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Ed Pauls dies at 80; inventor of NordicTrack

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While running through the slick streets of Minnesota on a particularly cold and wet winter day in 1975, cross-country skier Ed Pauls was moved to wonder: Could he come up with an exercise machine that would allow him to practice skiing indoors?

Trained as an engineer, he invented NordicTrack, which employed wood slats, pulleys and wires — and allowed the user to imitate the movement of gliding on skis through snow.

On the advice of a family friend, Pauls decided that his creation had commercial potential. With $10,000 from his savings, he started out manufacturing the machines in his garage.

Patented in 1976, the exerciser was popular with skiers from the start and was soon in vogue at health clubs. By 1984, the family-run company had become a major competitor in a growing fitness craze.

Pauls, 80, who skied until early last year, died Oct. 9 of complications from Alzheimer's disease at his home in Montrose, Colo.

He realized that he would have to build a machine that could propel a skier's body forward while keeping it in one place, according to the 1997 book "Why Didn't I Think of That?"

An early model employed authentic wooden skis and a sofa cushion for hip padding, recalled his daughter, Terri Pauls, who was a nationally ranked cross-country skier.

"Early on, when we would sell one, my father would gather the family in a circle in the dining room to sing and dance in celebration," she said.

Edward Arthur Pauls was born Aug. 28, 1931, in Sheboygan, Wis., and grew up on a dairy farm.

He earned an engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin and worked as an engineer and product designer in Minnesota.

In 1959, he married Florence Melhuse after meeting her at an Alpine skiing club. While visiting her relatives in Norway, they received cross-country skis as a gift, which sparked Pauls' interest in the sport.

In addition to the NordicTrack, Pauls also developed equipment for adaptive skiing and a ski boot and binding system.

The Pauls sold the NordicTrack business in 1986 to CML group for $24 million, according to the book. The company profited for several more years, producing a variety of exercise products, but eventually declared bankruptcy. The NordicTrack name was then sold to another firm.

With his wife, Pauls moved to Utah in 1998, where the couple relished years of powder skiing. They recently donated 290 acres to the city of Durango, Colo., for preservation as open space.

In addition to his daughter, Terri, and wife, Florence, Pauls is survived by his son Glenn and two grandchildren.

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