At 65, Bill Marolt shows no sign of slowing down
ASPEN ” Back in his hometown of Aspen, with snow in the air, Bill Marolt settled into a couch in the lobby of the St. Regis to discuss the prospects of his current team.
Ever the professional, the former coach did his best to give thorough, insightful answers to a host of questions. This, despite the fact that his thoughts were with another team, playing in another state.
Once a Buff, always a Buff.
Marolt, 65, may be in his 12th year at the helm of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, but before that, he was the athletic director at his alma mater, the University of Colorado.
Talking about a ski race any other day would be business as usual for the former Olympic racer.
Doing so the day after Thanksgiving, smack in the middle of the annual CU-Nebraska football tussle? That goes above and beyond the call of duty.
But then, that’s typical Marolt, as reliable as snow in Aspen during World Cup weekend.
The youngest of three brothers from one of Aspen’s most storied skiing families, Marolt won the Roch Cup ” which predates the World Cup circuit ” on his home mountain in 1962 at the age of 19. He later became an All-American skier at CU and was one of the stars of the U.S. national team, racing at one Winter Olympics (1964) and two world championships.
A successful coaching career followed, first at CU, then with the U.S. Ski Team.
During his stint as the national team’s alpine director, Marolt’s racers won five medals at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Games, three of them gold. His return to CU as the school’s athletic director came later that same year.
Six years later, the football team won its only national title and the ski teams which Marolt had once coached continued to rack up NCAA titles.
It’s no surprise that Marolt ” who returned to the USSA as its chief executive officer, in 1996 ” has only the highest expectations for the current U.S. men’s and women’s alpine teams.
When asked about the prospects for the U.S. women for this weekend’s races on Aspen Mountain, Marolt was concise with his answer.
“Clearly, we’d like to be on the top of the podium and have a couple podiums every time we have a weekend,” he said. “I think that on balance, both of our teams have performed well and this is a weekend that, judging by what I’ve seen earlier this season, our women are skiing well. We’re excited and we have high expectations.”
When Marolt talks about an American landing on the top of the podium, it can be inferred that he’s talking about the women’s team’s two 24-year-old stars, Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso.
Vonn held off strong Austrian competition last winter to claim the World Cup overall title, while two years ago it was Mancuso who was in contention for alpine skiing’s biggest prize until the final week of the season. Mancuso also won the Olympic giant slalom at the 2006 Turin Winter Games.
The success of those two skiers has made his job much easier, Marolt said.
“In terms of marketing and attention, you can never do that unless you have successful athletes,” he said. “I think that as we’ve had that success, we’ve done a better job of preparing all of our teams and the really good athletes in terms of messaging, in terms of telling their own story.”
While it’s easier to market winning athletes, Marolt said trying to secure funding and sponsorship dollars in a sluggish economy is the biggest challenge for his organization at the moment.
It’s certainly not a unique challenge.
“Corporate America is obviously going through some really tough times,” Marolt said. “You’re seeing it in all of the big sports. You’re seeing the commissioners of football and basketball start to step back. You’re seeing it with NASCAR, when General Motors canceled two of their cars. It’s been difficult and will continue to be difficult.”
He specifically mentioned potential funding that the USSA tried to secure in the past month that fell through because of corporate budget cuts.
With all the challenges ahead, though, Marolt isn’t ready to bail out on the USSA. He mentioned he has been lucky enough to have jobs that “haven’t really felt like work” and that retirement isn’t something that he equates to reaching a certain age.
He doesn’t plan on quitting what he’s doing until he has lost the daily passion for it.
Another commitment Marolt plans to keep: holding World Cup races in the U.S., particularly in Aspen, where the tradition of organized ski racing dates back to 1939.
If he had it his way, Marolt would love to see four women’s races in Aspen to go with the four men’s races held annually at Beaver Creek. Under the current International Ski Federation scheduling, Aspen will likely keep its two women’s races during Thanksgiving weekend for the next four years, but that doesn’t mean Marolt isn’t optimistic about the possibility of more U.S. races in the future.
“As skiing starts to grow in popularity, particularly in Eastern Europe and Russia and Asia, it’s going to be harder and harder to get more races. I think we’ll get races, but to get more races would be more difficult,” Marolt said. “The general philosophy of the FIS is that this is a World Cup and it’s important that we have events on all of the continents, or at least as many as possible. We have established the fact that we run good races in the states, and I think everybody wants us on the calendar because we do good events.”
There’s no question, either, that the U.S. currently has a stable of strong alpine skiers. While the World Cup is an international circuit, its core following is in Europe.
Marolt said he felt a deep sense of pride last season when Bode Miller and Vonn became the first two Americans to win World Cup overall titles in the same year since 1983.
Around the world, ski racing fans were talking about Americans.
And more than anything, Marolt said the success of his organization will be judged on how well it continues to do the same in the future.
“The Europeans are sportsmen. They’re positive and they congratulate us, but at the end of the day, the central Europeans, particularly the Austrians, believe that skiing is their sport and when we essentially have the best skiers in the world for a particular year, that gets their attention, there’s no question about it,” Marolt said. “It’s great for the sport.”
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The Aspen High School girls soccer team looks a lot different from the last time it played, with many new players and a new coaching staff. But winning has become part of the culture, and it’s so far, so good for the Skiers this spring.