, Léon Oreiller, a native of Rhêmes-Notre-Dame (Valle d’Aosta), and Marguerite Favre, originally from Val d’Isère (Savoie), live in Paris and go on holiday in Val d’Isère to make hay and stay with Armante Favre, Marguerite’s sister, who ran the Favre café in the old village. Henri came to live with his aunt Armante at the age of six.

His parents leave Paris in 1940 before the beginning of the war and come to hold coffee with Armante. Leon serves as a hairdresser. They buy a few cows. Then Léon enters the STVI (Society of Cable Cars Val-d’Isère) with among others, Jules Costa. During the war, he makes bread with Gaston Moris. Mr. and Mrs. Oreiller opened a sports shop on the snow front in 1948, then a bakery in front of the elementary school.

Henri Oreiller has always been a daring skier, a child and a teenager training alone in Val-d’Isère. He was champion of Savoie then champion of France. He has always remained very attached to the village of his childhood, sending postcards at each race to Father Charvin, village priest, Charles Diebold and Dr. Frédéric Petri, who was president of the sports club and mayor of the town, and who often took him to the race with his Bugatti. He married Val-d’Isère on December 20, 1956 with Gisèle Léger de Voiron.

Nicknamed the Parisian of Val d’Isère or the descending Fool, he became the first Olympic downhill champion in 1948 in St. Moritz with a record margin of 4s 1 on his dolphin. Hero of the 1948 Olympic Games, he also won the combined gold medal and the bronze medal in the special slalom.

Passionate about speed, Henri Oreiller abandons alpine skiing in 1952 to devote himself to motor racing. He died on October 7, 1962 in a road exit on the Linas-Monthéry autodrome during the Coupe du Salon driving a Ferrari 250 GTO. He was 36 years old. His name is later given to an annual challenge, that of the Best Mountain Pilot.

At his burial in Val-d’Isère, where he rests beside his wife, countless testimonies have come from all over the world as he was admired: the United States, Japan, Australia, etc. He still has a close family in Val d’Isère and he also has more distant relatives in Lyon and the surrounding area. A black track from Val d’Isère arriving at La Daille is called “OK” for Pillow Killy in tribute to these two great descenders.

His winners

Winter Olympics :

Proof / Edition Saint-Moritz 1948
Descent Gold
Combined Gold
Slalom Bronze


World’s Championships :

Proof / Edition Aspen 1950
giant slalom 4e

Wikipedia source

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