Roots of Racing: Carson was a student of the Pro Tour
Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum
This winter, Vail and Beaver Creek hosted the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships for a third time. The Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum has opened its ski racing archives to tell stories that connect the dots between today’s spectacular made-for-TV competitions and their humble beginnings. This series will feature many of the significant milestones, instigated here in Colorado by individuals now enshrined in the Hall of Fame, which helped shape skiing and international racing. When you are in Vail Village, stop by the museum for a trip through skiing’s past. For more information, go to http://www.skimuseum.net.
Paul Carson joined the Canadian Ski Team when he was 17. He climbed the racing ladder, competing in World Cups, claiming the title of Canadian National Slalom Champion in 1973 and then turning pro at a race in Australia before his 21st birthday. From 1973 until 1981, Carson would compete on the World Pro Skiing circuit, traveling internationally, ranking as high as third in the world, and planting the roots for his life to come.
Carson loved the pro format found on the WPS Tour.
“Dual format is awesome because it’s man against man … first one to cross the finish line.”
He noticed early on that the “amateur format” gave an unfair advantage to the top skiers. The best skiers would go first, leaving ruts and tearing up the course. It was hard to improve, and advance, when you started so deep in the field that the course had degraded by a second or more by the time it was your turn to start. With World Pro Skiing’s format, you raced on the same course conditions as your competitor, at the same time. Everybody had a chance to win, if they were fast enough. As proof, Carson recalls racing against his idol Jean Claude Killy in Killy’s last professional race, and winning.
One big family
For Carson, the WPS was special because it was such a big family. Everyone was in it together, trying to make it succeed. He recalls guys like Spider Sabich doing a month-long press tour before the season even began, on his own dime, to help promote the Tour. His good friend Doug Woodcock turned pro a year before him, as he was a year older.
“I followed him, and we traveled the world together for eight years,” he said.
Carson would bring a guitar and “Woodie” a banjo, and they played bluegrass in the European bars. Both met their wives on tour, and they remain close.
A month before Bob Beattie folded his Pro Tour, Carson retired. He was shocked by Beattie’s decision. Jobless, he, Otto Tschudi and a few others worked to keep the Pro Tour alive by founding the Professional Ski Racers Association. Carson became the business manager as they searched for a sports marketing firm to promote their new tour.
“We asked guys for 10 percent of their tour money, from the year before, to start it up. All but a few stepped up, those that wanted to continue racing,” Carson remembered.
All told, they raised $50k for a new tour. Paul was able to attract the First Bank of Denver to support a race in Winter Park and hired a New York-based sports marketing company, giving them almost the entire $50,000. It was wasted money. Sponsors were confused by Beattie’s sudden closure, and a rival tour out East was claiming to be the new “Pro Tour.” Nobody would bite. Still committed to the bank, Carson ran the Winter Park race anyway. His race series lasted a few years, with stops in the U.S. and Europe, but they were never able to resurrect Beattie’s dream.
From beaches to ‘Doggie Olympics’
While trying to set up a race in Japan, Carson was approached to take over sports marketing for Pro Beach Volleyball. His progress with the ski tour had impressed enough people, and he was hired to resurrect beach volleyball. Right off the bat, he took a speech from Bob Beattie, telling the athletes “we are in competition with football, baseball and every other sport out there. In competition for dollars and sponsors … we should be the biggest event that comes to town.”
He instituted fines for swearing, added bleacher seating, electronic scoreboards and put it on television. They made the tour professional and fun. His wife, Kathy, later took over management of the beach volleyball — running the $750,000 Cuervo Gold Crown Series for 10 years.
Now, Carson Events and TV production produce the National Dog Show presented by Purina on NBC on Thanksgiving Day. They also created and produce the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge (known as the “Doggie Olympics”) for network television.
Carson’s office is adorned with ski memorabilia — a poster here, a medal there — and even a letter from President Gerald Ford. He stays in touch with several competitors from his racing days, coming together to race as legends in the American Ski Classic in Vail. They may be older, and a little banged up, but they still love the thrill of the race.
“It’s amazing to see where they are now,” he said.
Some made connections racing in the Director’s Cup. Carson took the discipline he had learned from WPS and grew a successful sports marketing firm. Wherever they ended up, they remember where it all began — on Bob Beattie’s World Pro Skiing Tour.