Aspen native Marolt takes skiing to new levels
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
DENVER – At age 68, you wouldn’t think a CEO of a globally renowned sports organization would still think like a teenager.
Welcome to the world of Bill Marolt, Aspen native and CEO of Team USSA.
The truth is that Marolt’s focus and dedication to develop champion competitors in any cold-weather discipline, be it timed or free expression, are anything but adolescent.
They border on obsessive.
In 1996, after a successful stint as athletic director at the University of Colorado, Marolt took control of Team USSA and raised the bar publicly with an oath to develop an organization that stood the test of “best in the world.”
His mantra evolved into an anthem that rippled across the organization. He developed state-of-the-art facilities that would propel competitors to historic heights. In 2010, 17 American skiers and snowboarders combined to win 21 medals at the Vancouver Olympic Games. Clearly his plan required a massive trophy case.
Many scoffed at his unbridled ambition. History told a story of Americans being also-rans and once-in-a-while winners in winter sports.
That didn’t faze Marolt. He was Steve Jobs-like in his unbending demand to dominate competitive racing globally.
Today, he’s just as hell-bent. The pursuit of excellence consumes him.
And he has no bias, shows no favoritism when discussing alpine or nordic ski racing, or the challenges of the halfpipe or the vastness of ski jumping. He just wants to win – everything.
But he’s met a new foe that’s pushing his buttons: technology, which has reshaped human behavior.
It’s daunting because regardless of the global stature attached to Team USSA, today’s American youth is unfazed, locked in the “search” mode. Beating Shaun White, the video game, has more appeal to kids than actually taking gold from the legend in this week’s X Games in Aspen.
“One of our very basic goals is a simple yet complex challenge. How do we get kids off the couch and onto the mountain? How do we get them more active … away from the computer games? It’s not a battle of skiing versus boarding. It’s a battle of getting them on the mountain,” Marolt said Thursday while seated in the lounge area amid the buzz of a crowded opening day of the four-day SIA Snow Show at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.
“Skiing, snowboarding, it’s athletic, and it’s a lifestyle, and it’s rewarding, just as engaging as any game, and as an industry, it’s opened up to allow for so many more career opportunities in the industry after a race career is completed,” Marolt said.
“We need to do a better job of communicating our message that today’s kids can race and win and that there’s a lot to offer in the world of competitive skiing,” Marolt said.
Marolt, when asked if the perception that skiing is for the affluent, replied, “The approach of any academy (like a charter school) is to explain the cost and the opportunity because cost is not the obstacle. It’s explaining the opportunity that parents need to understand. Our partners need to work at explaining from an athletic standpoint, explain the sport, the brand, the lifestyle, and really make those points understandable. We need to win more through our message. And today’s kids have to want it.”
The juices of competitive racing have been flowing through Marolt since he was pushing himself to outski his brother (and former Olympian) Max as kids, growing up in Aspen.
There are more famous U.S. ski champions, but few have a history that matches Marolt’s.
He lettered in football and skiing in high school in Aspen. He went on to be a four-time NCAA champion (including a downhill title in 1965) at the University of Colorado. He later coached the Buffs to seven consecutive NCAA team titles.
And he was there when the U.S. Ski Team broke ground, serving notice it would prospect for gold. In 1964, Marolt and three other Colorado ski legends shocked the world at the Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria.
Marolt placed 12th in the giant slalom. His teammates made history as the first Americans to win medals in Olympic alpine events. In the men’s slalom alone, Billy Kidd took silver, Jimmie Heuga won bronze, and famed downhiller Buddy Werner finished eighth.
Marolt is genuinely not interested in talking about himself on any level. But when it comes to racing, he just gets amped because he wants kids to know they can make history on snow.
“Sure, ski racing is a fan sport, but it’s much more than that. It’s a family sport … a lifestyle choice. As a kid you learn to compete, and it’s greatly rewarding, but it’s also family-oriented. From children to grandparents – 8-year-olds skiing moguls to us 68-year-olds skiing corduroy – the message is that you can ski and ride throughout your life, and that’s really healthy and rewarding.”
For most of us, life’s a long, slow waltz. Marolt would rather race.
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