Durrance: Remembering a humble revolutionary

Aspen Times writer

By Steve BensonAspen Times Staff WriterAn incredible ski racer with a progressive vision, and a sincere, trustworthy, humble man with a passion for the mountains and the people who inhabit them.That is how family and friends remembered Dick Durrance during a celebration of his life at the top of Aspen Mountain Wednesday.Durrance, who passed away June 13 in Carbondale at the age of 89, was perhaps the greatest ski racer in American history, a pioneering filmmaker and one of the founders of both Aspen Mountain and Alta Ski Area in Utah.More than 300 people attended the ceremony near the Sundeck, which included speeches from his two sons, Dave and Dick Jr.; his grandson, Jesse; his sister, Ada Greenwood; Aspen Skiing Co. CEO Pat O’Donnell; and legendary ski heroes Billy Kidd, Stein Eriksen, Ruthie Brown and John Litchfield, the founder of the Red Onion.”Each of us knows him in our own way,” said Dave Durrance, adding that he remembers his dad as a courageous visionary with a high degree of humility. “He was such a revolutionary in skiing because he could see what the next steps were.”And since he was always looking to the future and rarely talked about the past, Dave said he learned about most of his humble father’s skiing accomplishments from books and magazines.Dick Jr. said he only recently learned that his father was the leading visionary in developing the giant slalom, as he laid down the first such course in 1937 at Tuckerman’s Ravine in New Hampshire. “Deep in his crouch, he skied the fall line like no one,” Dick Jr. said from behind a lectern that held a large photograph of his dad ripping through deep powder with impeccable form in Alta in 1941. “He had only one speed, and that was all-out, always.”Durrance’s sister referred to him as “the one with the sweetest nature” in the family. “He was caring, modest, funny and a bit of a tease … and he had a loving, tolerant and generous attitude to others,” Greenwood added.Litchfield, Durrance’s roommate at Dartmouth College in the late 1930s and later one of the founders of the Aspen Ski School, said Durrance was an “innovator and a forward thinker.”Durrance had enormous racing success, including 17 national championships, an eighth-place finish in the slalom and 11th in the downhill in the 1936 Winter Olympics, and three Harriman Cup victories, America’s largest ski race in the 1930s. But Litchfield said Durrance was modest, sincere and, most of all, trustworthy.”That’s a pretty important word, especially today,” he said.An emotional Eriksen said he’d never met a man “so good, kind, capable and sweet.””Oh, what a man,” he said. “He planted the seed. He put in the foundation for alpine skiing in this country.”Dick, I love you. Thank you.”Kidd, who idolized Durrance when he was growing up, said the legend gave him and other American ski racers hope.”He beat the Europeans,” he said. “He showed us Americans what could happen.”Kidd and Jimmy Heuga became the first American men to win an Olympic medal in alpine skiing when they won silver and bronze, respectively, in the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria.Kidd joked that he idolized Durrance so much that he even aspired to look like him, bald head and all.”I always thought he had the coolest haircut, so I got one just like him,” laughed Kidd, removing his cowboy hat to reveal his Durrance-esque hairline.O’Donnell called Durrance “a hero” and an inspiration to the Skico.”I’m here to say thank you to your dad,” O’Donnell said to Dave and Dick Jr. “He’ll never be forgotten.”Grandson Jesse Durrance and longtime friend Brown, the inspiration for Ruthie’s Run on Aspen Mountain, couldn’t reflect on Durrance’s life without mentioning his partner and wife, Margaret “Miggs” Durrance. The couple, who married in 1939, produced numerous film and photography projects together until Miggs’ death in 2002.”They were never separate in my mind,” Jesse said. “It’s impossible to remember them as separate because they were always together.”He added that the greatest lesson he learned from them was that “nothing can beat having the time of your life with the ones you love most.”Brown said she feels a sense of joy knowing that Durrance and Miggs are together again.”I had such a fabulous feeling of their close relationship together,” she said. “Rather than grieving, we’re here to celebrate what has happened now because Dick has joined Miggs up there some place – we can celebrate their happiness up there together.”Steve Benson’s e-mail address is– see Durrance on page A7– continued from page A1″Oh, what a man. He planted the seed. He put in the foundation for alpine skiing in this country. Dick, I love you. Thank you.” Stein Eriksen


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