Sunday, May 8, 2011

Notes from the Sun Valley reunions

While Thousands Cheered: Skiing Heritage Week Scores Record Turnout

By Seth Masia

Skiing Heritage Week, held at Sun Valley in honor of the resort’s 75th anniversary, drew a record turnout. Well, it had some help from half-a-dozen overlapping events. Running concurrently were the U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame Induction, the Pioneers of Freestyle Skiing Reunion, the first Ishpeming Film Festival, and a reunion of Head, K2 and Scott reps from decades past. There was also a very quiet reunion of SKI Magazine staffers in acknowledgement of the book’s 75th anniversary.

K2 Wet Tee-shirt Contest
2011 Edition
Bernie Weichsel, chairman of the Hall of Fame, ISHA board member and impresario of the early pro freestyle circuit, functioned as the chief conspirator. According to his notes, 110 people attended the ISHA Awards Banquet, 80 old hotdoggers showed up to receive awards as Pioneers of Freestyle (plus about 40 of their parole officers and attendants), 582 people sat down to dinner at the Hall of Fame Induction, with another 70 standing-room folks at the back of the room. Rick Moulton reports that the Film Festival filled 2,000 seats at the Sun Valley Opera House for six evenings straight, and 250 people attended the Jerry Awards on Tuesday night. I don't yet know how many middle-aged adolescents attended the K2-Head-Scott reunion, but I personally trod on the toes of several hundred at the Wet Tee Shirt Contest, held at Whiskey Jacques on Thursday night.

How many people attended?  The permanent population of Ketchum is 3,500, which seems a reasonable estimate.

Beekley Memorial Lecture

The Mason Beekley Memorial Lecture, an annual fixture of Skiing Heritage Week, was conducted this year as a panel discussion on the subject of ski racing on television. Featured speakers were veteran NBC sportscasters Tim Ryan and Christin Cooper, and the session was moderated by ISHA president John Fry and Tom Kelly of the U.S. Ski Team. The burning question: Why do the television networks no longer carry live coverage of ski racing?

Tim Ryan and Christin Cooper
Ryan and Cooper explained the economics, which boil down to increased competition for commercially-valuable air time and reduced budgets for crew travel. Then Cooper made a passionate case for the idea that a tape delay gives the broadcast team the chance to turn ski racing into a better show. They can select the significant runs, and explain what they’re seeing.

During the actual race, Cooper said, she’s busy making sense of what’s happening on the hill. “I use all the technology available,” she said. “I use Skype to call the coaches on the hill to ask if the snow is softening and the course getting slower. Why is the race unfolding the way it is? Then I have a two-hour window to compose the story.”

Part of the problem in preparing a story is that the athletes don’t have time during the season to talk to the press. The World Cup schedule is just too tight.

Ryan pointed out that television is all about audience. Alpine ski racing is still the number two Olympic sport for TV viewership in the United States, he said, behind figure skating. To build an audience, it’s critically important to develop athletes with star quality. “Lindsey Vonn typifies the media-savvy athlete who explains herself to the audience,” Cooper said. “Bode Miller had to learn how to do that, and he was unpopular until he did. Athletes today are aware of how much they owe to the sport, and to the fans.”

Ryan elaborated. “America is celebrity-driven, and the athletes know it. The FIS doesn’t get it. If they want an audience, they have to focus attention on how great the athletes are.”

Cooper thinks the FIS has plenty of opportunity to build ski racing into great television. “Slalom under the lights, at night, is a slam dunk,” she said. “It’s a stadium, with thousands of cheering fans. What a party! I’m a huge fan of dual slalom. The guys with great fundamentals do well, and it’s a show the average viewer understands.”

Cooper is also a fan of Universal Sports, which streams live ski racing on the Internet. “They also run (remote) Skype interviews with all the athletes, from their hotel rooms – five to ten minutes of good talk,” she said.

Movers and Shakers

The annual Movers and Shakers event, held Wednesday evening at the Ketchum Public Library, was emceed as usual by Doug Pfeiffer. In honor of the venue, the program kicked off with a showing of Otto Lang’s 1947 film Skifully Yours, and highlights included colorful reminiscences by Nelson Bennett, 96, one of the original Sun Valley ski patrollers, and Ralph Harris, a longtime fixture in the Sun Valley Ski School whose drawings illustrated SKI Magazine’s ski instructional features for many years.

ISHA Awards

On Friday evening, ISHA held its annual Awards Banquet, honoring the creators of the year’s top books and films on ski-history subjects.

Tim Ryan received a Lifetime Achievement Award for broadcast journalism for his work telecasting major ski races since 1980, including several Olympics and World Championships. He graciously thanked the racers who have worked with him over the years providing “color,” including Billy Kidd, Todd Brooker and his current on-screen partners, Christin Cooper and Steve Porino.

