Breck’s Scott Rawles reflects on hall of fame career as moguls skier, coach
BRECKENRIDGE — To Scott Rawles, Breckenridge in 1979 really was the Wild West.
To the child of a ski-area family from Libby, Montana, the culture, community and verve of Breckenridge was a lifestyle. It was an opportunity too good to pass up for the then-20-year-old.
After following friends to Breckenridge, Rawles knew he had stumbled across the opportunity he needed when a job opened up to drive a van for Beaver Run Resort. The gig was mainly evening work, which was perfect to spend most days on snow before clocking in from 4-11 p.m.
The only problem was that after a few traffic tickets back home, Rawles didn’t have a license. But this was the ski bum town of Breckenridge in the ’70s, when a fast-skiing and fast-livin’ youngster like him could make it work.
“They didn’t even ask for a driver’s license,” Rawles recalled with a laugh. “So I drove the van the whole year without a driver’s license.”
A year of outlaw driving turned into a life of skiing glory for the 60-year-old, who now lives in Denver. Two weeks ago, Rawles learned that he will be inducted into the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame as a member of the 2020 class.
He joins fellow 2020 classmates Pam (Conklin) Pettee, Ellen Post Foster, James Niehues and Aspen’s Dave Stapleton Jr. in the hall of fame that honors the most important pioneers, sport builders and athletes in Colorado ski and snowboard history.
More than four decades after Rawles first moved to Breckenridge, this accomplishment, the Pro Mogul Tour success and Olympic coaching glory would have been hard for his 20-year-old self to fathom, he said.
Sure, he was the eldest son of parents who founded Turner Mountain Ski Area back in Libby. He grew up at Crystal Mountain in Washington, skiing everything he could with his younger brothers and soon-to-be Breckenridge-bound buddies Kirk and Mike. They were a trio who fawned over freestyle skiing when they first saw it on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.”
But the career — the life — he’s had? What an unexpected globetrotting journey it’s been. And Breckenridge was at the heart of it.
He moved to Breckenridge in September 1979, found a place on Ridge Street and stumbled across a yard sale one Sunday. There, he found the 25-cent jacket that earned him his nickname around town: “Banana Man.” Come opening day, Rawles skied hard in the full-length denim jacket adorned with bananas.
“I was skiing, and people were like, ‘It’s the banana man!’ That’s how it started,” Rawles said. “All of a sudden, I’d wear that coat skiing every day, and it grew from there. … My brother and their friends were buying crazy suit jackets at thrift stores, or whatever, wearing that on the mountain. We were just kind of Gaper Day every day.”
For the Rawles brothers, creating a Breckenridge ski tribe was the closest thing to emulating the “Sunnyside Sliders,” a group of older male mogul skiers they looked up to back at Crystal Mountain. The Rawleses descended on the town and resort — then contained to Peaks 8 and 9 — where an interesting and evolving era of freestyle skiing greeted them.
“An amazing amount of characters lived in this town then,” Rawles said.
The Breckenridge community of mogul skiers, rooted in the Pro Mogul Tour, embraced the Rawleses. They soon were having the times of their lives skiing the bumps on double-black-diamond runs like Tiger and Mach 1. Rawles spent his days launching off the two big jumps on Tiger as he met more people in Breckenridge’s talented and tight-knit mogul community. Soon, he began thinking to himself, “I think I’m as good as these people,” which spurred the competitive high school athlete to try contests.
At his maiden contest at Eldora, Rawles lost his first run but came away thinking, “This is really, really cool. I want to be good at it.” A week later, he made the final at Aspen Highlands, taking home $125.
For the remainder of the ’80s, Rawles was as consistent as they came on the Pro Mogul Tour, reaching the podium at most contests while he and his brothers earned commercial endorsements while representing Ski the Summit.
In 1989 — when his wife, Jacque, gave birth to their son, Zach — Rawles transitioned into coaching. Rawles learned his coaching chops from the legend John Dowling at Team Breckenridge before following in his footsteps to work with the U.S. Ski Team. Over three decades of coaching, Rawles has been an assistant and head coach for the U.S. team when several Olympians won medals, including a then-unprecedented three medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
His teams also had consistency and depth. The year before he was the U.S. head coach at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the team achieved 32 World Cup podiums by 11 skiers. Since, Rawles has served as head and assistant coach for the Chinese National Mogul Team in advance of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
“Not many people get to chase their dreams, have a job that they love and do the thing that they love,” Rawles said. “I still love skiing as much as I did when I was 4 or 5 years old. And I think that, really, when you love something like that, you can give a lot to it. But you get a lot back from it, too.”
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