EAGLE COUNTY — It’s fun to go fast and be first, but life’s lessons are learned and lived outside the winner’s circle.
That’s the stuff kids learn in Buddy Werner League ski racing, along with how to go fast and be first.
Buddy in the beginning
It’s a locals league and everyone is a volunteer, beginning with Byron Brown and Marge Chandler, who started the local program at old Meadow Mountain ski area.
Meadow Mountain closed down and Vail wanted the program and even gave them race bibs. Team moms dyed them different colors, so they could tell the teams apart.
In the mid-1960s the valley didn’t have a program where local kids could learn to ski.
“We had a lot of fun with those kids,” Byron said.
His son Mike Brown started with Buddy Werner League and eventually became Vail’s first member of the U.S. Ski Team. He is this year’s Buddy Werner League coach of the year.
“The Buddy Werner program ... helped new skiers learn about racing and fun competition,” Chandler said. “It turned out to be an excellent program for young skiers whether or not they went on to be interested in racing. It gave them a lifetime sport for themselves and their future families.”
They started it, and it kept growing — just like the kids who participated, Chandler recalled laughing.
FRONT RANGE RACERS
This year’s Buddy Werner program boasted around 300 kids, including 19 Front Range families with 30 kids.
Kiki Coles and her family are among those Front Rangers who haul their kids up to Vail and Beaver Creek every weekend for Buddy Werner. Kiki grew up ski racing in Buck Hill, Minn., and was looking for a program for her two kids. She had friends in the valley, and they introduced her to it.
Some trips up the mountain are easier than others. This past weekend it took five hours.
“This was their second year, and we’ll stick with it, even with bad weather and highway closures. It’s worth it,” Coles said.
Live better, ski better
Dana Maurer got involved the same way most parents do; her kids are in it. Maurer and people like Tom Davies and Samantha Gale are what you call “active in their community,” so when Davies, her neighbor and Buddy Werner board of directors member, went looking for help running the program, he didn’t have to look far.
Maurer is petite yet large and in charge in a quietly confident way. In other words, the boss lady is not a big boss, she’s THE big boss.
“It’s a locals’ program, and I love what it stands for,” Maurer said.
The Vail and Beaver Creek Buddy Werner League is Colorado’s last all-volunteer ski program, Davies said.
However, some of the coaches are former Olympians, so the instruction is second to none, Davies said.
Davies comes right out and says it: “It’s an affordable alternative to Ski & Snowboard Club Vail.”
It’s not a babysitting program, Davies said, and it’s not a learn-to-ski program.
It’s about, well … it’s about life.
Learning to edge your turns, and ski fast are ways to ski better, Maurer said. This is about learning to live better.
Each week, Buddy Werner coaches pick a piece of Werner Wisdom and talk to their teams about it.
Werner Wisdom covers seven broad topics, one for each week they’re not racing: Safety, sportsmanship, hard work, challenge, integrity, adventure and humility.
“They’re themes coaches can use to tie it all together,” Maurer said.
They started with safety in week 1. Here’s why. Werner died in an avalanche, and avalanches happen every year, everywhere we live and ski.
Week 2 was teamwork. Werner was a great ski racer but a better teammate.
About Buddy Werner
Wallace “Buddy” Jerold Werner was an internationally renowned alpine ski racer and member of the U.S. Olympic alpine teams in 1956, 1960 and 1964. He skied flat out all the time and was prone to spectacular crashes, but won he virtually every championship available during his mercurial career.
“Buddy was one of the few Americans who could beat the Europeans and do it not just once in a while by luck, but often enough so that the Europeans really loved him,” said Billy Kidd, a friend and former teammate on the U.S. Ski Team. “They loved his style of going for it and taking chances.”
He’d skied for the University of Denver, then hit the World Cup tour in Europe. He returned to ski with the University of Colorado where Kidd and Heuga were teammates, along with Bill Marolt.
Werner was expected to win gold in the 1964 Olympic slalom. No American man had medaled in Olympic alpine skiing and the fantasy was that Werner, Billy Kidd and Jimmy Heuga could sweep the slalom.
Werner crashed and was out of the medal hunt early. However, he didn’t pout about disappointment. It wasn’t in his nature. Instead, he stuck around to cheer for his teammates. When Kidd won silver and Heuga won bronze, Werner dove into the finish corral and threw his arms round them in a huge bear hug.
A native of Steamboat Springs, he started his skiing career as a ski jumper, winning his first regional championship at the age of 10. He soon turned to alpine racing, a move that would take him from a hometown skier to international icon.
He was on the 1960 U.S. Olympic Ski Team, but a broken leg kept him from competing in Squaw Valley, Calif. He was back on the U.S. team for the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria.
Possibly his most stunning victory was the 1959 Hahnenkamm race in Kitsbuehel, Austria, where he became the first American skier to win on the most dangerous downhill course on the World Cup circuit. It would be 44 years before another American would win — Daron Rahlves in 2003.
When Werner wasn’t training or racing, he taught local Steamboat kids about ski racing.
On April 12, 1964, Buddy was in the Swiss Alps skiing in a television documentary when an avalanche struck. Buddy tried to outrace the thundering snow, but it was to no avail.
After his death, the Steamboat Springs town council unanimously voted to rename the town’s ski mountain from Storm Mountain to Mt. Werner, in his honor. The U.S. Department of the Interior approved of the renaming the following year.
Werner was posthumously inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame in 1964.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The Buddy Werner program ... helped new skiers learn about racing and fun competition. It turned out to be an excellent program for young skiers whether or not they went on to be interested in racing. It gave them a lifetime sport for themselves and their future families.”
Buddy Werner League co-founder