Ski racing gives Vail international status
The European racers loved the event, and they loved the Wild West atmosphere of high-country Colorado. The French team, led by the irrepressible Jean-Claude Killy, bought cowboy hats and pistols in nearby Glenwood Springs and were happily taking pot shots at wild game along the Colorado River until a state trooper gave them a polite lesson in U.S. game and gun laws.
The French and Italian girls created new ski styles by purchasing golf and ski caps at local stores and racing with them, bills turned backward, in the mode that was still in fashion 30 years later at the Vail World Alpine Ski Championships in 1999.
Austria’s pampered ski star Karl Schranz tried to take a forbidden shortcut on Vail Mountain. “Arrested” by the Vail Ski Patrol, Schranz was “grounded” for a day of training, something that had never happened to this European celebrity. Properly chastened, Schranz took his medicine, then managed to win the downhill by an impressive margin, despite missing a day’s practice.
Hugely important in the success of the team races was World War II and Korean War hero Bill “Sarge” Brown. A 10th Mountain Division veteran, Brown started as a Vail trail-crew member in 1965 after retiring from managing the award-winning Dartmouth College ROTC unit. In a few weeks, he was running much of the mountain operations, including ski racing. Working with Paul Bacon’s manual and his own Olympic-level racing experience, Brown directed the 1965 team races so efficiently European ski officials began praising the “Vail way” of managing ski races.
Vail’s third year of the team-race cycle coincided with the inauguration of the International Ski Federation Alpine World Cup. Encouraged by the success of the 1965 team races, Serge Lange, Ski Magazine editor John Fry, and others initiated the World Cup, skiing’s first international racing circuit, which after 1969 preempted the team-race concept. Nevertheless, Vail, Brown and Lange had demonstrated brilliantly with the team races that international ski racing should include major races in the United States and Canada.
After 1969, Vail continued to stage successful national and World Cup race events. In the early 1970s, when Denver bid for the 1976 Olympic Winter Games, Vail and Beaver Creek were chosen as venues for the alpine events. An anti-growth political movement defeated Denver’s Olympic hopes, but in 1989 and again in 1999, Vail and Beaver Creek were the highly successful sites for the FIS World Alpine Ski Championships – more prestigious among today’s ski racers than even those of the Olympics.
Since its shaky start, Vail’s ski-racing expertise has been demonstrated time and again. The legacies of Paul Bacon, Pete Seibert, and Bill Brown have been honed and perfected by Vail Resorts, the Vail community and the Vail Valley Foundation, sponsors of two world championships. Along the way, hours of international television and radio, and reams of magazines and newspaper copy and photos, have spread the word about Vail to the skiers around the world – which, after all, was the original purpose of Vail’s shoestring efforts in 1962 to build what is today one of the world’s outstanding sports organizations.
Editor’s Note: In a continued effort to help the community understand its roots, the Vail Daily for a second time is serializing Dick Hauserman’s “The Inventors of Vail.” This is the 55th installment, an excerpt from chapter 7, “The History of Ski Racing in Vail.” The book is available at Verbatim Booksellers, The Bookworm of Edwards, Pepi’s Sports, Gorsuch Ltd. and The Rucksack, as well as other retailers throughout the valley. Hauserman can be contacted by phone at 926-2895 or by mail at P.O. Box 1410, Edwards CO, 81632.
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