Ski pioneer Clif Taylor dies
COPPER MOUNTAIN – He died a vindicated man.Clif Taylor, 83, the 10th Mountain Division army veteran who pioneered the virtue of short skis and who could teach a beginner to parallel ski in “two turns,” as he always said, died last Sunday in Evergreen.The Vermont native died secure in the knowledge he was right about short skis and with two of the “Shortee” skis he invented in 1959 standing against the wall of his room as a reminder.Taylor’s vindication was a battle he did not have to fight. In the last six years, the ski industry figured out shorter skis helped people make better turns.”The public forced it,” Taylor said in a 2001 interview at Copper Mountain where he made his home until two years ago when ill health forced him to a lower elevation.Ghost of Graham BellTaylor started his short ski revolution in 1955. For most of the next three decades he barnstormed the world to promote short skis and the “graduated length method” of instruction he invented to go with them.The graduated length method took beginners to parallel skiing by using first 3-foot, 4-foot then 5-foot skis. It gained ground before longer skis came back into fashion.Taylor blamed the counter-revolution on the Professional Ski Instructors Association. Taylor wrote a 1999 edition of Skiing Heritage magazine that the association did not approve of lessons on skis shorter than 5 feet, nor of the direct-parallel system of teaching.In Taylor’s mind, the regression was responsible for the abysmal ski school failure rate where only 15 percent went on to embrace the sport. He laid that fact at the foot of the struggling resorts watching their numbers flatten or dwindle as baby boomers aged.
In the 2001 interview, Taylor said he felt like the ghost of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell looking down from the heavens today at everybody talking on a cell phone.Nevertheless, Taylor’s life work landed him in the National Ski Hall of Fame in 1979 and the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 1999.Don’t fight the mountainBy 1989, Taylor had moved to Copper Mountain to make a new life for himself in his beloved Colorado at a ski mountain he loved, one that happened to be near his World War II training grounds, Camp Hale.His colleagues tagged him “The Legend,” his friend and co-worker Linda Simmons said. Taylor, always a ham and a “shameless self promoter,” as friend C.J. Julin used to kid him, loved it.Julin and Taylor grew close over the years and Julin observed Taylor’s lust for life and his eye for the ladies. “He didn’t get cheated. He got his money’s worth,” Julin said of Taylor’s 83 years.In 2002, Copper Mountain and Intrawest threw Taylor a gala 80th birthday party to celebrate his skiing life and his importance to the resort community.”I never thought I would see this kind of celebration. It is hard to express my thanks,” Taylor said before leaping to his favorite topic. “People could have been skiing on shorter skis 40 years ago. To see these kinds of results is unbelievable.”Skiing clothing pioneer Klaus Obermeyer met Taylor in 1946 in Aspen when Taylor launched a career in the fledgling ski industry.”He had a vision and his vision was to make it easier for people to learn how to ski,” Obermeyer said. “His great contribution to skiing are the short skis and his willingness to listen to students, to be nice to them and make it easy for them.”He taught them to dance down the mountain and not fight down the mountain.”
Heavy gunsWorld War II looms large in the Taylor story as that is what first brought the New England youth to the West. Taylor joined what became the 10th Mountain Division in 1943, part of the core of ski instructors and enthusiasts that formed the mountain and cold-weather fighting division.In 1945 in the Italian campaign, Taylor joined 1,200 other men who scaled the cliffs of Riva Ridge in the dark, hard pressed to make the summit by dawn when they would be visible to German gunners.Taylor was an artillery observer, directing heavy guns. During the battle, a German shell hit by Taylor’s observation post, wounding him.His friend from Copper Mountain, Linda Simmons, said Taylor will be cremated and his ashes spread at Camp Hale.Vail, Colorado