Dick Dorworth, another Sun Valley local, accepted an Ullr Award for his book The Perfect Turn and Other Tales of Skiing and Skiers, a collection of short pieces (reviewed in the March-April issue of Skiing Heritage). The essays (and one short story) reflect on the people and mountains, the lives and deaths that have touched Dorworth across half a century of skiing at the very highest levels.

Stephen Waterhouse accepted an Ullr Award for the book Passion for Skiing, the result of the Dartmouth Ski History Project. Waterhouse raised the money to support publication of this history of Dartmouth skiing, edited the content and wrote the first chapter, which recounts the story of Fred Harris, founder of the Dartmouth Outing Club.

The Kitzbuehel Ski Club sent a delegation to accept an Ullr Award for Hahnenkamm: The Chronicle of a Myth, detailing the 100-year history of the classic downhill race. Half the book is devoted to turn-by-turn and racer-by-racer accounts of every HK race since 1931.

Frequent Skiing Heritage contributor E. John B. Allen accepted an Ullr Award, in part on behalf of his co-author Egon Theiner, for 100 Years of International Skiing, a history of the FIS. The book breaks new ground in a well-researched section on early alpine events and the formation of competition rules.

Arthur Haechler of the European Broadcasting Union accepted an ISHA Film Award for 100 Years FIS, a collage of film clips drawn from the entire history of skiing competition. The 20-minute film was commissioned by FIS to help celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Dave Irons accepted a Skade Award for Sunday River, a history of the Maine resort. The ski area opened in 1959, after locals raised $90,000 to build a T-bar, rope tow and base lodge, aided by a $40,000 grant from the Small Business Administration. It grew into the major driver of local business, with 590,000 skier visits annually.

James Benelli, a veteran bartender, ski patroller and instructor, accepted a Skade Award for Ski Tales: The History of China Peak and Sierra Summit. The resort launched in 1958, and Benelli arrived in 1960. He prefaced his speech by pointing out that most of his writing is humor, and that brevity is the soul of wit. He earned the warm gratitude of the audience by delivering the shortest speech of the evening.

As the evening wound down, John Fry and Barry Stone each accepted an ISHA Service Award in recognition of years of hard work to help ISHA grow and prosper.

Hall of Fame Induction

On Saturday night, the week climaxed with the U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.

Carol Holding spoke on behalf of Earl Holding, who revitalized Sun Valley after purchasing the resort in 1977, and went on to do the same for Utah’s Snow Basin, where he turned a small ski area into a world-class venue for the 2002 Olympic speed events. She thanked “everyone in this room for the support and loyalty you’ve given to our Sun Valley.”

Bobby Cochran, Hahnenkamm combined champion and 1972 Olympian, charmed the crowd with good-spirited and self-deprecating humor. “I wrote out a speech, but I’m a physician and I can’t read any of this,” he began. Referring to the fact that his sisters Marilyn and Barbara Ann had preceded him into the Hall of Fame, Cochran noted “I’ve recently heard the term ‘girled,’ which is apparently an insult meaning ‘You got beat by a girl.’ Well, I got girled every day.”

Muffy Davis, a local junior racer who shattered her spine in a downhill training crash in 1989, went on to win several paralympic medals, a World Championship and seven World Cup titles. She burst into tears while thanking her family, coaches and the community for their support in her recovery and career.

Daron Rahlves, winner of 12 World Cup races including the Hahnenkamm, and Super G World Champion, recalled beginning his racing career on the NASTAR course at Alpine Meadows. He thanked his coaches, his wife, and his ski tuner, Willie Wiltz.

Extreme skier Shane McConkey was honored posthumously for his roles in promoting competitive freeskiing and the design of “rocker” skis, and for his film career. The honor was accepted by his widow, Sherry.

Glen Plake, another extreme skier, has parlayed his film career into a platform for promoting the sport at small venues across the country. In the process he has become, arguably, the most recognizable skier of his era. His talk served as a bridge to the final event of the evening, presentation of medals to 80 Pioneers of Freestyle Skiing.

The party went on into the early morning hours.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pascal “Pete” Heuga, 102

Pete Heuga, father of Jimmie Heuga and a fixture at Squaw Valley from its opening day until his retirement in 1985, died on April 17. He was 102.

Pascal Heuga was born to an impoverished single mother on April 15, 1909, in St.-Jean-Pied-le-Port, on the French side of the Basque PyrennĂ©es. His mother, Marie, departed for America in 1919, leaving Pascal and his infant brother to be raised by their grandmother. At age nine, Pascal was apprenticed to the town’s butcher, and thereafter spent his summers slaughtering pigs, sheep and cows, lambs and calves. The work was brutal, and Pascal, though barely five feet tall, became the toughest kid in town. At 14, on a borrowed bicycle, he won the local Tour de Pays Basque bike race.

