Western skiers, led by boy wonders like Jimmy Heuga who won the Mammoth Mountain junior slalom against 17-year-old rivals last season, are threatening, once again, to dominate the nation's important ski meets. During the last 20 years, the top places in American downhill and slalom racing have alternated between East and West. In the early '30s—the age of the great Dartmouth teams—the East was leader and instructor. Then the West caught up and finally forged ahead on the victories of a group of racers centered around the Salt Lake area. During the past few years the Easterners moved back into the lead, winning most of the big races and most of the places on our national teams. But while the Easterners dominated the big-time race circuit, the Westerners were concentrating on the Junior competitions. Now, with the Juniors growing up, the West is again ready to challenge for highest honors.
Behind this resurgence of Western competitive skiing lies a strenuous effort to improve all phases of Junior skiing. The job is being handled by many different groups working at many different levels. In the bigger cities, from Vancouver, B.C. in the north to Los Angeles in the south, these efforts have taken the form of free ski schools. Some of the oldest and best-established of these, such as those of the Deseret News in Salt Lake City or of the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, turn out thousands of young skiers a year. These mass instruction programs in the bigger cities perform a valuable function by broadening the base of skiing, but they can rarely be expected to turn out hot new racers. The real breeding place for future Kanonen is the small town—the small town in the mountains where skiing is a part of everyday life, where the local ski team can provide a logical outlet for community enterprise and community pride.
Several such small towns in the West have done a great deal to start the pendulum of national skiing supremacy swinging westward again. Foremost among them is Steamboat Springs, Col. Though Steamboat has its share of Colorado's fluffy powder snow, plus a community-owned chair lift, a big jumping hill, and one of the rootingesttootingest ski carnivals held anywhere, few ski vacationers will travel far to get there. Tourists prefer the longer runs and brighter lights of the big resorts. On the other hand, the products of Steamboat's Junior ski program travel far and wide, returning with a profusion of ski-racing silverware all out of proportion to their numbers.
A STAGGERING CONTRIBUTION
January 24, 1955
Skipping over the old-timers and concentrating solely on young skiers now in competition, Steamboat's contribution to America's corps of top racers is quite staggering. Better than 20% of last year's FIS World Championship squad got its start in this little town of 1,700 people. Katy Rodolph, 24, has ranked as one of our leading woman skiers for the past four years. Marvin Crawford, considered the outstanding four-way man in intercollegiate skiing last year, was the highest-ranking American in the Nordic Combined at the world championships in Sweden. The Wegeman brothers, Paul and Keith, have represented the U.S. in Olympic and FIS competitions, with Keith consistently making the best showing of any American jumper during the last two world meets. Gladys (Skeeter) Werner and her 18-year-old brother Bud joined our FIS squad last year. Both of them had won our Junior National Combined titles, both gave good accounts of themselves in tough European races last winter, and both bear careful watching among the aspirants for the U.S. Winter Olympics team.
A great deal of credit for the achievements of Steamboat's young skiers must go to the town's sensible ski program, and to the outstanding coaches who have administered it. Skiing is part of the Steamboat Springs school curriculum. Every child may take part in the afternoon ski lessons, but they are not compulsory. Nor is the program oriented purely toward the creation of competitive skiers. On the contrary, the instructors realize that only a minority of youngsters have the ability and emotional make-up to become racers.
The program therefore is designed to give fun and exercise, and a well-rounded skiing background to the greatest possible number of children. But Steamboat has been singularly fortunate in attracting the kind of ski coach who can inspire the talented junior to real achievement. The present coach is the widely respected Gordy Wren—not only one of our greatest ski jumpers and racers but, like his predecessor, the late Al Wegeman, a true teacher who molds his charges not only into good skiers but also into good sportsmen and women.
Steamboat Springs' advantages, however, are not unique. McCall, Idaho is another example of a ski-minded small town with a Junior-minded ski coach. The coach is Corey Engen, a four-event ace in his competitive days. His material includes almost every McCall kid, from toddlers on up to highflying Juniors. The results: a rash of McCall successes in Junior competition, highlighted by Frank Brown's victory in the National Junior Downhill Championships and his subsequent invitation to the recent Olympic training camp at Sun Valley.
In California, Mammoth Mountain in the High Sierra has become the Junior hot spot, with the Lake Tahoe area running a good second. The man who builds the bumps at Mammoth and chases his Juniors over them is Dave McCoy. The record speaks well for the value of his coaching methods. Charlotte Zumstein Rogers, Dennis Osborn, and Kenny Lloyd are all Mammoth kids who have made a name in the big races. And last year Mammoth came up with Bob and Jill Kinmont, the brother-sister team that stepped right in and filled the gap left by Bud and Skeeter Werner. Bob Kinmont won the boys' National Junior Slalom Championships while sister Jill Kinmont went him one better, taking both the Junior and Senior women's slalom titles and winding up a season rich in prizes by gaining the Andrea Mead Lawrence award as the outstanding girl skier in the country.
Most of these young skiers have now left the Junior ranks and joined the big leagues of ski racing. But their successors, the kids with whom they used to play, already are carving tracks on the very same hills. As the Junior season advances to its climax—the Nationals at Whitefish, Mont., March 4-6, and the American Legion Western States at Sun Valley, April 2-3—keep your eyes open for these kids from the small towns. They will be the big names of skiing tomorrow.