For love of the sport
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Despite being a member of the football, tennis and ski teams at Middlebury College in Vermont, Bob Beattie claims he never had the athletic ability to be a successful ski racer.
Instead, he dreamed of coaching.
Apparently, it was a natural fit. His accolades include two NCAA national championships in 1959 and 1960 as head coach of the University of Colorado’s ski team, and a nine-year stint as head coach of the U.S. Ski Team that produced the likes of Billy Kidd, Jimmy Heuga, Bud Werner and Bill Marolt, who’s now the president and CEO of the U.S. Ski Team.
But Beattie was much more than a ski coach.
Over the past 50 years he has done as much for skiing as anyone anywhere, and is widely considered one of the most important American figures in the development and promotion of the sport.
“In the sport of skiing there were so many things that could be done,” the 70-year-old Beattie said. “I don’t know what drives different people, but for me it was just a love of the sport.
“I don’t think I’m the most important person [in the development of skiing in the United States], by the way.”
That’s debatable. After all, he was partly responsible for the formation of the World Cup; point systems to formulate ski racing starting positions (known for years as “the Bob system”); and the expansion and promotion of the National Standard Race (NASTAR).
Furthermore, he founded the World Pro Racing Tour, was the executive director of the International Ski Racers Association, the commissioner of NASTAR for 30 years, and founder of Bob Beattie Summer Racing Camps at Oregon’s Mt. Bachelor.
In addition to other ski-related television programs, Beattie was the commentator for ABC’s Wide World of Sports during the 1976, 1980, and 1984 Winter Olympics. He’s authored three books on skiing and racing, and is the president of World Wide Ski Corporation. He was inducted to the National Ski Hall of Fame in 1984, and the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1986.
Not a bad skiing resume.
Go West, young man
Growing up in New Hampshire, Beattie’s coaching career began at Middlebury after graduating in 1955. He spent a year as the head coach of the ski team and an assistant football coach before moving West to take over the ski team at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
“Growing up in New Hampshire, we dreamed about the West,” Beattie said. “It was a great opportunity for me to come out.”
While still coaching at Middlebury in 1956, Beattie made a trip to Winter Park for the NCAA Championships. During that trip, he paid his first visit to Aspen. He had heard stories about the West, and how athletes like Max Marolt skied mine dumps as children, but he could hardly believe there was a town with dirt roads and a nightclub called the Golden Horn that had live entertainment each night.
“I took the train up. It was pretty wild, like another world,” Beattie said. “I thought, ‘What is this place?'”
He moved to Aspen in 1970, and has been in the valley ever since. Like everyone, he has mixed feelings about the way Aspen has grown and developed, but he remains a die-hard fan.
“I still love it the way I used to,” he said. “I’m glad I live downvalley in Woody Creek. I think I get the best of both worlds.”
In the early ’90s, Beattie met his future wife, Marci, while attending a youth benefit in Aspen.
“We hiked to Crested Butte the next day,” he recalled, a trip they repeated on their honeymoon two years later. They’ve been married 11 years.
Beattie has two children with Ann, his first wife: Zeno, who lives in Aspen, and Suzy, who lives in Eugene, Ore.
When Beattie arrived in Boulder in the ’50s, the CU ski team didn’t know what to think.
Physical conditioning, Beattie believed, could beat natural athleticism any day of the week, and his intense physical workouts quickly became famous (or infamous, depending on whom you talk to).
He created a sort of outdoor gym in the woods near Boulder Creek next to the CU campus. The area became known as “The Pits,” and the intense workouts ” including countless hill sprints ” created such a stir that other sports programs attended conditioning practices just to watch.
Jimmy Heuga, who skied under Beattie at CU and later on the U.S. team, remembers the workouts vividly.
“He had that kind of football mentality, that trench type of attitude,” Heuga said. “I said probably a hundred times that it was like we were training for World War III.”
In a few short years, Beattie took CU out of the shadows and into the limelight of collegiate ski racing. Almost as importantly, Beattie and CU started beating state rival Denver University, which routinely squashed CU and had one of the top ski racing programs in the country.
DU had a team built almost completely of Europeans, mostly Norwegians. On the other hand, Beattie’s teams were entirely American. This intense rivalry was only enhanced by the ongoing war of words between Beattie and DU’s head coach, Willie Scheffler.
“It was so bad between Scheffler and myself that [the NCAA] had to get together and tell us to cool it,” Beattie remembered. “That rivalry is what made it work. It was really fun.”
Raising the bar
In 1961, while still coaching the Buffs, Beattie took over the reins as the head coach of the U.S. Ski Team, where he continued to push his athletes.
“There was such a laid-back style to skiing [in the United States], it was very amateurish,” he said. “We needed to move in a different direction.”
In a sport that typically didn’t rely on dry-land training, Beattie’s tactics were revolutionary. As Billy Kidd said, “He was far ahead of his time for treating ski conditioning in a real serious way.”
With the U.S. Ski Team dwarfed by highly funded and trained European teams, Beattie knew physical conditioning was his best weapon.
“It was a huge factor in the early successes [at CU],” Beattie said. “A lot of the racers in that program used to moan and groan about the workouts, but that’s all they can talk about now when we get together.”
Heuga said the workouts gave the team something they had lacked in the past.
“You just knew you were in better shape than anyone you were competing against,” Heuga said. “We’d go to Europe, and of course we were in awe of them as ski racers but we knew we were in better shape physically; it gave us the confidence.”