The following year, his uncle Jean-Baptiste, then working as a gardener in San Francisco, sent him money for passage to America. After weeks of travel Pascal arrived in Bakersfield, Calif., where his mother had married a sheep rancher named Eugene Chounet. Pascal was sent off into the foothills southwest of Los Banos, California, with a burro, a dog, a wagon and several hundred head of sheep. Knowing nothing of the sheepherder’s art, Pascal promptly lost three dozen of the beasts, many to coyotes, but many more to rattlesnakes surprised in the sagebrush. Over the summer, Pascal learned to control the herd, and killed over 75 snakes.

In the fall, Pascal, now 16, found a job tending bar in Fresno. It was the height of Prohibition, and a tough, underage kid was just what a bootlegger wanted to work in a speakeasy. Whenever the law shut down the saloon and hauled the employees away to jail, the cops were powerless to hold a minor. Within a few hours he’d be out on the street again, ready to work at a new location.

After a summer communicating only with an old sheepdog, Pascal had not yet learned much English. The bartending job did wonders for his command of language. Unfortunately, the language wasn’t English. Most of his customers and colleagues spoke Spanish or Italian. He lasted through five years of busts, brawls and continual changes of venue, and came out a master of Latin patois. In April, 1930, he turned 21 and could be charged as an adult. This made him useless to the bootlegging trade. Out of work in Fresno, he got a ride with a friend to Yosemite and applied for a job as a cook at the three-year-old Ahwahnee Hotel.

Perhaps impressed by his French accent, the Ahwahnee’s chef took him aboard. But it wasn’t a French kitchen, and the boss dubbed him Pete. The hotel sent him out into a paradise of waterfalls, meadows and towering peaks, to cook for guests camping up-valley. In the winter, Pete learned to skate on the lodge rink. 

Late in the spring of 1931, Pete met Lucille Dutton, who had dropped out of UCLA after her junior year for want of funds. Sights set on a government job in Washington, D.C., she was working a summer job in the Chinquapin post office. They spent a year together.

In the fall of 1932, Lucille received notification that her position in Washington awaited. She boarded an east-bound train.

Pete bought a new 1936 Dodge sedan and followed. They lived together for a few months, and then drove one night to Frederick, Maryland to make the marriage legal.

Arms production for the looming World War II was quickly transforming the American economy, especially on the West Coast. Lucille found work as a secretary in San Francisco, while Pete worked at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond. Two boys were born, Robert Pascal Heuga in 1939, and James Frederick Heuga, in September, 1943.

After the war, the couple moved to Lake Forest, just north of Tahoe City, and bought a tiny grocery store cum gas station cum post office. For Pete, running a store was a simple matter, at least compared to operating a speakeasy. It was hard work, but nonviolent. The store was a natural focal point for village social life, and Pete soon organized a round of community events. His mid-June barbecue became an annual happening, drawing 500 people from towns all around the lake.
The kids grew up skating and skiing. In the fall of 1949, Pete started work as a lift operator at the new Squaw Valley ski area, which opened for Christmas. Young Jimmie wasn’t old enough for school yet, so Pete took him to work. The ski school director Emile Allais, pre-war world champion, could barely speak English, and began hanging out in Pete’s shack, drinking wine and gossiping in French. Allais began coaching six-year-old Jimmie.

Within a couple of years Jimmie was winning local races. Pete and Lucille took turns driving kids from the Squaw Valley Ski Club to races up and down the Sierra. At 12, Jimmie was a nationally-ranked junior, and friends pitched in to get him to races in Sun Valley and Aspen.

For years Pete supervised operation of the Squaw Valley tram, and every Tahoe skier knew him well. His life after retirement took tragic turns: both sons, Bobby and Jimmie, were crippled by multiple sclerosis; after Lucille’s death, Pete lost his eyesight. But in 2005, he returned to St.-Jean-Pied-le-Port with Jimmie, to visit his grandfather’s grave. –Seth Masia

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tyler Palmer

February 14, 2011

Dear Friend of Tyler:

We are reaching out to a list of Tyler Palmer’s friends to ask for your help in supporting him in his fight with diabetes and Addison’s disease. Tyler’s fierce independence and pride served him well through a ski racing and coaching career that is legendary but these same traits make it extraordinarily difficult for Tyler to reach out to his many friends and the skiing community to ask for assistance at a time when he truly needs our help. In fact, it was not easy to obtain Tyler’s consent to make this request and he is adamant that any contributions to his cause do not diminish by a single dollar, money that would otherwise go to kids.

Here is the situation. Tyler resigned his coaching position with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation and returned to New Hampshire last summer. He now lives part of the time in his home in North Conway NH and part of the time with his daughter Taryn, son-in-law and 10 month old grandson in Portland ME. Tyler’s departure from the Sun Valley was very sudden and caught many of us by surprise but was precipitated by a sudden and life threatening downward spiral in his health.

