A minor setback
Defending the Roch Cup in 1948, I had a squirrelly pair of skis with magnesium bases. They were difficult to control but faster on cold snow than any ski I had ever tried. Unfortunately, the day of the race was warm and sunny, and the snow was soft. Not having been savvy enough to bring backup skis, I practically walked down the course.
Still, I was performing at the top of my sport. I finished third in the giant slalom at the U.S. Nationals in Reno in the spring of 1949, which qualified me for the 1950 U.S. Alpine Ski Team. That was big-time. But not as big as the 1950 FIS World Championships, which were to be held in Aspen the following winter.
For the first time, the U.S. would be on the world map of international ski competition. Maybe I could make a good showing.
No such luck.
While training with the U.S. team on the ski jump in Sun Valley, Idaho, I fell, tearing chips from my left ankle bone and spraining it severely. Why were Alpine racers ski jumping? Because we always caught lots of air on the Aspen downhill course, and this was thought to be good practice for the downhill. The diagnosis – no skiing for the rest of the season and a plaster ankle cast for at least six weeks.
I tried to make the best of this disaster. Back home in Aspen I found a short child’s ski and an Army Air Corps-surplus flight boot. The boot, big and roomy, covered my cast, and I was able to rig it securely to the binding of the short left ski.
What do you know? I could ski. My once-ravaged right leg had gained enough strength to carry my full weight. I rejoiced at this, because when my left ankle healed that leg, too, would be stronger than before and I would be a better skier.
Meanwhile, I had my own ideas about what constituted the best medical care. One evening at a cocktail party, I was crutching about with the ankle cast hanging heavy as a ball and chain. I met a surgeon from Atlanta, and we hit it off. After a few drinks, he agreed with me that it was time to remove the cast. We went to the Aspen hospital, an old Victorian building at the base of Red Mountain. After we buttered up the night nurse, she let the doctor have the saw and whatever else he needed to remove the cast.
We then returned to the cocktail crowd unnoticed and continued to drink to the future health of my limbs and the future prosperity of his practice.
Editor’s note: This is the 28th installment of the Vail Daily’s serialization of “Vail: Triumph of a Dream” by Vail Pioneer and Founder Pete Seibert. This excerpt comes from Chapter Five, entitled “Colorado Days.” The book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.