Colorado Ski Hall of Fame to induct Spider Sabich
DENVER – For those who didn’t know Spider Sabich or see him race, he usually is remembered for the way he died – shot by girlfriend Claudine Longet at their home in Aspen, the tragedy then lampooned in a “Saturday Night Live” skit so insensitive the show had to offer an apology a week later.But for those who knew and loved him, Sabich was an outstanding athlete, a fantastic racer, a charismatic personality and a great friend. Those are the qualities that will be recognized Nov. 7 when Sabich is inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame.”He was such an important part of American ski history, especially in that time (with) America really coming onto the world ski scene,” said Billy Kidd, who raced with Sabich on the World Cup and later on Bob Beattie’s pro tour. “He also was so colorful, so charismatic, so photogenic, so good with people, so good with the media.”Kidd and Sabich had the best results for the U.S. Ski Team in the 1968 Grenoble Olympics. Both finished fifth, Kidd in giant slalom and Sabich in slalom. Ski racing was becoming hip and sexy, and Sabich became a celebrity.”Spider was like Joe Namath in that he was really handsome, charismatic, great smile, the girls loved him, guys loved to be around him,” Kidd said. “But those of us who knew Spider knew he was kind of deceptive. He wasn’t drinking vodka tonics all night, he wasn’t up all night. He almost encouraged that idea about him – that he was a party guy, that all he had to do was show up and he could win the race. Spider really worked hard.”Nicknamed Spider because of his thin limbs when he was born premature in 1945, Vladimir Sabich grew up in Kyburz, Calif., a tiny town near South Lake Tahoe. The grandson of Croatian immigrants, Sabich made a name for himself as a young racer and came to the University of Colorado to ski for Beattie in 1962. Moose Barrows of Steamboat Springs arrived on campus the same day.”He came from California, but as soon as he got to Colorado, he knew Colorado was his home,” Barrows said. “You could never ask for a better friend. Anything he had was yours.”Those were the days when Beattie was creating a national team concept for the first time, basing it in Boulder. It was an honor to ski for the Buffs, but they weren’t around much during the winter.”Now it sounds like things have really changed, because you have to go to class and everything,” Kidd said with a chuckle. “When we were on the team, we would sign up for classes, go a few times, then go to Europe at Thanksgiving and come back at the end of February. It was just great to be a ski racer at that time, to be on the University of Colorado ski team and also be on the U.S. Ski Team. Life was great.”Shortly after Jean-Claude Killy swept the alpine gold medals at the 1968 Olympics, Sabich beat him in a World Cup slalom at Heavenly Valley, Calif. Sabich had three more World Cup slalom podiums before turning pro in 1970. He would win two world titles as a pro.Avery Brundage, then president of the International Olympic Committee, was targeting Karl Schranz and other ski racers as violators of the IOC’s outdated amateur rules. Killy, Schranz and others left the World Cup to race on the pro tour and make a little money at the end of their careers, giving Beattie’s tour a nice boost. The tour became a place for celebrities to be seen.Barrows can still remember the day at Bear Valley, Calif., in 1972, when the racers walked into a restaurant to see Longet – a singer and actress – sitting in a corner with Liza Minelli, Clint Eastwood and Robert Conrad. Sabich introduced himself, and the fatal romance began.”We thought she was crazy,” Barrows said. “She had a temper and a few other things – she was French.”On March 21, 1976, Sabich stopped by Beattie’s house after a training session at Aspen Highlands, then went home to change clothes with plans to meet Beattie later for dinner. But Longet shot him, and he died on the way to the hospital. He was 31.”That was the day Aspen changed,” Barrows said. “There were things going on there that were just nuts. It was free-flowing drugs and everything else. Aspen just sort of lost its innocence that day.”Longet would spend 30 days in jail after being convicted of misdemeanor criminal negligence, claiming the shooting was an accident.”It was pretty bizarre,” Beattie said. “But for those of us who knew Spider really well, we think about him a lot, and we try to think about all the great things. We never think about the disaster.”
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