Roots of Racing series: Mark Tache built a successful life on lessons of ski racing
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.
Mark Tache says he was born a generation too late. He grew up in Aspen during the heyday of professional ski racing — the ’70s. Guys like Spider Sabich and the Palmer brothers lived nearby. They raced in the World Pro Skiing Tour, and ensnared Tache’s imagination.
“I watched WPS races every year and looked up to those guys,” Tache said. “I hoped one day I would follow in their footsteps. … They were incredibly talented, hardworking, fun-loving and real characters, something that was missing from the World Cup Tour.”
Growing up, Mark would race to the mountain after school to jump on the last lift of the day, and then hike back up and do hot laps on the slalom course.
Hard work paid off, and Mark landed on the U.S. Ski Team in 1978, while still a teenager. During his eight-year career with the U.S. team, he raced in two World Championships, scored several top 20 World Cup results and turned pro while ranked the top American in slalom. Despite being only 25, Mark needed to change things up.
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“Living in the U.S. team environment had become increasingly challenging and restrictive by then. … Life was pretty one-dimensional with limited time to experience life and learn things beyond ski racing. I was ready to move on and was hungry for the independence and lifestyle the Pro Tour provided.”
Tache had grown up seeing what pro racing could be, and he wanted to take part.
A new challenge
Unfortunately for Tache, by the time he went pro in ’86, the World Pro Skiing Tour had come to a close, and the Pro Tour was finding a new identity.
“Comparing the two pro tours, pre- and post-WPS, is hard. Bob (Beattie) was such a charismatic leader with incredible vision. He single-handedly vaulted pro racing above World Cup racing in the U.S. and gave the sport credibility, providing a generation of talented skiers the opportunity to make a living at the sport they had committed their lives to.”
Without Beattie’s leadership, the pro series soldiered on, albeit on a smaller scale. There was still plenty of money and the lifestyle was there, but a little of the luster had gone.
Still, as a pro, Tache found the format (a head-to-head elimination tournament) both exhilarating and challenging.
“You needed to develop physical and mental stamina to concentrate over multiple runs for a much longer day and this took some time to learn,” Tache said. “The first time I made it to the quarterfinals and took 10 runs, I was completely wiped out mentally and physically.”
Tache adapted quickly enough, finishing second in the ’87 World Pro Championships, earning honors as the tour’s top American that year. His personal highlight was winning the First Interstate Bank Cup at Winter Park in 1987, a race he grew up watching.
“The names on that trophy connected the two eras and carried the tradition of pro racing forward,” he said.
Those served as Tache’s “college years” when he learned how to manage himself, securing sponsorships and negotiating the business world.
“The challenge was to be disciplined and organized,” he said. “This could be overwhelming for some, but I really thrived on the independence and it motivated me to do well. At the end of the day, I was responsible for all my success or failure, because I was in complete control of it.”
The next generation
Upon retirement, he used his focus and experience to great success as a restaurateur and as manager for his two nephews — a couple of champion pro surfers by the names of Bruce and Andy Irons. Tache helped them with contracts and “mentored them on how to conduct themselves as successful pro athletes, in all ways, not just in the water.”
Today, Tache owns and operates an award-winning restaurant and bar in Bozeman, Montana, with his wife, Christin Cooper, silver medalist in the giant slalom at the ’84 Sarajevo Games and a broadcast analyst for NBC Sports. The two make quite a formidable pair, having founded four restaurant concepts since retiring from active competition, thanks to the discipline they learned as ski racers.
“We chose the restaurant business to test ourselves, and a large part of our success has come from what we learned as athletes … to build a strong team environment, foster an inspired work ethic and teach people to have fun at work while doing an exceptional job,” Tache said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to develop skills beyond those of just being an athlete if you want to be successful outside your comfort zone.”
Next time you are in Bozeman, Montana, stop in at Montana Ale Works, the renovated train freighthouse-turned-gathering place on the east end of Main Street. You might run into Mark Tache, the man from Aspen who grew up to live his boyhood dream to make a successful life built on the lessons of ski racing.