Vail’s American Ski Classic: Big names and fast races |

Vail’s American Ski Classic: Big names and fast races

Special to the DailyThe American Ski Classic began in 1981 in Beaver Creek as the Jerry Ford Celebrity Cup, a winter counterpart to Ford's summer golf tournament.

VAIL, Colorado – Celebrating anniversaries has a tendency to turn us into helpless romantics. Celebrating significant anniversaries has a tendency to turn us into historians.

So, as the Korbel American Ski Classic prepares to celebrate its 30th birthday this week at Vail Mountain’s Golden Peak, it is indeed fitting to turn a backwards glance to 1981 and the inaugural Jerry Ford Celebrity Cup in Beaver Creek … the place where it all began.

What started out as a winter counterpart to former President Gerald R. Ford’s successful Jerry Ford Invitational Golf Tournament has evolved into the nation’s longest-running annual pro/am celebrity ski event.

“This will be a reunion of the Olympic stars of the past, but it will be more than that,” Ford said. “Like our golf tournament in the summer, this will be a gathering of friends. I’m looking forward to having some of our national political leadership participating and good friends from many other professions.”

During the inaugural three-day event, the first ski event ever hosted at the newly opened Beaver Creek Resort, former Olympic skiers captained five-member teams of amateur racers while also competing for a prize purse of $15,000 in the Legends of Skiing. The event, contested on Haymeadow, raised $115,000 for the Vail Valley Medical Center.

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The inaugural pro-am title went to the team captained by former U.S. Ski Team star Kiki Cutter, the first American to ever win a World Cup race, and Dick Durrance, a member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic Team. The members also included Mike Faessler, whose father owned the Sonnenalp Lodge in Vail; Bob Dorf, then-ski school director at Beaver Creek; Henrik Bull, the San Francisco-based architect whose firm designed Beaver Creek’s Spruce Saddle Restaurant; and Hal Bruno, political director for ABC News. Former U.S. Ski Team standout Susie Corrock took home top honors … and the cash … in the Legends event.

“It’s a great race to watch,because there is a lot of good spirit,” Corrock said. “You can see plenty of superb skiing, but it’s also fun to watch how the amateurs react in the starting gate. Some of them are racing for the first time and they get so serious.”

Beaver Creek in 1981 was obviously a much different time and place as well, featuring high hopes and the infamous inflatable tennis bubble for a base lodge. Sports Illustrated offered that the resort would be the last new ski area ever built in the U.S. The ski area offered 560 acres of skiing and 3,300 vertical feet, serviced by seven chairlifts. Beaver Creek Village was beginning to take shape, while several private residences and duplexes were also starting to emerge, including Ford’s new home on Elk Track.

The years have come and gone, but the Korbel American Ski Classic remains unchanged. This “gathering of good friends” that President Ford envisioned with the Jerry Ford Celebrity Cup in 1981 is still the same 30 years later and fun is still the main ingredient.

No doubt President Ford’s trademark grin is a little broader this week. Happy birthday American Ski Classic … long may you run.

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