Ski artifacts: Kidd, Heuga’s Olympic medals, 10th Mountain ‘Bunny Boots’
Special to the Daily
• Billy Kidd and Jimmy Heuga’s silver and bronze medals will be on display in the new Colorado Snowsports Museum when it reopens in December.
• The original 10th Mountain Division “Bunny Boots” were used rarely due to having poor traction and losing insulation value when wet.
Editor’s note: The following is part of a series of articles compiled by the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame that will take a closer look at some of the artifacts and stories contained in the museum’s archives. The Colorado Snowsports Museum, located in the Vail Transportation Center, is currently undergoing a $2.4 million privately funded transformation that will refurbish the 24-year-old facility, add new exhibit space and modernize exhibits with interactive technology.
Skiing and the 10th Mountain Division are the cornerstones of Vail’s history and success, which the museum preserves and celebrates year-round. The museum has been a favorite family-friendly visitor attraction in Vail for 41 years and, with these improvements, will become the most comprehensive ski museum in the world.
Kidd, Heuga’s Olympic medals
Based on their initial post-race reactions, a casual observer would have been hard pressed to guess that the two men, surrounded by teammates and coaches in the Olympic finish area, had just made history. Billy Kidd’s first emotion was a sense of disappointment that he had not won the race. Jimmie Heuga took his gloves off and threw them in the snow in frustration.
The date was Feb. 8, 1964, and the place was Innsbruck, Austria. Moments after that initial disappointment passed, however, Kidd and Heuga were able to take stock of the situation, realizing what they had just accomplished. Not only had they just won the first U.S. Olympic medals in men’s alpine skiing, but also they had established the credibility of U.S. alpine skiing, capturing the world’s attention in the process.
Kidd, by virtue of posting the fastest second run of the men’s slalom, took the silver medal in the final alpine race of the 1964 Olympic Winter Games, while Heuga came out of the second seed to earn the bronze, as Pepi Stiegler, of Austria, won the gold medal.
Designed by Martha Coufal-Hartl and Arthur Zelger, and minted in Vienna, the front of the 1964 Olympic medals features an imposing alpine mountain scene with the inscription “Innsbruck 1964” encircling the top of the mountains. For the first time, the name of the discipline appeared on the medal at the foot of the mountain.
The back of the medal contained the official emblem, with the coat of arms of the city of Innsbruck, linked with the Olympic rings. This was encircled with the inscription “IX Olympische Winterspiele.”
“By the second run of the slalom,” Kidd told reporters, “my parents told me that people were screaming for me because I had a chance to win the race, but I didn’t hear them. I was concentrating so completely that all I could hear was my ski edges on the ice, trying to find out if I was skidding or carving my turns.”
He was sixth after the first run but, with the fastest second run, finished just 14-hundredths of a second behind Stiegler. He knew that he at least had the bronze if Heuga, who was still to come, got either the silver or gold. Heuga stood third after the first run, and Kidd recounted that he had never seen a racer more relaxed in the starting gate.
The two 20-year-old skiers, along with their coach, Bob Beattie, were splashed across newspapers and magazines around the world. Beattie had boldly predicted success for his team in Innsbruck, and Jean Saubert had delivered on the women’s side, with a silver medal in giant slalom and a bronze in slalom. But Beattie and the U.S. faithful had to wait through disappointing results in downhill and giant slalom in the men’s competitions before Kidd and Heuga prevailed on the final day.
The medals were the payoff for two years of intense training under Beattie, who was the U.S. Ski Team’s first full-time coach. In three prior Olympics, a handful of American men, despite random training opportunities and temporary coaches, had nearly won medals, but now there was proof of Beattie’s belief that prolonged international success would require the creation of a full-time national ski team program.
10th Mountain Division ‘Bunny Boots’
The original 10th Mountain Division “Bunny Boots” were designed to be used in arctic temperatures (below 20 degrees) with little to no moisture. Because the Colorado climate was not consistently dry-cold like the arctic, the felt boots often got wet, soaked the feet of troopers and lost their insulation value.
A groove in the heel allowed them to be used with skis, but they were poor ski boots when compared to the leather boots with rubber-cleated sole. The smooth soles of the felt boots also had little traction, so they were poor climbing or marching boots.
Due to these issues, mountain troops used these boots rarely, usually as after-ski boots in the barracks, and mukluks were preferred. Suggestions were made that a built-in gaiter be added in order to prevent snow from falling into the boot. This change was approved, and the improved boots were adopted in July 1945.