Pepi volunteered to coach me
In early February 1963 pro ski racers descended on Pine Knob, a newly opened ski resort in suburban Detroit. Boasting all of 300 vertical feet (perhaps), its main attraction was ski school director Stein Erickson. Somehow Pine Knob induced the world’s most famous pro skiers to come for night racing, including Pepi, Adrien Duvillard, Anderl Molterer (the Blitz from Kitz) and Christian Pravda.
At the time my dad, Doc Smith, was a National Ski Patrolman attached to Pine Knob’s ski patrol. I was a 16-year-old sophomore totally committed to ski racing. These racers were known to me through magazines and their talents were the stuff of legends. My dad took the opportunity to see if the pros would let me train with them the day before the race.
Pepi volunteered to coach me, and I spent an incredible few hours on the hill with him and the world’s best. Pepi was not only gracious but, amazingly, he continued to remember me as I showed up in Vail over the years. He loved to tell Anderl Molterer’s joke about racing at night at Pine Knob: “You know why Pine Knob has us racing at night? Because they are too embarrassed to let us see it in the daytime.”
On February 6, 1963, in front of 4,000 fans, Pepi finished fifth, and I had a story to tell that would last a lifetime.