Roots of Racing series: Directing a ‘carnival on wheels’
Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum
This winter, Vail and Beaver Creek are hosting 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. Special events include a daily Vintage Film Festival and the World Pro Skiing Grand Opening Reception on Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. For more information, go to http://www.skimuseum.net.
Sometimes things just seem to work out. Nappy Neaman was fresh out of a job with the U.S. Ski Team, sitting in the JFK airport, when a friend told him about a new opportunity. Bob Beattie was looking for a tournament director for his World Pro Ski Tour. It was hard work, but it offered travel, excitement and a way to stay involved with skiing. Neaman hopped in a cab, headed into the city to meet Beattie and was hired on the spot. He would become the longest serving director in the tour’s history.
The World Pro Ski Tour (1969-1981) was the brainchild of Bob Beattie. He had helped found the World Cup but felt he could run a better tour without the politics of national teams. Beattie founded a professional tour that would actually pay the athletes, but also ask them to be responsible for themselves — their training, their travel, their sponsors and everything. He encouraged the people involved to be themselves, believing personality and character were a defining part of the Pro Tour.
‘Carnival on snow’
As tournament director, Nappy did a little of everything. He organized grooming, set the courses, managed the athletes, hosted parties and every week he transported the race equipment to the next town to do it all over again. It was hard work, but not for a young man who grew up in Union City, New Jersey. To him, it was just a great time.
“It was a professional carnival on snow. More than a carnival,” he recalled. “We came to a town, and everybody was looking forward to it.”
After five years as director, you can imagine Nappy has many a story. He remembers cutting jumps deeper into the hillside, between training and race days, giving the skiers a little extra surprise. He recalls having to bolster the starting pen, as the athletes used to punch them open if the iron-made double-doors were too weak. Every week brought something new, some new challenge or adventure — whether tweaking the gate design to prevent on-course wrecks, or drinking tequila with a resort owner to convince him to move snow onto the mountain. Then pack up, move on, and do it all again.
His fondest memory of all?
“Opening up the Pro Tour in Europe, in Baqueira Beret, Spain.”
The ski resort is the sister city to Aspen, and a natural spot to jump into the European market. When he arrived, Nappy was given an army garrison to order around to set up the event. Literally. With this manpower at his disposal, Nappy put on a show full of pageantry, color and excitement, and the townsfolk loved it.
“It was like a mini World Cup.” Nappy recalled. “We had a little different system, but skiers that people could relate to.”
WPS used a head-to-head format, different from the World Cup races that many European fans were accustomed to, but easier for fans to follow.
Athletes loved it, too. WPS attracted skiers with Olympic medals and World titles to their names. Naturally, fans clamored to meet these skiing hotshots, and World Pro Skiing was happy to oblige. They hosted weekly parties, tied to the event, which athletes were required to attend. Those that did not faced monetary fines.
“It was a party on wheels … fining a guy for not partying, that was a real fun part of it,” Nappy said.
After the Tour
Today, Nappy remains in the ski industry, working at the Elephant’s Perch — an outdoor retail store in Sun Valley, Idaho. He first came to Idaho during his days on tour, helping film the movie “Swansong” while concurrently hosting a race. When the tour closed shop in ’81, he knew where he wanted to call home. His experience as tournament director opened doors, and Nappy easily landed a job working for the Sun Valley Company.
“It was like going to the Super Bowl,” he said of his time on the WPS Tour. “Like you have a Super Bowl ring for it. You could walk around and people knew what you had done, and what you could do.”
Nappy was known as a hard worker with diverse skill sets, and a lot of character.
In those five short years, Nappy learned a lot, and grew a lot. He learned to see the professional side of skiing, to take on a situation not just as sport, but as a job that could be used to market yourself for later endeavors. He knows that you won’t always be on top, despite what every ski racer wants to believe. Be appreciative and thankful, and prepare for the future. How you handle yourself when someone takes over, that’s the true mark of character. Just ask Nappy Neaman, the kid from New Jersey who directed a circus on snow.
Paul Cuthbertson, a lifelong local of Eagle and Summit counties, died while skiing up to the Polar Star Inn to meet some friends for a celebration of his 21st birthday on Friday night.