Buddy Werner League celebrating 50th anniversary in Vail Valley
Buddy Werner League
You can still get your kids in this season’s Buddy Werner League. New skier testing is Dec. 2. The first day on the mountain is Dec. 8.
50th anniversary concert: Scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Dec. 15 at the Beaver Creek Chophouse. The local rock band Rewind will play. It’s open to the public.
BEAVER CREEK — The Buddy Werner League has been helping kids learn life’s lessons for a half century.
This ski season marks Buddy Werner League’s 50th anniversary in the Vail Valley.
Racers also learn that it’s good to go fast and be first, but most life lessons are learned away from the podium.
“Getting kids outside, teaching them a little about life and a lot about skiing. That’s the central message of the Buddy Werner League, and it has been for 50 years,” Dana Maurer, Buddy Werner League’s Vail/Beaver Creek program director said.
“Werner Wisdom” is a big piece of it. Hard work, integrity, sportsmanship, safety, adventure, humility … the attributes Buddy Werner himself exemplified.
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“We’re trying to teach a love for the sport. It’s important to bring along a new generation of skiers,” Maurer said.
Fifty years is a long time for a grassroots volunteer organization, Maurer said proudly. It serves more than 250 young skiers each season, training in Beaver Creek.
“Vail Resorts has been so supportive of our program over the years, as well as Vail Health,” Maurer said.
Buddy in the beginning
Buddy Werner is a locals’ league and everyone is a volunteer, beginning with Byron Brown and Marge Chandler, who started the local program at the old Meadow Mountain ski area. In the mid-1960s the valley didn’t have a program where local kids could learn to ski.
It kept growing — just like the kids who participated.
Byron and Vi Brown’s son Mike Brown started with the Buddy Werner League and eventually became Vail’s first member of the U.S. Ski Team.
When Meadow Mountain closed down in the late 1960s, Vail wanted the program. The ski company even gave them race bibs. Team moms dyed them different colors, so they could tell the teams apart.
Each week, Buddy Werner coaches pick a piece of “Werner Wisdom” and talk to their teams about it.
They usually start 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 is 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 all of the time and was prone to spectacular crashes, but he won virtually every championship available during his mercurial career.
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 Billy Kidd and Jimmie 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 around them in a huge bear hug.
A native of Steamboat Springs, Werner 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, California. 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, Werner was in the Swiss Alps skiing in a television documentary when an avalanche struck. Werner 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 Mount 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 and firstname.lastname@example.org.