Roots of Racing series: World Pro Skiing’s character was its characters
Special to the Daily
The public is invited to the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum’s grand opening of Bob Beattie’s World Pro Skiing Tour Exhibit 4-6 p.m. Feb. 6. Stop by for a meet and greet with Bob Beattie and many of the World Pro Skiing athletes before attending the women’s downhill award ceremony and concert at Solaris.
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.
World Pro Skiing (1970-1981), the ski racing tour run by the father of American ski racing, Bob Beattie, was a free-wheelin’ group of swashbuckling pirates who had broken from their national ski team to go off on their own, seeking booty and bounty.
It was a time when national team coaches figured that by age 21 your best racing days were behind you. It was an era when young men were fed up with the rules and regulations of their teams and the amateur World Cup circuit. Racers wanted change. No longer would anyone tell them how or when to train, eat, sleep or live. Life was, for some, one big party interrupted by ski races.
Beattie created an athlete friendly alternative- the World Pro Skiing Tour. Unlike the World Cup, WPS welcomed the racers to make the rules on course, and break them off the mountain.
International Ski Racers Association
Racers formed the International Ski Racers Association, which all quick enough racers joined for $75 a year. The ISRA drew up the rules, with the guidance of Beattie and his World Wide Ski Corporation staff. They invented, among others, the 1.5 second penalty for crashing in the first of the two head-to-head runs in each matchup. Beattie’s marketing staff turned that into The Omega Comeback, and a competitor won an Omega watch if he could come back from such a time deficit to win.
Skiers did more than just make rules and race. The character of the World Pro Skiing Tour, and its image that anything (legal) goes, was shaped by the characters on the circuit. Beattie urged them to be themselves and that it was their personalities that should define World Pro Skiing, each man competing for, and being themselves. Billy Kidd, the tour’s first champion, was not racing for America as a pro. It made no difference that Jean Claude Killy was French, or that Andre Arnold was Austrian. They skied for their personal wealth and glory. Fans could line up behind Spider Sabich, not because he was from California, but because they loved Spider.
Personalities on the pro tour created unique reputations. The Palmer brothers, Terry and Tyler, created the legend of Bear Valley when they were credited with starting a barroom brawl that got them excised from their K2 sponsorship. Josef Odermatt’s trail of female fans was well documented by a feature in People magazine. Jungle Jim Hunter, the tough Canadian downhiller, tried using the bible to lead other racers to a spiritual finding, with limited success. Paco Ochoa, Spain’s Olympic gold medalist, and the Swiss Olympic silver medalist Walter Tresch brought a serious approach to racing.
Hans Hinterseer arrived on the scene in 1978, complete with a Joe Namath style full-length fur coat and a masseuse on his heels. People wondered if this guy with the flowing blond hair and Hollywood good looks was for real. He won ski races in every discipline, finished third overall in his rookie season and quickly showed how real he truly was. A top professional ski racer for several years, Hansi was among the most technically perfect skiers in the history of the sport.
Hinterseer often entertained the troops, showing off his yodeling and accordion skills at many tour stops. He was talented, could ski as fast as anyone in the world, was an extraordinary magnetic personality, and came complete with movie star good looks — the perfect recipe for World Pro Skiing. Today, Hinterseer is the most famous pop star in Austria, still filling arenas with his fans.
Two of the top “ambassadors” for the sport were 1975 World Pro Champion, Hank Kashiwa and Norwegian Otto Tschudi, who competed for more years on the WPS tour than anyone else. Their charisma was magnetic in attracting fans to the sport, and kept America engaged. Tschudi also inspired many Norwegian skiers, including brothers Edwin and Jarle Halsnes, both of whom won repeatedly as pros.
WPS depended on strong personalities to build the tour’s brand, and the racers came through with a diversity that made the tour uniquely attractive to legions of sport fans. When combined, the personal followings formed a robust fan base and endeared America to ski racing. The freedom of the tour, and the personalities on it, were a hallmark of those glory days of ski racing. World Pro Skiing’s character truly came from its many diverse and entertaining characters.
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