Olavi Hirvonen was born to Finnish parents in Montréal, but he grew up skiing for a few years in Finland and served in the Finnish Army. In 1949 the family settled in the United States, where he continued to cross-country ski competitively, and served in the US Military during the Korean War. At the time of the 1960 Winter Olympics Hirvonen worked in a ski lodge in Vermont. He later started the Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center in Northville, New York, which he and his wife ran for many years. The center has many Finnish touches and Hirvonen was long considered an unofficial ambassador for Finland in that area of New York.