Roots of Racing series: Hank Kashiwa, ambassador of pro skiing
Special to the Weekly
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. For more information, go to http://www.skimuseum.net.
Hank Kashiwa was one of the most colorful and successful characters on the World Pro Skiing Tour, the upstart ski racing circuit that forever changed the sport. Hank was a member of the University of Colorado Ski Team before joining the Army for two years. From 1967 to 1972, he was a member of the U.S. Ski Team earning a spot on the Olympic team in Sapporo, Japan, in 1972. He won the 1969 U.S. National Championships and competed in the 1970 World Championships in Val Gardena, Italy, before joining the men’s professional ski racing tour. He was the World Pro Champion in 1975, the last American to wear the World Pro Skiing crown. His trophy is on display at the museum’s new World Pro Skiing exhibit. Hank sat down with Mike Hundert to reminisce about his days as a ski racer.
Mike Hundert: Looking back at the World Pro Skiing days, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Hank Kashiwa: How much fun it was. What was really neat and unique was bringing world-class skiing to little ski areas, and even to cities, bringing the sport to people who would never otherwise see guys like (Jean Claude) Killy and (Billy) Kidd race. We once raced on the ski hill of the University of Montreal with thousands of people watching. That was crazy special.
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MH: What made the spirit of the World Pro Skiing tour so unique?
HK: The format was fabulous. It provided that panache, the fun atmosphere, while fans could see who was winning. Off the hill, the World Pro Skiing tour seemed to have a special pizazz. We had some characters for sure. I remember leaving the U.S. team, along with Tyler Palmer, right after the Olympics in Sapporo (1972) and the next weekend skiing on the Hemlock trail at Boyne Mountain, Michigan. It was really cool stuff. A real party atmosphere.
MH: What about the challenges associated with transitioning from being on the national team to being a professional ski racer?
HK: I was very lucky. My ski sponsor, Hart, sent big “Bear” Bryant out on the tour to take care of me and my gear. I was also lucky because I had a great manager in Bob Beattie. “Beats” watched over us. Any professional sport requires three things. You need the media, the stars and sponsors. “Beats” (Bob Beattie, founder of World Pro Skiing) understood that from Day 1. I remember him coming to the World Championships in 1970 in Italy and convincing Spider (Sabich) and Billy (Kidd) to join his tour. And he did the same at the 1972 Olympics when I then turned pro. He’s a hard driver who made it happen out of pure will.
MH: At the time you raced, you were known as the greatest ambassador of World Pro Skiing. What was your personal strategy in that regard?
HK: I don’t know what got me going in that direction, but happily I did. I became close with many of the non-industry sponsors, the ones putting up the cash to make the tour work. I got close with executives from McDonald’s, Samsonite, United Airlines, Dodge and others. In the Benson and Hedges Days (1972-1975), they poured money into the tour and things were buzzing. It wasn’t work. It was fun. They just wanted to hear our stories, and I was happy to share them. I have relationships with some of these guys right up till today.
MH: What advice can you offer today’s young athletes about preparing for life after competition?
HK: Take advantage of your position in the spotlight and spend extra time with the movers and shakers around the tour. Give time back to people who have supported you all along. I have found that if you accomplish something great in this sport, people remember it for years.
Today, Kashiwa is vice president of marketing at the Yellowstone Club in Montana, a private club of more than 450 families.
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