As many of you know, Tyler has had diabetes for years. He has learned to live with the disease although there is no question that hard living in his younger years and the physical and mental stress of coaching more recently has taken a toll. Tyler is considered a brittle diabetic yet he often seemed to be trying to ‘out tough’ the disease by pushing himself so hard and ignoring warnings that his health was deteriorating. This came to a head at a race camp in Mammoth Mt. last June when Tyler reached a point where his heart rate was chronically elevated and he suffered from constant headaches and dehydration. Finally his body shut down and he became physically incapable of getting out of bed.  He was diagnosed with Addison’s disease by Dr. Bob Hall after being rushed to the hospital.

Addison’s is very rare; only 2 people out of 100,000 will contract it in their lifetime. It is a disorder that affects the adrenal glands causing them to produce insufficient hormones resulting in extreme fatigue and muscle weakness. Like diabetes, there is no cure for Addison’s disease and the combination of the two is debilitating. Tyler is now on a lifetime regime of steroids and cortisone in addition to insulin. His health has stabilized although, as of late, he is again not feeling well and recently remarked that he has had some ‘dark days’. He does not have medical insurance, and has not been to a doctor in months owing to his financial situation. Tyler is facing a long struggle to regain his health.

There are only a handful of experts on Addison’s in the US and Tyler desperately needs to be seen and treated by one of them. He is facing a lifetime regime of drugs to manage these two diseases and the prospect of significant and ongoing medical expenses.

Everyone receiving this letter knows Tyler well but we’d like to summarize his amazing achievements particularly in the ski world.  Tyler’s ski racing career was legendary. As a young ski racer he was known for his go-for-broke style and carefree attitude. He was a slalom specialist who became the first American male to win a World Cup race, a slalom in St. Moritz, Switzerland in 1971. That season Tyler finished third
in the World Cup Slalom standings. During his career he had two World Cup victories and nine top ten finishes. Tyler and his brother Terry represented the US at the Sapporo Olympics in 1972 with Tyler finishing ninth in the slalom. Tyler joined Bob Beattie’s World Pro Ski Tour in 1972, won 5 events and was the top American skier from 1976 through 1978.

Skiing has always been and always will be Tyler’s life and passion. In the early ‘80’s he transitioned from ski racing to coaching. For the past 11 years Tyler has been coaching for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation. He was an extraordinary coach…. knowledgeable, committed, passionate and somewhat perilously, totally selfless. He imbued his kids with a sense of respect for the sport by teaching them its history and how it helped him develop personal values. In turn, he encouraged them to grow with and through the sport.

Tyler has touched all of us with his humor, compassion and enormous appetite for life. He has coached many of our children and taught them life’s lessons through ski racing. He has asked for very little in return for his lifelong dedication to the sport we all love. Tyler is rich in spirit but not in coin. Now he needs our help. Over the next few weeks we will be following up with each of you to ask for financial help in the form of a contribution to the Bald Mountain Rescue Fund (501c3) to benefit Tyler and/or to reach out to others on behalf of Tyler and ask for their help.

Please consider making a tax deductible donation to help Tyler by sending your check to the Bald Mt Rescue Fund. Please state “In honor of Tyler Palmer” on the memo line of the check.  Funds will be used by the BMRF to defray medical and living expenses resulting from Tyler’s catastrophic illness.

The Bald Mt. Rescue Fund
c/o Brian Barsotti
PO Box 370
Ketchum, ID 83340

Yours truly,

Doug Woodcock
Kipp Nelson
Thom Weisel
Holley DuPont
Jonathan Neeley
Paul Fremont Smith
Chuck Ferries
Michael Lafferty
Bob Beattie
Michael Halstead
Kiki Cutter
Otto Tschudi
Hank Kashiwa
Michel Rudigoz
Billy Kidd

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Vintage ski race at Steamboat: Sunday, Jan 23

On Sunday morning, Jan. 23rd, at 10:00 AM, at Steamboat Springs, CO there is going to be a Vintage Ski Race!  All interested in joining in the fun need to meet at the base lift, in front of the Sheraton Steamboat Resort Hotel, by 9:00 to register, and take a practice run or two. Look for Billy Kidd and his famous cowboy hat. Richard Allen will also be there with his Vintage Ski World van, & possible ski gear for you, but you have to call him ahead of time. Dig through your stuff to find any ‘old’ gear & outfits. But if you don’t have any, call Richard & he can may be able to bring something for you. VSW Office #800-332-6323 & his cell #970-948-0591. After the race they will all be gathering in the Sheraton to hang out, drink a beer, watch old ski movies & maybe even do a fashion show. All of this will occur in the Bear River Bar & Grill. It promises to be a really fun time!