Spider Sabich ‘Lives’ on in film and party
Bob Beattie Foundation to celebrate the late ski racer's induction into the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame
What: Spider Sabich Celebration
Where: Viewline Resort Conference Center, Snowmass Village
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
How much: Free, registration required
More info: The event will include a screening of the tribute film “Spider Lives” (7:30 p.m.) followed by a post-film discussion, Hall of Fame induction ceremony and a “Party Like a Pro” reception running until 11 p.m. Register at bobbeattie.org
When the skiing champion Spider Sabich was shot and killed by his lover, the singer Claudine Longet, in Aspen in March 1976, it sparked a national fascination and a media feeding frenzy that would continue through Longet’s trial in the Pitkin County Courthouse the following year.
The salacious story of the jilted girlfriend killing this dashing national ski hero has overshadowed Sabich’s life story and his accomplishments on snow and in professional racing in the decades since. Sabich’s teammates, coaches and friends are aiming to rectify that as he is inducted posthumously into the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame.
A new hour-long tribute film, titled “Spider Lives” and produced by the Bob Beattie Foundation, recounts Sabich’s life through memories shared by Aspenites who were with Sabich during his ’70s heyday, childhood friends from Lake Tahoe, racing teammates from the University of Colorado-Boulder and the World Cup, Olympics and the pro tour where Sabich excelled.
The film will screen Friday night at the Viewline Resort Conference Center as the centerpiece of a free “Party Like a Pro” event celebrating Sabich and gathering those who knew and loved him on the occasion of his Hall of Fame induction.
“Spider Lives” paints a glowing and superhuman portrait of Sabich, recounting his fearless racing, his off-the-mountain aura and charm, and his groundbreaking move from the World Cup circuit at the height of his career to Beattie’s World Pro Skiing Tour.
Sabich raced in the 1968 Olympics and across four World Cup seasons from 1967 to 1970 before winning three consecutive overall titles on the popular pro tour featuring head-to-head slalom races, becoming the sport’s “first rock star,” as one observer puts it in the film and kicking off his storied rivalry with Jean-Claude Killy.
Fueled by thrilling archival footage of Sabich racing, the tribute includes recent interviews with friends who call him “the poster child of American ski racing.”
The film, which is not expected to get a public streaming or broadcasting release, tracks his life from his childhood in California and teenage ski victories to college in Colorado, where his freshman roommate and teammate Bill Marolt recalls a favorite Sabich barroom trick: spitting lighter fluid from his mouth, lighting it and breathing fire while jumping from table to table. He was always a rebel, Marolt recalls, but he shaped up to train and race.
“Spider was going to challenge the system, but he was willing to pay the price if he did,” Marolt says in the film.
Fellow racers like Mark Tache and Billy Kidd weigh in on Sabich’s skill along with the ways he inspired and paved the way for future racers to make a living, along with more off-snow adventures (Kidd recalls a road trip to Monte Carlo where the pair faced off in an unsanctioned race on the city’s Formula One car-racing course).
His magnetic personality and the easy glamour he projected also come into focus in the film, as friends recall him as a forever-young force of nature.
“He made life fun because he was enjoying it,” fellow 1968 Olympian Karen Budge-Eaton says.
Sabich also came to personify the wild spirit of Aspen in the early ’70s.
As one friend puts it bluntly in the film: “Man, talk about drugs, rock ’n’ roll and sex. We just crushed it.”
More than four decades later, the wounds from Sabich’s shocking death are still fresh to those closest to him, as evidenced by the tears and heavy emotions of the film’s final chapter. Friends recall the tempestuous relationship between Longet and Sabich and the breakup that preceded her shooting him in the stomach.
“She had a bad temper, which we’d seen may times at dinners and parties where she would upend a table and start yelling about things,” Aspenite Elsa Mitchell says. “I think it was pretty much over, and she had threatened Spider before and threatened him in front of us, what she would do if he looked at another woman. Then it came true.”
The film notes Sabich’s legacy here in Aspen, where the race arena on Snowmass Ski Area is named in his honor, and in the sport, but also documents a private legacy: Sabich’s daughter, Missy Greis, born in 1967 to Dede Brinkman — who grew up with Sabich in California and was his classmate in Boulder and friend through the Aspen years — but not publicly identified as his daughter.
Greis, who founded a coffee company in Utah, says in the film she did not know Sabich was her birth father until she was 20.
Brinkman says the child was fated to carry on Sabich’s legacy.
“That was meant to be,” Brinkman says in the film, “because Spider now has progeny, and I have a remarkable daughter who looks very much like him and now has all his mannerisms.”