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Durrance dies at 89

Steve Benson

Dick Durrance, an American ski racing pioneer and the first general manager of the Aspen Skiing Co., died Sunday in Carbondale of natural causes. He was 89 years old. Durrance, who won 17 national championships and three Harriman Cups – North America’s largest ski race in the late 1930s – was born far from snow-covered hills in Tarpon Springs, Fla., in 1914. But when he was 13, his mother moved the family to Garmisch, in the Bavarian Alps, where he learned progressive European ski racing techniques. Five years later, in 1932, he won the German Junior Alpine Championship. The following year, the Durrances moved back to Florida, and Durrance entered Dartmouth College in 1934. There, he became the best ski racer the country had ever seen.”His real significance to American skiing was that he bridged the gap between [the U.S.] and Europe, where the technique was far more advanced,” said John Fry, former editor in chief of Ski Magazine and the former media president of the International Skiing History Association. “What Dick brought was a racing turn that was ahead of his time.” Durrance dominated the collegiate and national circuits and placed eighth in the slalom and 11th in the downhill in the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch. He continued to race for several more years, competing against the best talent from around the world. In 1939, after graduating from Dartmouth, Durrance moved to Sun Valley, Idaho, where he worked in the resort’s public relations department. He cut the Warm Springs Trail on Mount Baldy and dabbled in his other passion – filmmaking. In 1940, he released his first films, “Sun Valley Ski Chase” and “Sun Valley Holiday.” Legendary ski filmmaker Warren Miller reflected on Durrance’s life Sunday afternoon.”He was a little guy, and he was a giant,” Miller said. “He was really at the forefront of filmmaking – he changed a lot of lives without much recognition.” That same year, Durrance married Margaret “Miggs” Jennings, who would remain at his side, both in his personal and professional life, until her death in 2002.”They were such a fabulous couple together – they were sort of like Ronald Reagan and Nancy,” said Ruth Brown, a longtime friend and Aspen resident. “They were very much in love with each other.” In 1941, the Durrances moved to Alta, Utah, where as the general manager and co-owner, Dick rebuilt the Alta Lodge and turned the fledgling area into a destination resort. In 1942, he used Alta’s terrain in Little Cottonwood Canyon to train Army parachutists in the 10th Mountain Division. His first son, Dick Jr., was born the same year. In 1945, their second son, Dave, was born, and the family moved to Denver, where Durrance continued to make ski films while designing Groswold Skis. In 1947, after selling Aspen a T-bar – the first lift on Little Nell – the Durrances settled in Aspen, and Dick became the resort’s first general manager. “At that time, there was almost nothing in Aspen,” said Morten Lund, founding editor of Skiing Heritage Journal. “I don’t think he could have done anything more for skiing than he did.” Durrance cut Ruthie’s Run in 1949, and the following year he put Aspen on the map when he successfully corralled the FIS World Championship. He would go on to release a documentary of the event, which is still regarded as one of the most important, ground-breaking films in the ski industry. As Lund wrote in an article on Durrance in Skiing Heritage in 1995: “What Aspen needed was recognition. Durrance supplied it.” Son Dave remembered the effort his dad made to turn Aspen into a ski town for everyone. “He was a real advocate of getting the town involved with skiing, he created affordable season passes for people who lived and worked in Aspen – he wanted to make sure everyone had the opportunity to learn how to ski.” Over the years, Durrance became increasingly involved in filmmaking, shooting numerous travel, documentary and promotional films. He also wrote a book, “Man on the Medal.” “He had a film library you couldn’t believe,” Miller said. Professional accomplishments aside, friends and family remember Durrance as hard working and determined, but humble and easy going.”He was such a modest, wonderful guy. He had a great sense of humor,” Fry said. “He set records as a human being everywhere he went,” said Miller. “He was the kind of guy you always liked to have around – he always had a smile on his face. Aspen and the world will not be as nice as it was yesterday because of our loss.” His son, Dick Jr., said the following about his dad: “Looking back, I realize that the great lesson I learned from my father is what a great champion can be. He did not define champion by what he said, for he never spoke of his accomplishments, but rather how he lived his life. He showed us as a ski racer, as a ski mountain developer, as a filmmaker, and most of all as a man, that a true champion is not measured by what he says, not even by what he does, but how he does it. My father will forever be a beacon that guides my life.”Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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