The Way We Were: Memorable Moments With Skiing’s Stars
The pictures on the vanity walls of my home office are often distractions. Dozens of skiing photos lure me away from tasks and down the slopes of recollection.
Bald Mountain in Sun Valley looms over the computer. The Eiger and Matterhorn in Switzerland are backgrounds for photos of friends and family. In one shot, legendary amputee and Olympic Gold Medalist Diana Golden gives me a hug on a Vail promotional sail on the Hudson River. Another snuggle is with Tamara McKinney in Las Leñas.
They are among my souvenirs of skiing on several continents in a seventy-year romance with snow and associating with a host of Olympians. It has been a privilege afforded to reporters of winter sports and a significant benefit of membership in ESWA and NASJA.
Among those on my wall is Stein Eriksen, the Norse god who won Gold and Silver in Oslo in 1952. Stein came to America, bounced around several resorts and then became director of skiing at posh Deer Valley in Utah, where he has floated elegantly through corduroy-groomed snow for several decades.
I skied with Stein during a week-long press trip to Norway in 1993, a year before the Lillehammer Olympics. Famed ski filmmaker Warren Miller was also on the trip that had six different ski areas on the itinerary. We skied across the country to get a taste of championship venues, while Stein offered tips on technique and Warren complained about our rental wooden skis.
Years later Stein led a group of us down Windham Mountain in New York, where he was honored by Snow Time, the company that then owned the resort. With us was Irvin Naylor, visionary Pennsylvania businessman who founded Roundtop and later acquired Liberty and Whitetail. Irv was a fine skier, whose passion for skiing was sidelined when he was thrown from his horse in a steeplechase. He has been in a wheelchair since, but still actively leads the Snow Time corporation.
Other Olympians I admired, as I tried unsuccessfully to stay in their tracks, included Diann Roffe, Gold Medalist in giant slalom in Lillehammer. Diann ran a racing program at Roundtop for several years, but I joined her at Camelback, when she led a group of talented women around the mountain.
Both Irv and Diann are members of the Hall of Fame of the Pennsylvania Ski and Winter Sports Museum, which is in the Camelback base lodge.
The Mahre twins, Phil and Steve, who won Gold and Silver in Sarajevo in 1984, were fun to be with during a Jimmie Heuga Express in Vail. This annual fundraising program supported Jimmie’s muscular sclerosis center in Avon, Colorado. In this event, participants who paid $150 and logged 11,000 feet of vertical in an hour received a print of a lovely painting of Vail’s mountains and the Vista Bahn Gondola. Numerous Olympic stars brought in considerable sponsorship money by running the course with very few breaks from eight a.m. until three the next morning. They reached the goal of two million vertical feet.
On my print are autographs by two dozen superb skiers, among them: Cindy Nelson, Suzy Chaffee, Kiki Cutter, Christin Cooper, the Mahres, Pepi Stiegler and, of course, Billy Kidd. A close friend of Jimmie’s, Billy was the first American male to win an Olympic medal, Silver in slalom at Innsbruck in 1964. Right behind him was Jimmie for a Bronze.
Before the end of that decade, Jimmie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He continued to ski upright for some years and ultimately had to use a monoski. He founded a center in Avon that encouraged a positive attitude among people afflicted with MS. Jimmie died two years ago, but his program continues with Can Do Multiple Sclerosis, based in Edwards, Colorado.
One of the highlights of my long association with Jimmie Heuga and Billy Kidd was a ski cruise with them to Bermuda. About a quarter of the 800 aboard ship were skiers, mostly from the Pittsburgh ski club. Connie and I enjoyed watching poolside fashion shows of skiing clothes and ski films piped into the cabins.
Billy attracted attention on the dock in Hamilton by setting up a slalom course for roller blades. Empty bottles served as gates. But irrepressible Suzy Chaffee one-upped him. Motorists drive on the wrong side of the road on this British island. Suzy had no problem, however, in deciding how to handle traffic. She actually stopped it by dancing down the middle of the main street in long, whirling turns on her inline skates. She was Suzy Chapstick again, until the police whistled her away.
When I remember Billy Kidd, I also recall Bill Johnson, the maverick who won the downhill in Sarajevo (1984). Wearing his Gold Medal, Bill was for a time an ambassador who greeted skiers at Crested Butte in Colorado. The North American Snow Sports Journalists Association held an annual meeting there, with a race for members, a giant slalom event with the NASTAR handicap system.
Bill was pacesetter and I was first in line behind him at the gate, starting first because of my age. Bill turned back to me before he kicked the wand: “You know how to do this,” he asked.
“Yep,” I replied, “Swing wide, turn early.”?Bill, “Who the hell told you that?”?When I said “Billy Kidd,” he grunted, “Well, that’s the difference between Gold and Silver.”?“Come on, Bill.” I said. “I’m going to whip your ass.”
It was braggadocio. But he had no handicap and I had a very high one. I only had to keep from falling.
Several of us did beat Bill Johnson’s time, and he growled at the unfairness of NASTAR scoring. Billy Kidd was amused when I told him about it later.
At a NASJA meeting in Telluride the wild Olympic Downhill Gold winner Franz Klammer (Innsbruck, 1976) set up a mini slalom course with a dozen gates. He showed some of us how to do it: he gave us a four-gate start—and beat us by four.
I’ve seen Billy Kidd occasionally over the years, while he made movies of ski racing techniques at Timberline on Mount Hood or worked with a microphone at ski events. But what I remember best is the time he and companion Hollis Brooks helped an Oklahoma couple get married on the slopes at Deer Valley. They loaned them blue and white jump suits. Hollis and my fiancée Connie were bridesmaids.
There is still time for me to collect memories, using the camera as an excuse for a gentler pace on magic carpets. I hope to ski again with friends who have shared some of these adventures. I consider them all Olympians.
Photo: (Left) Stein Eriksen, Ted Heck (Ted Heck Archives)
This article appeared in Tips, Turns, and Tales, a book published by the Eastern Ski Writers Association (ESWA) in 2013 in honor of their 50th anniversary. The book celebrates skiing's history and milestones, along with fun memories from past and current members. The 330-page paperback (more than125 B/W photos) can be ordered by mailing a check (payable to ESWA) for $20 to: Pat Turner Kavanaugh, 935 Fernwood Ave., Plainfield, NJ 07062. Please include recipient's name and mailing address and allow 14 days for receipt of book.
Reprinted as part of SnoCountry.com’s “The Way We Were” series with permission from the authors and the Eastern Ski Writers Association.