Vail legend John Dakin passes the torch, and his microphone, after 40 years
The icon calls it a career after four decades with the Vail Valley Foundation, Colorado Snowsports Museum
VAIL — John Dakin is so good with a microphone in his hand that he can weave such words as “plastic pants” into his World Cup ski racing call and make it sound seamless.
Dakin’s rich baritone voice has been part of Vail and of U.S. ski racing for four decades. After more than 30 years with the Vail Valley Foundation and around 10 more with the Colorado Snowsports Museum, Dakin has called it a career.
“It’s overwhelming to be part of it. It’s been a great ride,” Dakin said.
He joked that his epiphany had nothing to do with filing for Medicare, deciding to take Social Security or noticing that three-quarters of the mail in his mailbox was from AARP. It was really the day he decided to pull out one of his old U.S. Ski Team uniform tops and wear it to work at the Snowsports Museum.
“I realized that what I was wearing was older than some of the artifacts I was looking at. I didn’t want to scare anyone into thinking I had escaped from an exhibit,” Dakin said.
Always winning the word game
During Dakin’s retirement reception at the Snowsports Museum, Jen Mason decided that in addition to having a speech prepared, they would revisit an old Vail Valley Foundation tradition. When Dakin announced the World Cup ski races, his colleagues would come up with some oddball words like “arugula” or “plastic pants” — nothing to do with ski racing — and challenge him to weave it into that day’s race call.
During Dakin’s retirement soiree, he was charged with incorporating the word “aardvark” into his speech. If you know Dakin, you know that “aardvark” rolled through his narrative seamlessly.
Do not envision him in retirement on his couch in his bathrobe, “curled up like an aardvark,” Dakin said as the crowd laughed with him.
Dakin is an amazing photographer. He’s headed to Yellowstone with the World Wildlife Foundation to follow wolves around and take some pictures. In May he’ll head to Botswana for a photo safari. And maybe he’ll get another dog.
“I feel that I have been truly blessed in my professional life to find something I was passionate about, ski racing, and to be in the right place at the right time to start and expand my career, it’s been head and shoulders above anything that any kid coming out of Grand Junction, Colorado, could have ever thought possible,” Dakin said.
Taking a look back over his long career, he thanked the board and staff of the Colorado Snowsports Museum, the members of the University of Colorado ski team, U.S. Ski Team members, World Cup racers, Hall of Fame members. … The list is long, as it should be for someone who has enjoyed such a long career.
“You are all truly special to me. Without you, I would not be here. Thank you so much for giving me so much,” Dakin said.
Dakin credits Bill Marolt from the University of Colorado and the U.S. Ski Team for his start in the industry, first with the CU ski team, then a call from Marolt in 1981 to recruit Dakin to the U.S. Ski Team in Park City, Utah.
“Marolt’s involvement with the U.S. Ski Team, the FIS, the World Cup and World Championships enabled me to continue that friendship. It’s not a stretch to say that without Bill, I would not be here,” Dakin said.
About those 1989s
Dakin was part of the team that successfully lobbied the International Ski Federation to bring the 1989 World Alpine Ski Championships to Vail, the event’s first trip to the U.S. since Aspen in 1950 when Europe was still too bombed out from World War II to host it. It kicked Vail’s international marketing into hyperdrive.
After those 1989 World Championships, Dakin’s role and most of the Vail Valley Foundation’s role in events like that was supposed to disappear, in a return to what was then the status quo. It didn’t.
“Vail and the valley would never be the same after the 1989 World Championships. I’ve been blessed to be part of all three World Championships. That has to be some kind of record,” Dakin said.
It was Dakin’s baritone voice that called U.S. Ski Team great Tamara McKinney’s gold and bronze medals in 1989, and Vail native and U.S. Ski Team member Mike Brown’s last run.
Dakin also smilingly explained to a 1989 worldwide television audience that, while Europe was contending with a multi-year snow drought, the night before Vail had been pounded with so much snow that the downhill had to be postponed.
At the other end of that spectrum, Dakin and others told the world about the bizarre and untimely death of FIS board member Archduke Alfonso de Borbon of Spain before the 1989s even started.
“It was a terrible accident. It was one of the toughest things any of us have ever encountered,” Dakin said.
During all those events over all those years, with the world demanding his attention, Dakin walked through countless media centers, greeting old friends and new acquaintances, shaking hands while his eyes smiled at you, remembering names. No matter the clamor around him, you could ask him for one moment and he would happily give one, and one was enough.
At the end of those 1989 Worlds on closing day, a glorious bluebird Sunday afternoon, Dakin was resplendent in his Descente parka and boots. He paced back and forth across the finish corral carrying what was then a new-fangled wireless microphone … talking to the world.
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