Alpine ski racingis the sport in which an athlete hopes to streak down from the top of amountain to the bottom of a cup of hot chocolate faster than a speedingbullet—and never mind if he risks cracking his skull against a tree trunk onthe way. It has nothing to do with pleasure skiing. There are no pauses foryodeling, lighting up a filter tip or conning the best dished-up bunny on thesnow into thinking the old leg won't take it today. Ski racing is a dangerous,instinctive plunge, requiring nerve, concentration and stamina. It is also asport in which the U.S., despite a fierce dedication to the goal, has yet tooutbrave or out-streak the powerful Austrians and French. Those Europeans,seemingly, soon after birth develop legs with seven-foot-long slats attached inplace of feet. The U.S. trailed them in third place at the 1962 WorldChampionships in Chamonix and last year in the Innsbruck Olympics.
Next week, in thehigh Rockies at Vail, Colo., the U.S. confronts the Austrians and French onhome snow, and this time the carving skis of Billy Kidd (see cover), possiblyour finest racer ever, might—just might—put America over the top. The Vailevents begin the biggest and most exciting invasion of American slopes byAlpine experts since handsome Austrian instructors discovered that well-heeledAmerican bunnies were in need of handsome Austrian instruction. This happens tobe an off year in international ski racing, with the next world championshipsnot scheduled until the summer of 1966 at Portillo, Chile and the WinterOlympics in Grenoble three long winters away. Even so, the Swiss and Canadiansare so provoked at not being asked to Vail that they are invading a few dayslater for the best of the remaining U.S. meets, including the Harriman Cup atSun Valley and the National Championships at Crystal Mountain, Wash. Besidesthe Americans, they will find the French and Austrians at Sun Valley and theAustrians staying on for the Nationals.
The manresponsible for the invasion is the coach of the U.S. national team, blustery,fast-moving, scheming, dedicated Bob Beattie (rhymes with ski-batty), theself-appointed savior of U.S. Alpine hopes and dreams.
For years Americalived in the apr√®s-ski world of cocktail parties and individual training, andhad trouble understanding why the Europeans raced better. Then along cameBeattie, who is the University of Colorado ski coach in his spare time, with asimple and unsettling message. "We got to get off our butts and skifaster," growled Beattie. Since 1961 his training methods, which havecalled for unprecedented physical and mental exertion on the part of hisracers, have drawn criticism from such skiing personalities as DenverUniversity Coach Willy Schaeffler, Beattie's main collegiate rival; Olympicgold medalist Andrea Mead Lawrence; and friends of Mammoth Mountain's CoachDave McCoy, whose easygoing nature is preferred by the girl racers. But whilehis critics have nattered, Beattie has worked. "You can't take college kidsfrom the framework of our society and beat the Europeans, who've done nothingbut ski all their lives, unless you work and get tough," he says. "Youcan't go from a cocktail party to a slalom and beat Karl Schranz."
Last yearBeattie, despite his promises of a breakthrough, almost snow-plowed intoobscurity before the last men's race of the Olympics. But on that cold dayoutside Innsbruck, with thousands lining the slalom course, Billy Kidd andJimmy Heuga, two quiet, determined, 20-year-old Beattie loyalists, won silverand bronze medals. These, as followers of skiing will recall, were the firstmen's Olympic medals ever taken by Americans. Then one week later in Garmischat the Arlberg Kandahar, the Masters Tournament of skiing, Jimmy Heuga won theslalom and, another first for the U.S., the combined.
Bob Beattie'sreaction to this last-hour success was predictable. He did not feel rescued orpardoned from the wrath of his critics. He simply released a little moreenergy. "We finally lit the fires," he said, sounding a bit likeFootball Coach Bear Bryant and relishing it.
Bob Beattie'scritics did him no real harm, for he was reappointed as national coach lastJune. The only point on which they were close to the target was that he showedharshness and impatience in handling the girl racers. Even so, Jean Saubertcame very close to getting two golds at Innsbruck, and lost out only becausethose rowdy French girls, Marielle and Christine Goitschel, came up withsuperperformances. Indeed, the thing the ruling powers of the U.S. SkiAssociation realized, even if some of the critics did not, was that Beattie hadgiven American racers a spirit and program they had never had. He still works24 hours a day, arranging, persuading, cajoling, coaching, phoning, figuring,worrying, to sustain it.
What Beattie hasgiven to U.S. ski racing was expressed recently by Jean-Claude Killy, France'snewest star and the best skier in Europe today. Killy, a soulful, lean,blue-eyed citizen of Vald'Is√®re (his father's hotel and sports shop is a quickschuss from the Goitschel pension), is a close friend of Jimmy Heuga whoattended Beattie's early training camp at Bend, Ore. in August. "TheAmericans have a spirit that has made me better understand the sport,"Killy says. "They are passionate, and they have fun. Their way representsthe ideal to me. And they are now formidable racers."
Beattie is a manof formidable impulses, a doer. He no sooner envisioned the three-way AmericanInternational meet, as the Vail races are called, than he went straight toABC-TV and sold it for the network's Wide World of Sports. Television moneywill pay for bringing the Austrians and French to the U.S. Before this "offyear" is over, six American races will have been televised, thanks toBeattie's hard sell.