Bill Marolt, who trained with Beattie as a member of the U.S. Ski Team, believes Beattie’s influence on ski racing in the United States was profound. Prior to Beattie’s arrival, the U.S. Ski Team only existed every other year. Beattie introduced the idea of a full-blown national team with youth programs to develop and train promising athletes.
“He believed that we could and should compete with the Europeans, we should be able to go toe to toe with them,” Marolt said. “And he really brought the concept of team and family to the organization.”
Despite his achievements, Beattie had his enemies both within the organization and the racers’ families. Among other issues, Beattie’s laserlike focus on conditioning and team unity alienated some racers’ families, who were used to hanging out with the team.
“As you know, when you change things around, there are a lot of people who don’t like it,” Beattie said. “There were a lot of battles.”
But Beattie wouldn’t quit. He fixed his sights on the kingdom of ski racing ” Europe. In 1961, with Billy Kidd, Jimmy Heuga and Bill Marolt ” all 18 years old at the time ” Beattie and the U.S. Ski Team exploded on Europe.
“We weren’t sure what we were doing,” Beattie recalled, “but we were in great shape and very cocky.”
In the early 1960s, the Europeans didn’t respect the U.S. Ski Team, and Beattie’s racers routinely started in the back of the pack. By the time they raced, the course was usually icy, rutted and in terrible condition. The Americans wanted to be closer to the front of the pack.
“It was them against us,” Heuga said. “We were like the dregs of the world. They just didn’t think we deserved that.”
But Beattie knew they did, and he set out to change the format, arguing for point systems that would provide a fair seeding position.
“If you said, ‘Good morning,’ I’d say, ‘I don’t like the seeding points,'” Beattie said.
It was that mentality that inspired his racers.
“He would give these incredibly inspiring talks. They might last 20 to 30 minutes, and they would just get us so revved up,” Heuga remembers. “And then he would go off and do things with you; we’d go to movies together, eat together, we were always together, and there was this sense that we were in battle together.
“We were emotionally tied to Bob.”
In 1964, Kidd and Heuga won the silver and bronze, respectively, at the Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. Their medals, combined with Beattie’s persistence, caught the international racing community’s attention, and the seeding system was implemented in 1965.
“I kept yelling until we got it,” Beattie said. “I was a major pain in the ass.”
His efforts didn’t end there. In 1965, Beattie founded the Hopefuls program, which was designed to discover and develop young talent from around the country. It was a pipeline to the U.S. Ski Team, and the foundation for youth ski racing programs that flourish today.
“When you bring the best athletes from around the country, it elevates everyone’s performance,” Marolt said. “He was the one that instilled that in the program and in all the kids on the team at that time.”
In the mid-1960s, the attention devoted to international ski racing fluctuated drastically, with peaks during Olympic years and valleys in between. Beattie and others felt ski racing needed more regular excitement, and he began pushing for a yearly world championship.
In January 1966, while standing on the slopes of the Hahnenkahm downhill course in Kitzbuehel, Austria, Beattie and French journalist Serge Lang discussed the idea of holding a yearly world championship. Later that spring, during the World Championships in Portillo, Chile, the duo fine-tuned the idea for a World Cup.
“[Lang] and I became very close friends. He helped me out a lot when I arrived in Europe,” Beattie said. “He and I made the schedule out on a napkin while drinking red wine; it was probably the best schedule we ever had.”
The following year, the first World Cup races were held.
Over the years, Aspen has held its share of World Cup events. But this year, some 36 years later, the World Cup failed to return to Beattie’s back yard.
“It makes me really sad,” he said. “I’m hopeful it will take place next year.”
In 1970, still facing pressure from individuals who disagreed with his coaching tactics, Beattie said farewell to the U.S. Ski Team.
“You can be the coach of a program too long,” Beattie said. “I was coach for nine years. There was a lot of controversy in those nine years, and I felt it was time to go.”
So he left, with pride.
“He was an innovator, a visionary, and he was persistent enough to take his ideas and make them into reality,” Kidd said. “He went against the grain in a number of ways. He had people that disliked the way he did things and probably disliked him, but as you know, a lot of successful people make enemies along the way and it’s easy to criticize.
“But go back and look at the ski team, he changed the sport in America dramatically.”
In nine years, Beattie had altered the face of ski racing in America, turning it into a top-notch program that could compete with any in the world. And over the next 30 years, his devotion to skiing and racing never tired.
In 1970, he embarked on two new projects. He founded the World Pro Racing tour, which was separate from the World Cup and featured skiers like Jean-Claude Killy and Spider Sabich. He ran the program until 1981.
He also dove head over heels into NASTAR, which had been created by Ski magazine in 1969 and was being premiered at seven ski areas.
“I thought it was a great concept,” Beattie said.
Apparently, so did a lot of other people. Over the next 30 years, as the commissioner, Beattie expanded NASTAR to more than 200 ski resorts.
Now, Beattie is enjoying the good life, skiing an average of five days a week.
“I ski more now than I ever used to,” he said.
And he’s a living legend.
“Look at his legacy ” there are a lot of young people and coaches, a lot of people my age and younger that learned, and saw, what commitment is because of him,” Marolt said. “He created that passion, intensity and sense of urgency. He made a huge difference in a lot of people’s lives.”
So is Beattie the most important American figure in the development and promotion of skiing?
“Absolutely,” Marolt said. “I don’t think there’s any question.”
Said Kidd: “He really fought for all these changes, from budget increases to new ways of doing things, and he accomplished a lot through sheer persistence. But he was also really creative. Look at the things he did ” he did an awful lot for skiing.”
Steve Benson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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