Roots of Racing series: World Pro Foundation is looking back and paying it forward
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.
Back in 2011, a bunch of racers from the World Pro Skiing Tour gathered for a reunion in Lake Tahoe. Among them were big names of the tour during its heyday, competitors like Klaus Heidegger, Gunnar Grassl, Andre Arnold, Hank Kashiwa and Otto Tschudi, who have all gone on to have successful business careers in and out of the ski world. Over the course of the reunion they realized that none of them would know each other, or be where they were today in business, without Bob Beattie.
Beattie conceived and started the World Pro Tour on which they competed at various times during its run from 1969-1981. World Pro skiing was a party on snow and Beattie — creative, ambitious and connected — brought it all together. He secured sponsors and TV coverage, building the tour into a premier circuit by luring top amateurs from U.S. and European national teams, the best of whom could make $1 million per year. The fun-loving, hard-charging pros made big knee pads, big jumps, big hair and big crashes iconic of skiing’s wild side. Parallel competitions were staged in highly visible parts of the mountain and even in cities like Montreal and Boston, while many pros became as comfortable with corporate execs and limos as with lifties and snowcats.
The reunion-goers envisioned a World Pro Foundation, with the first objective of honoring Beattie. This was accomplished enthusiastically in Aspen the following March, attended by 360 former racers and friends whose lives Beattie influenced as coach, commentator, visionary, organizer and, above all, master motivator. Amid the parties, concerts, socializing and, of course, head-to-head racing, the mission of the Pro Foundation began to take shape.
First, it seeks to promote and protect the history of the World Pro Skiing Tour. To that end, the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum unveiled an exhibit featuring memorabilia, stories and photos from the World Pro Tour during the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
Second is to provide opportunities for kids to ski. So far, that has been in the form of scholarships given to Beattie’s Aspen Supports Kids program (now called Base Camp and run by the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club), that provides 1,700 under-privileged youth with gear, tickets and lessons.
“I sound like a broken record,” Beattie laughed before launching in to his oft-repeated lament that ski racing is simply too expensive. “We need to develop and invest in local programs and keep kids in them.”
Third is to promote head-to-head ski racing — the “pro format” — as the primary format of alpine ski racing competition. Until recently that may have seemed far-fetched, but the U.S. Ski Team and the International Olympic Committee have indicated interest in more such events while the FIS, in hosting team events like the one at the Vail/Beaver Creek Championships, is already dabbling in it.
“We need more team events and dual events,” Beattie said. “People have never heard of these kids (U.S. Ski Team racers) let alone learned how to follow the sport.”
The final objective, one that is especially dear to Tschudi, is to provide insight and mentoring of young athletes to best prepare them for the transition from racecourses to careers. This is desperately needed in the amateur ski world, particularly as funding goes down, the average age of competitors goes up and athletes need to pursue parallel career and education paths while competing. Indeed, with national team athletes banding together in privately funded teams like Redneck Racing and Team America, top level amateur racing more closely resembles the pro circuit of yore, where each team was responsible for its own training and travel. The lack of centralized funding is a challenge, but, as the pros then knew, it is more conducive to fostering the independence and relationships that can build a successful life.
“We had to engage with the sponsors, dress properly and fit into a corporate setting,” Tschudi recalled of his time on the tour. “We got educated to make the convergence to real life.”
When it came time for Tschudi to leave the sport, he turned to a business mentor with whom he had built a relationship through his racing career. That connection ultimately led to a successful career in investment banking. Currently, Tschudi is managing director of international sales at Stifel Nicolaus.
Tschudi is further positioned to spearhead this effort through his collegiate experience. The 1975 University of Denver graduate won five NCAA championships and competed on the Norwegian World Cup and Olympic teams while a full-time student. In 1992, he was brought on to the DU Board of Trustees to resurrect the ski team, which today is referred to as a “World Cup factory” in the European press.
The U.S. Ski Team has given the green light to the foundation to create panels and roundtables at training events, and to help build mentorship and internship programs. The first such formal “conversation” took place on Friday, during this year’s FIS Spring Series in Sun Valley, Idaho. The free event was open to all kids and parents and featured a 90-minute panel of five to six former athletes and corporate executives who shared their experiences and talked about how to prepare for the transitions beyond athletics. Tschudi hopes this outreach will broaden as the network and the foundation builds.
“We don’t want to just talk to national team kids, but it helps to start at the top then go down from there,” he said.
The fun stuff picks up today from 3 to 5 p.m., with a pro-style parallel race at the bottom of Warm Springs (complete with a live band), a trial run for head-to-head racing at the U.S. Nationals in Sun Valley next year.
To this day, Beattie, who co-founded the World Cup, is an ardent supporter of the national team, keeping in touch with current athletes as well as those he coached to medals in 1964.
“If pro skiing were to exist again,” Beattie said, “it could do it through the U.S. Ski Team. It would be a way to get more events into the flow.”