Vail International Team Race in 1965 helped expand the horizon of ski racing
Special to the Daily
VAIL — Vail and Beaver Creek are both relatively “young” ski resorts compared to most European ski areas — Vail being founded by Peter Seibert and Earl Eaton back in 1962 and Beaver Creek in the early 1980s — yet the Vail Valley is strongly tied with ski racing’s international history since the famous U.S. International Team event from March 1965, which is already 50 years ago. In the meantime, the Vail Valley also became one of the most successful ski destinations in the world.
A year earlier, the U.S. Ski Team had celebrated a major success at the 1964 Innsbruck Olympics when Jean Saubert, Billy Kidd and Jimmie Heuga captured a total of four medals — to be ranked as the third best alpine team at those memorable Winter Games dominated by Austria and France.
The Olympic races where superbly broadcast in the U.S. by ABC Sports under the guidance of legendary Roone Arledge, a great friend of ski racing, and foremost U.S. alpine director Bob Beattie, at the helm of the U.S. Ski Team since 1961.
After those great moments of Innsbruck, Arledge asked Beattie how he could help both him and the team gaining more attention in the U.S. “Beats” didn’t need much time to suggest to him a great idea that would become a turning point in the world of modern ski racing.
Even though two recognized U.S. ski events were already organized for a long time in the Rockies — the Roch Cup at Aspen and the Harriman Cup at Sun Valley — Beattie was keen to strongly boost the position of the U.S. on the international scene dominated in those days by major classic events held in Austria, France and Switzerland.
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With the generous support of ABC Sports and the Vail Valley, Beattie managed to instigate the attractive idea of an American International Team Event that he soon presented to his colleagues and friends from France — Honore Bonnet — and Austria — Sepp Sulzberger. He didn’t need too much time afterward to convince them to send some of their top champions to Colorado, among them future skiing legends such as Jean-Claude Killy, Guy Perillat, Marielle Goitschel from France and Karl Schranz and Heini Messner from Austria. A dozen of members of each team was battling for points given to the best classified racers in downhill, giant slalom and slalom.
Famous U.S. racers such as Billy Kidd, Bill Marolt, Jimmie Heuga and Jean Saubert were also involved — all of them fought very hard to excel in front of their fans, but the U.S. Team could not do better than third.
Yet the final issue of the event dominated by the Austrians on the men’s side and the French on the women’s part, was, in the end, not as significant as the excitement and the interest that this innovative ski meeting aroused for local spectators and TV viewers — and particularly for all the racers, who greatly enjoyed it.
They all wanted to come back the next year, attracting with them the teams from Switzerland and Canada, which were not invited at first in 1965.
A group of European reporters also traveled to Vail to attend the new event. They enjoyed its format and the momentum it had created in the young ski country. Among them was a close friend of Beattie’s, French journalist Serge Lang, who was filing for many important publications in France, Switzerland or Italy, such as the renowned sports newspaper L’Equipe in Paris.
Lang, who has been covering ski racing since the 1948 Olympics at St. Moritz, Switzerland, was soon fascinated by its potential in the U.S. under the guidance of Bob Beattie, who turned out to be an excellent organizer and entrepreneur besides being a successful alpine head coach.
After launching a solely European version of the future World Cup the following season with the support of L’Equipe — simply called Challenge de l’Equipe, it was clinched by Karl Schranz and Marielle Goitschel — Lang received the support of Beattie, Bonnet and Sulzberger to introduce in August 1966 the winning format of a truly worldwide circuit that also included several stops in the U.S., including Vail in March 1967.
“Without Beattie’s and Vail’s American International Team competition, it’s quite possible that we would have missed the opportunity to discuss and successfully promote the concept of the World Cup tour with a group of top champions. The timing was just perfect,” Lang wrote. “Those competitions perfectly organized by the people at Vail, and Beattie’s modern vision of the sport greatly enlarged the horizon of ski racing. They made it possible for us to move on much, much faster and much stronger, too,” added Lang.
Interestingly enough, Lang suddenly died in France in November 1999 — a few days before the Beaver Creek World Cup stage marked by Hermann Maier’s remarkable hat-trick. A few months earlier, Serge had attended the last of his numerous FIS World Championships in the Vail Valley, where he always came back to with great joy.
Patrick Lang is a veteran journalist on the alpine ski racing circuit and the son of Serge Lang.