The final stand of the World Cup ski circus, which had played out 43 races over three and a half months, came last weekend at Waterville Valley, N.H. A lot of things had been decided long before it got there—such as who most of the winners were. But if the suspense was gone by the time the teams got to town, well, it sure was nice to have all those stars around. Everyone in town knew, for example, that Karl Schranz had the men's cup won not long after he left his quaint little pension in St. Anton and went off racing. World Cup points are calculated on a terribly complicated basis, then jotted down on old matchbook covers and carried around by committeemen in their parka pockets. But Karl had those points, all right. He had won the three toughest downhills—the Lauberhorn, the Hahnenkamm and the Kandahar—and, in spite of all that talk about racing against the ghost of Jean-Claude Killy, he was clearly having his greatest year. In addition to the overall grand prize, which represents the combined championship, the World Cup also comes in sections: there are medals for each of the three Alpine events. Schranz came to town with the downhill and combined events cinched and the giant slalom award pretty close. As for the girls, Austria's Gertrud Gabl checked in with 28 more points than her closest rival, and about the only way she could lose was to do something terribly, terribly wrong—maybe strap her skis on backward.
With all but a few of the top prizes already locked up, the pressures of the year were off and the Waterville weekend began in a nicely relaxed atmosphere, like a Grange winter outing with the kids. It didn't even matter much that a heavy, wet fog blotted out most of the events, except that it made everyone late to all the cocktail parties being thrown by ski equipment manufacturers, where the racers showed up to dance in bell-bottoms and bright vinyl rain hats, which are very big this spring. The Head Ski Company threw a party to introduce its bright-red glass-and-metal ski carrying the signature of J.-C. Killy. And then Bonne Bell staged a party and passed out samples of its cosmetics. The foundation cream, or whatever it was, turned out to be just dandy for squirting against the walls, where it left sweet-smelling brown stains.
Things were so casual that on Thursday, when the girls got together to go giant-slaloming, one of the forerunners turned out to be Kathleen Kennedy, who is not exactly a world racer but an effervescent 17-year-old, whose mom, Ethel, cheered a lot at the bottom. Among the girls who followed, Austria's Berni Rauter beat everyone, including two Americans, dimpled Marilyn Cochran and blonde Karen Budge, who tied for second place, only .01 of a second off the pace. The mighty Gabl finished sixth.
Gabl, who is 20, and sparkles, had won the big cup, but Marilyn, who is 19, with dimples, and lives just over the hills in Richmond, Vt., had the points to prove that she is the best girl giant-slalom racer in the world. It was a signal honor for a girl who is not Austrian or French, but just a bright, bouncy American teen-ager—one who can say, "Boy, it's sure neat being a real celebrity. I mean, people used to ask me for my autograph just because I would be wearing a racing number. And then they would look at the name and be disappointed, a sort of 'Who the heck are you?' thing. But now everybody is so nice to me."
March 31, 1969
On Friday the men's giant-slalom run was buried under an even fatter fog than ever. The first run was fine, with Schranz ahead as he had been most of the year. But on the second run Austria's Alfred Matt spilled high up and broke a leg. Teammate Herbert Huber was already on the course behind him and had to stop. Along came another Austrian, Heini Messner, who also was waved off, since patrolmen were still struggling to get Matt into a toboggan. And while those two were making arrangements for a rerun, here came Schranz, booming along forcefully. He was suddenly forced to skitter off his line to avoid the whole mess. Still, he finished second, as it later turned out, and when the race was over and all the soaking-wet competitors were accounted for, Switzerland's Dumeng Giovanoli had scored the best time. The best American was Billy Kidd—sixth.
That night, in the wake of the fog on the mountain, the real smog of Waterville Valley finally began to close in. It involved what many believe to be the decline and fall of the U.S. Ski Association.
As SI reported two weeks ago, the U.S. ski world is being tugged, punched and pulled all out of shape by internal struggle. Alpine Director Bob Beattie, who pushed U.S. skiing to some pretty dizzy heights in certain areas, already had quit; so had the girls' coach, Chuck Ferries. This left of the old regime only the men's coach, Gordi Eaton, who has been helping build the team for nine years, often without pay, and Hank Tauber, who has had a very good season coaching the girls since Ferries left. But everybody knew that more shocks would follow.
The blow was delivered by the new U.S. Ski Association president, Earl Walters, a Salt Lake City contractor. He got up at a meeting of the U.S. Ski Writers Association, laconically chewing gum, and announced that Eaton and Tauber had been fired and that from now on the whole program would be run by a committee and two new coaches. The new men are Don Henderson, who teaches skiing at New Hampshire's Holderness Prep School, and Dennis Agee of Reno, a Mammoth Mountain instructor and a junior nationals coach. Furthermore, Walters said, from now on all the fund raising will be done by a private firm; the boys and girls will race separately, as they do in Europe; and he was not sure who, but somebody, "a volunteer," will represent the U.S. at seeding fights and tour-planning sessions overseas.
The committee had screened 22 applicants for the new head coaching job, Walters said—including Eaton and Tauber—but those two had definitely not struck the committee's fancy. ("It was more like a court-martial," Beattie said. "Eaton was asked if he would coach according to the direction of the committee and he said absolutely not. And that was that.")
Later, Walters allowed that the character of U.S. racing was going to be completely different. A lot will depend on the Fédération Internationale de Ski meeting coming up in May in Barcelona. The new American committee has asked that the FIS consider open ski racing, a la tennis and golf. "We do know this much," he said. "We can't go back to the simon-pure days. If the Europeans are still pros and are called amateurs, and if the Olympic Committee kicks them out, we will be forced into open racing, which means no Olympics.
"Skiing is the glamour sport of the Olympics," Walters continued. "It would be a damn shame to throw it out over this thing. But, of course, without skiing, it would make it a lot easier to figure out when and where to hold the Games."
The next day, coached by the men who were not good enough to satisfy the committee, the U.S. girls went right up on the hill and won first and third places in the slalom, a racing irony that is sure to be lost on the men who fired Eaton and Tauber.
Perky little Kiki Cutter finished first, a victory that placed her second in the World Cup slalom and fourth overall for the season, after Gabl, France's Florence Steurer and another Austrian, Wiltrud Drexel. Germany's Rosi Mittermaier was second in the Waterville slalom and Judy Nagel third. Everybody crowded around Kiki, who slipped into her innocent little look. "We wanted to win it for Bob and Chuck," she said.
Then the men finished up with a slalom—Jean-Noel Augert of France winning. Nice race. It gave him second place in the World Cup combined, with Reinhard Tritscher of Austria third.
So much for the ski season: it was all over and it was followed by a final, crushing cocktail party, naturally. The racers who had been hiding firecrackers in their ski bags all winter finally got them out and a few people got bombed. The party went on and on into spring, punctuated by an awards ceremony Saturday night that nobody really needed.
"Well, next year will be different," Kiki Cutter said, solemn for a moment. "This new thing will have an effect on the kids emotionally, but I'll tell you about some of us. If we win the World Cup in 1970, it will be for Bob and Chuck."