Roots of Racing: Top skiers join World Pro Skiing Tour
Special to the Daily
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.
Terry Palmer joined the U.S. Ski Team while he was just a teenager. He raced internationally for a few years, made it to the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo, and then suddenly left the U.S. Ski Team with his older brother Tyler to pursue a professional career on Bob Beattie’s World Pro Skiing Tour. At the time, the coaching on the U.S. Ski Team was “tumultuous.” Europeans were being paid tens of thousands of dollars by their national teams, but Americans were forced to compete without financial compensation. It was arduous, demanding and frustrating. Back in the U.S., Beattie and the World Pro Skiing Tour offered prize money, sponsorships and independence to train how you pleased. With the possibility of earning $55,000 or more, World Pro Skiing was more than enticing.
At first, Terry wasn’t allowed to join the pro ranks. Beattie demanded the racers be least 21 years old, leaving Terry half of a year too young. He lost most of the next season, only able to compete in three or four pro races after his birthday finally came around. The following year, it was game on, and Terry finished fifth overall. His brother Tyler was fourth.
“We needed each other to push each other and succeed,” Terry said.
Beattie became the Palmer brothers’ manager.
“We had the same New Hampshire roots — hard headedness, the whole ‘Live free or die’ thing. Beats taught us many, many things, and introduced us to the world,” Terry said.
For Terry, suddenly being independent and responsible for everything was an important “maturation of sorts, learning to take care of yourself and book travel, organize hotels and things. The freedom to screw up or succeed was big for American kids.” It was sink or swim with Beattie, and Terry soon found the water levels rising.
“The next year, the French team all were kicked off their national team and joined WPS,” Terry said. “It suddenly made it on par with World Cup.”
Like Terry, the French liked the freedom and possibility that came with living outside a national team’s umbrella. They were some of the world’s best skiers at the time, and brought considerable prestige. World Pro Skiing embraced the French, becoming a multi-national family with the Americans acting as the big brother.
“The Americans took control of the events, with a work hard and play hard attitude. There was a little nationalistic rivalry, friendly, but we would go crazy when Americans won. I still have lots of French friends … and learned a lot from the best, guys like Duvillard.”
Terry continued racing as one of the top Americans on the World Pro Skiing tour, during an exciting time in ski racing history.
“In the ’70s, we had the juice,” Terry said. “In the ’80s, the juice was more World Cup.”
From ’85-’86 he joined the U.S. Ski Team to coach, mentoring current U.S. Ski Team head Tiger Shaw. After years of being around the sport, he notices things.
“Equipment changes and technique follows, but fundamentals stay the same,” Terry said. “You still need to know how to ride a ski.”
One change Terry would like to see to ski racing: The return of the World Pro Skiing Tour’s head-to-head format. With World Pro Skiing, racers were pitted against each other over the course of two runs, with the winner advancing through a tournament bracket. At the end of the day, the top two skiers remained for a dramatic side by side race to crown a champion. Terry notes the format added a “great spectator aspect” that “fit in with the times” of the ’70s; but it also can be “great for coaching. Technique matters, but you also need spirit to be a winner. Head-to-head racing teaches that spirit. It can be used as a means for training and for fun. … We should try to bring it back into the clubs, to attract more kids.”
At Spring Series in Sun Valley this year, Terry is hoping to include a little head-to-head racing. It will be a call back to Bob Beattie, his World Pro Skiing Tour and the glory days of ski racing in America.
“Beattie has been a great influence on all American skier. He was just a force,” Terry said.