Beattie'scoaching and private lives have long since fused into one—one big blur ofmotion, unrest, gruffness, extreme pleasure and perpetual crisis. Beattie seemsto believe that whatever he does is a mere step toward a loftier goal that willsomehow define itself before he arrives. For example, he was walking one dayalong Broadway, the campus drag in Boulder, when he saw a vacant building. Heleased it with no money, called his brother Jack in Laconia, N.H. and said,"We're partners in a ski shop, come on out." Jack came, and the AlpineHaus is now a successful business. Bob Beattie rarely sees it.
On a similarimpulse he bought four lots after a Sunday drive through Pine Brook Hills, alovely ridge on a front range of the Rockies overlooking Boulder. He still hasthree, and on one he has built a $27,000 home for himself, his wife Ann and hischildren, Suzy, 7, and Bobby, 5. It is a handsome design of glass, beams, rock,raw lumber and mortgages. Not long ago a man told Beattie he could have his ownpersonal label on a wine bottle. Beattie bought 24 cases. All of these acts,and numerous lesser ones, prompted Ann to write him a wistful note: "DearQuantity Buyer, Our cup runneth over."
Since Beattie'slife is dominated by his intense desire to beat the Europeans, by hispreoccupation with ski racing—worldwide, nationwide and Boulderwide—everythingelse suffers. It is nothing for Beattie's skiers, friends or family to beswooped up and driven at Grand Prix speeds to a mountain and then be totallyignored for hours or even days. He has moved from one place to another soquickly that after a furious two weeks his boots have been returned to him fromAspen, his parka from Vail, his skis from Eldora, his Suzy from Crested Butteand his Bobby from Steamboat Springs. Chief retriever, keeper, understander,consoler, ego builder, chef, wine steward, cleaning lady, psychiatrist andbookkeeper is, of course, Ann ("one of the great women of our time,"says Beattie).
It was Beattiewho taught Ann to ski. He commenced by taking her to the top of a steep trailand saying, "Go straight down." Beattie left. Ann went straightdown—and broke her leg. Nowadays she skis more cautiously but goes flat-out ineverything else. She teaches a full load of Spanish at Boulder's DouglassJunior High School, shovels snow, fixes flats, repairs electrical and plumbingfixtures and laughs a lot. She is den mother to America's best skiers as well.She cannot remember a time when only Beatties lived in the house. Currently,Jimmy Heuga and Spider Sabich are sleeping on rollaways in the den, withHeuga's Irish setter, Shamus, lavishing affection on both. Last spring Ni Orsiwas the guest. This spring Billy Kidd will probably move in, and maybe BillyMarolt. With the exceptions of Middlebury Downhiller Gordy Eaton and Denver'sslalom specialist Rick Chaffee, all of the top U.S. racers are students at theUniversity of Colorado. Well, Orsi was. A flashy but likableCalifornian—"the Joe Don Looney of skiing," jokes a friend—Orsi haswithdrawn for a semester to pursue the rewards, Beattie assumes, of acting,surfing, golf, flying, sports car racing, art, cooking or water skiing, at allof which he seems to be adept. Still on the national team, Orsi plans to returnto Colorado one day. He happens to be America's best downhill racer. Kidd andHeuga are the slalom and giant-slalom aces. Marolt and Sabich are fastimproving in all three events.
Spending anevening in the Beattie household, or dormitory, is like being trapped on afrantic movie set. The scene is something like this: Ann Beattie is watching 10pounds of steak with one eye, preparing a dinner for 13, and translating theski news from the French sports daily L'Equipe with the other. Heuga iswrestling with Shamus. Marolt is wrestling with the children. Kidd is readingon the divan. Heuga's girl friend, a cute blonde named Bonnie Ogilvie, ismixing the salad. Beattie, through a spray of cigar smoke, is bellowing intothe telephone to someone in New York, Paris, Kitzb√ºhel or Vail. If Orsi werearound, he most likely would be practicing his fast-draw technique, which hehopes will land him a part in a western movie. No one present will soon forgetthe spectacle of Orsi arriving at Beattie's for a date with one of theovernight boarders. He wore a white lapelless jacket, cowboy boots, sideburns,Beatle trousers and a six-shooter laced to his gun leg.
Not all ofBeattie's racers are as far out as Orsi, but they are all individualists. Heugais the coolest dancer west of Trude Heller's in Greenwich Village, havinginvented the frug before anyone knew how to pronounce discoth√®que. Billy Kiddis an accomplished amateur photographer and an unusually conscientious student.Spider Sabich, whose name is a vivid reminder of the fact that American racershave names like movie stars—Spider, Rip, Rebel, Rick, Rex, Starr, Margo, Tammy,Wendy, Sandy ("Need anyone wonder why Bob has to be firm?" asksAnn)—holds the individual record for fractures. He has broken his leg fivetimes and his arm once. Marolt is the nearest thing to an average Americanyouth—and he is the lad who borrowed a bus in Innsbruck, creating aninternational incident.
