Bill Marolt always full speed ahead
December 8, 2007
ASPEN ” Arguably no one is more excited about the return of a World Cup downhill to Aspen Mountain than Bill Marolt.
The youngest of three brothers from one of Aspen’s most storied skiing families, Marolt was a wide-eyed spectator and promising junior racer during some of the first organized races down his home mountain. In 1962, at the age of 19, he won the Roch Cup in front of a frenzied hometown crowd. His name is engraved on the storied trophy right between American skiing legends Buddy Werner and Chuck Ferries.
Now in his 11th year at the helm of the United States Ski and Snowboard Association, Marolt ” who raced at the 1964 Winter Olympics and was a member of two U.S. World Championships teams ” said his most precious Aspen memories center around days spent on the mountain with his two older brothers and other youngsters enrolled in the Aspen Ski Club.
His was an innocent adolescence where the surrounding mountains inspired big dreams, Marolt said.
“We had a small club in those days, but we had a terrific coach,” said Marolt, now 64. “A guy named Gail Spence who owned Aspen Sports for years. It created a foundation for me, both from an educational and an athletic standpoint.”
With that foundation, Marolt left Aspen to become an All-American skier at the University of Colorado and one of the stars of the U.S. national team. He parlayed the success he had as a skier into a decorated coaching career, first at CU, then with the U.S. Ski Team.
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During his stint as the U.S. Ski Team’s alpine director, Marolt’s racers enjoyed unprecedented success, most notably winning five medals at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Games, three of them gold. In that same year Marolt returned to Boulder to take over as athletic director at CU, ushering in a golden era for the Golden Buffaloes.
The football team won its only national title in 1990 under Bill McCartney ” an unproven coach Marolt had stuck by during his first year on the job despite cries for a firing ” and the ski teams which Marolt had once coached continued to rack up NCAA titles.
Marolt returned to the USSA as the organization’s president and chief executive officer in 1996. It’s a post he said he plans to hold until “he’s lost the focus and passion” necessary to pursue his stated goal of being the best in the world.
“Great competitors, they know when their career is over because they just don’t have that focus and drive,” Marolt said. “As long as I’m focused and happy and pushing, I’d like to do this.”
One of Marolt’s biggest pushes in recent years was to secure more home races for the home team. Near the top of that list was locking up a downhill in Aspen for a women’s alpine team that boasts two of the best speed skiers in the world.
If Saturday’s rescheduled downhill race does go off, it will be the payoff of a four-year collaborative effort between the USSA, the Aspen Skiing Co. and the International Ski Federation.
“I think that Aspen has such a great tradition, such an exciting tradition in regard to downhill over the years,” Marolt said. “It was important from a variety of perspectives. We’re delighted that we have it here again. I think what we see here is that it’s created a certain level of excitement in town … It’s a sophisticated ski racing community. They know that downhill is the crown jewel.”
Hosting World Cup races in the U.S. isn’t enough, however, Marolt said. To be the best in the world, and capture the interest of the American public, U.S. racers need to have success on home snow.
That’s been the case 100 miles away at Beaver Creek, where before this year, a U.S. racer won the downhill four years straight and the U.S. men’s team gave local fans plenty to cheer about. Since 2002 in Aspen, however, the combination of nearly all technical races with a U.S. women’s team whose strength is in the speed events produced mediocre results.
Now that the U.S. women have the home race they craved, Marolt said it’s up to them to deliver.
“We have a psychological advantage when we’re here,” Marolt said. “It’s the old homefield advantage, and we think it’s there and we want to take advantage of it. That adds a little extra pressure, but that’s what the game is all about.”
While his coaching days are long behind him, it’s obvious Marolt still approaches his work with a motivator’s mentality, often using maxims that speak to a desire to never get complacent.
When asked for the biggest challenge facing his organization, his response came almost immediately.
“Just the challenge to be better,” he said. “You’re doing two things in life: You’re either going forward or backward … Mostly, you don’t want to think you’re there because you’re never there.”
Marolt said that philosophy never hit home more than at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics when the U.S. alpine contingent fell well short of its goal of eight medals. No one took more criticism for the disappointing U.S. showing than American skier Bode Miller, who after months of media hype, failed to medal in a single one of his five events.
Marolt said he still feels the 2006 Olympics weren’t a failure, pointing out that U.S. alpine racers, freestyle skiers and snowboarders combined for 10 medals ” five of them gold. Miller’s performance, however, combined with his nightly socializing reportedly tested Marolt’s patience, laying the groundwork for new stricter team rules which led to a split between the U.S. team and its best skier this past May.
Miller is racing the World Cup circuit this season as an independent, personally paying for his own hand-picked staff of coaches and ski technicians, among other things, and living by no one’s rules other than his own.
At present, Miller has 25 World Cup wins ” just two shy of the record set by American skiing legend Phil Mahre.
Marolt said there aren’t any regrets with how things turned out.
“From our perspective, we’re going to cheer him, we’re going to celebrate his successes,” he said. “At the same time, we have to focus on the kids who are on the team. We have to focus on the Steve Nymans and the Ted Ligetys and the Lindsey Vonns and the Juila Mancusos and figure out how to provide maximum service to them. How do we provide the best programs so that they can be the best that they can be? And then, figure out where that next generation of those people are going to come from.”
For someone who doesn’t like going backward in life, it’s nearly impossible to get Marolt to even look in that direction.
“Where we are as an organization, I like where we are,” he said. “We’re getting good leadership from our staff. You never want to make the mistake of thinking that just because you think someone is a leader, you have to make sure that they are. You have to take the time and make sure that they understand what leadership is. Leadership is the key element in what we do as an organization.”