Buddy Werner League ski program has deep roots in the Vail Valley
Program is one of three remaining in Colorado
Buddy Werner League got its initial start in Steamboat Springs, thanks to three-time Olympic skier Buddy Werner. In the late 1960s, the program kicked off in Vail with a group of volunteer parents at the helm, coaching a league of about 50 local kids at Meadow Mountain when it functioned as a ski mountain.
With one lift, one poma, just seven runs and 571 vertical feet, this was many local kids’ introduction to skiing — including Mike Brown. And, Brown’s parents, Byron and Vi, spearheaded the organization in these early days.
Brown recalls his parents and other volunteers with flags and stopwatches on the race course timing skiers as they started and crossed the finish line, long before electronic timing systems were available. From the beginning, volunteers were an integral part of Buddy Werner League, doing whatever it took to make the program work.
When Meadow Mountain closed to skiing in 1969, the Buddy Werner League program moved to Vail Mountain and grew exponentially thanks to committed and familiar local legends including Pete Siebert and the Gorsuch family.
With Vail Mountain’s children’s ski school not yet able to serve a large number of kids, Buddy Werner League filled that need — teaching children how to ski through consistent days on the hill.
The Gorsuch family was instrumental in providing kids participating in Buddy Werner League with ski equipment, which was not easy to come by in those early years. Volunteer coaches included pioneering ski patrollers Chupa Nelson and Chuck Malloy. Many other early residents of Vail families were very involved in the program including the following family names: Rowe, Boyd, Bernstein, Krueger, Rogers, Kemp, Martin, Moser, Benway, Nottingham, Dahl, Olsen, Beck, Haselhorse, Roach and Adkins, to name a few.
In the mid-80s, Buddy Werner League moved to Beaver Creek Resort with the support of Jim Roberts and John Garnsey. With Ski Club Vail becoming a larger priority for Vail and the Golden Peak racing area, Beaver Creek became a better option for Buddy Werner League. And, to this day, the location has been an ideal home for the league and one that organizers look forward to continuing long into the future.
As Buddy Werner League has grown to serve 250-300 kids each season, now with a paid administrator and board of directors, the original goal of improving kids’ skiing through racing remains at the core. Organizers also work hard to keep participation costs low, and this is accomplished through the incredible group of volunteers.
Families participating in Buddy Werner League are required to volunteer six hours per skier in the program. This can include a day on the race hill, helping with lunch, handing out sweatshirts and coaching a team for the season. Volunteer coaches are essential to the program, and while many parents volunteer to coach, many non-parents find this opportunity rewarding and fun as well.
Coaches receive on and off-snow training and discounted registration for children in the program and a ski jacket from Karbon. Lift tickets are also provided if needed.
The Junior Coach program is another important element of Buddy Werner League. Graduating eighth graders of the program are invited to return as junior coaches. This is a great opportunity to give back to the program, stay connected with the league family and receive community service credit. Junior coaches are paired with the younger teams to support coaches with whatever is needed. Graduating Junior Coaches are also eligible to apply for a Byron Brown Scholarship.
Buddy Werner League grew throughout the state of Colorado in the ’70s and ’80s with programs at Steamboat Springs, Crested Butte, Powderhorn and Sunlight resorts. Unfortunately, over the years, most of the leagues were swallowed up by large ski clubs and ski schools.
Today, Buddy Werner League thrives at just three Colorado resorts: Beaver Creek, Sunlight and Powderhorn. And, we are proud to say that Beaver Creek’s program is the largest and most competitive.
Buddy Werner League in Eagle County truly fills a gap in kids ski programs. With Ski & Snowboard Club of Vail’s price tag tough for many local families, and Devo & Beavo programs becoming increasingly expensive and often full, Buddy Werner League offers a recreational ski and racing program that is affordable, available and instructional for local skiers.
The grassroots philosophy of the early years, along with the volunteer-based program is a formula that worked in the ’70s and continues to thrive today.
Brown carries the torch of early days
Brown, a local ski racing legend, has been a part of Buddy Werner League as a youth and since the beginning of the program. His parents, Vi and Byron Brown, started Buddy Werner League back in 1968 at Meadow Mountain and this is where Brown started his skiing career. Brown skied with Buddy Werner League in the ’70s and at age 13, started migrating to races held by Ski Club Vail.
At the time, the fastest racers of Buddy Werner League were invited to race in Ski Club Vail races. By 1976, Brown was excelling as a racer, quickly moving from a C classification to a level A classification racer.
This led to racing in the Albert Series and the U.S. Nationals at Squaw Valley, California, where his race times landed him a top-10 ranking in downhill. Just after the Lake Placid Olympics, Brown trained in Europe as a member of the U.S. Ski Team, the first Vail local named to the team, and found himself racing in Canada and the Rhodes Cup Circuit (now known as the World Cup) in Aspen, with giant slalom being “his event.”
A highlight was racing the World Cup downhill in Garmisch, as luck would have it, because his teammate missed his flight. With a 96 start, he landed somewhere in the top 30 skiers of the day.
Brown never set out to become a ski racer, but through his training and skiing experience with Buddy Werner League, his top race results led him down this path. He recalls that on Buddy Werner League ski days, “all we did all day was ski, ski, ski anything and everything on the mountain, we just skied. Then, we’d pack out the hills of West Vail and ski some more.”
All those miles skiing with Buddy Werner League taught and reinforced the skills to become a successful racer. Brown was inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 2014.
Unfortunately, Brown sustained a serious injury while racing that took him away from the sport from 2002-11. After years of recovery and physical therapy, Brown returned to skiing during the 2011-12 season. It was at this point that he also reconnected with Buddy Werner League; this time as a coach of his daughter, Maddy’s, team. Brown coached Maddy from ages 6-14 years and brought his love of skiing and racing to her team and the organization.
As a Buddy Werner League coach, Brown loved seeing kids accomplish their skiing goals and improving, starting out at one level and ending at a higher level by challenging themselves. “It’s all about the kids. The gratification of watching their growth in a season is what it’s all about,” Brown explains of his experience coaching.
In 2015, Brown became a Buddy Werner League board member, and to this day brings his knowledge, historic perspective and love of skiing and racing to the board and overall program.
Season program and registration details
Registration for the 2021-22 season can be done by visiting VailBeaverCreekBWL.org. Registration will be open through Dec. 1. The programs’ season includes 10 ski days composed of seven free ski/training days and three race days from January through March, plus new skier testing Dec. 5. Also, the top 50 skiers will race in the Buddy Werner League State Race in March with skiers from the programs at Powderhorn and Sunlight. The league accepts skiers in second through eighth grade (minimum age 7 years) who can ski at a level 5 or higher.
Participation fees are as follows:
- $350/child with a 6-hour volunteer commitment
- $650/child without the volunteer commitment
- $250 for the first child; $150 for the second child with parents coaching a team
For more information, visit VailBeaverCreekBWL.org.