They are adevoted group, devoted not only to Beattie but to each other and the goal ofoutskiing the Europeans by 1966, 1968 or, when they dream a little, next week.Always close, Beattie and the boys were brought even closer together last Aprilwhen Buddy Werner, their pioneering leader, perished in an avalanche at St.Moritz. Beattie went to Switzerland to bring home the body. When the planefinally arrived at Denver at 9 p.m. the whole Olympic team was there, waitingfor Bob to tell them it wasn't so. Beattie's skiers are racing this season inblack armbands; the Vail races have been dedicated to Werner's memory.
When Buddy diedand the only other U.S. veteran, Chuck Ferries, retired from racing to sellskis and coach the girls—a job Beattie enjoys describing as "a realadventure"—there was not at first a team leader. There is now. In his owncurious way it is Billy Kidd. Kidd is a polite, rather wide-eyed young man fromStowe, Vt. He leads by example—the example of being a prideful, resolutecompetitor and, if this season is proof enough, a racer of truly immensetalent.
A year ago Kiddgave an indication that he might be exactly that. A tireless worker who has astrange ability to practice slowly under total control—most racers practice attop speed—he not only finished second in the Olympic slalom, he was, inunofficial calculations, the third-best combined racer at Innsbruck or, if youprefer, in the world. He has done nothing but improve. In January, he swept theRoch Cup events at Aspen, something no one except Buddy Werner had done before.He became the first to win the Roch two consecutive years. In one spurt Kiddwon eight straight races, which no one had ever done in major competitions inthe U.S. He has actually lost only four races all season out of 13.
"He's reallysomething," says the soft-voiced Heuga. "He's got great confidence.He's so controlled. Gee, you just can't see a mistake anywhere."
Says Marolt,"I'm racing better than I've ever raced in my life, but Billy—man, he'sincredible."
Kidd himself isnot that impressed. "I'm skiing well," he admits, "but it's justmaturity, experience and Bob's program paying off. We're all a little better.Marolt is this close to beating me right now. Jimmy's starting to cutloose."
"Kidd wantsour other guys to beat him if they ski fantastic," says Beattie. "Buthe doesn't want anyone else to beat him. Naw, that's not right. Kidd doesn'twant anyone to beat him—ever."
The mostfascinating question posed by the Vail meet is: Just how good is Kidd? No onecan be sure; he has not raced against the Europeans so far this season. Clearlyhe will have to ski well indeed to surpass the top invaders. Take Jean-ClaudeKilly. Voted the best all-round skier of the year by European reporters, Killyhas been nearly as hot as Kidd and against far stiffer competition. He has wonthree major races, including the Hahnenkamm slalom, and he has had fourseconds. The French men's team will also include the reliable Guy Périllat, whowon the Lauberhorn slalom, Léo Lacroix, Michel Arpin, Pierre Stamos and JulesMelquiond.
The six-manAustrian team will be led by Karl Schranz who, despite his nine hard years ofracing, has had a spectacular 1965 season in downhills with a victory in theArlberg Kandahar and five finishes in the top three. Olympic Downhill ChampionEgon Zimmermann was injured in a car accident and is unlikely to be fit in timefor Vail. The other five Austrians are Hugo Nindl, Gerhard Nenning, HeiniMessner, Franz Digruber and Stefan Sodat.
Team points inthe American Internationals will be tabulated on a 6-4-3-2-1 basis for thefirst five places in each of the three events. First comes the downhill onSaturday, a two-mile run featuring unusual, plateaued runouts and one crucialturn before the final schuss, the slalom on Sunday and the giant slalom onMonday. The format was devised by Beattie, and he carefully arranged for twoteam trophies to be awarded, one for the men and a separate one for women.There was a reason.
The Americangirls will be woeful underdogs to the French, who have those Goitschels plusAnnie Famose and Christine Terraillon, and to Austria's Traudl Hecher, ChristlHaas, Edith Zimmermann and Grete Digruber. Jean Saubert is not in topcondition, planning, as she is, to retire before the FIS meet in Chile. LindaMeyers, Joan Hannah and Sandy Shellworth will likely complete the Vail team.Shellworth is a tall, strong girl who could emerge as our next Saubert if shebegins to race consistently. There are others with potential—Suzy Chaffee,Cathy Nagel and Wendy and Cathy Allen. All of the members of the national team,15 men and 10 women, will race at Vail to fill out an attractive program, butonly the top six men and four girls will be in point-counting competition withthe Europeans.
"Our girlscould surprise me," says Beattie, mixing hope and cynicism. "They'venever done anything but surprise me, one way or another."
Beattie decidedlast season, even before the Olympics, that the girls should have their owncoach in the future. Beattie chose Ferries—a man he can work with. The men'steam is something else. His own personal property, in fact.
"They'regreat," Beattie says. "You know why they're great? Because they'recollege kids who can ski like hell. Anybody would want Kidd, Heuga or Maroltfor a son. Marolt is thinking about becoming a dentist. If he'll do that, I'llput him in business. Something like that would be a greater satisfaction for methan anything."
Except beatingthe Europeans, of course.
"Yeah,"says Beattie, smiling. "There's something to that."
Lion's Head—10,800 ft.
FINISH 8,200 ft.