At age 80, Aspen’s Bob Beattie still likes to stir the pot, especially if it bubbles over on ski racing’s European establishment.
That’s the approach “The Coach” took in the late ’50s when the former Middlebury football player and skier took over as ski coach at the University of Colorado and won two NCAA titles with mostly homegrown talent as opposed to the European imports at rival University of Denver.
That’s the approach he took in the early ’60s when he coached the first U.S. Ski Team to relevance with the first Olympic medals earned by American men (slalom silver and bronze for Billy Kidd and Jimmie Heuga) at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria.
And that’s the approach he took in the ’70s and ’80s when he founded the World Pro Ski Tour that allowed racers to break away from amateur rules and the constraints of skiing for national teams and gave them the chance to earn prize money in a head-to-head format with jumps.
Having done so much to build the sport over the past five decades – especially in America — Beattie says the future is bright given the high level of current and upcoming talent, but he’d still like to see more innovation led by North Americans.
“I see a lot of future in the sport, but you need to change the rules around and you need to change the format a little bit here and there and tinker with it – always have something fresh and new,” Beattie said by phone from his Woody Creek home near Aspen. “I think that behooves the Ski Team to do that. Don’t just sit back and do what the Austrians have done; take the leadership over here. That’s what I want.”
Since the early ’90s, the FIS (International Ski Federation) World Cup tour, which Beattie helped found in 1966, has steadily reduced the number of races in North America, with venues like Park City, Utah, and Whistler, British Columbia, dropping off and only Lake Louise, Canada, Beaver Creek and Aspen still on the circuit.
This season Aspen was skipped so the women could instead try out the new Raptor course for the 2015 World Championships at Vail and Beaver Creek. Aspen will host again next season.
“I’d like to see World Cup races on the East and the West Coast. The fact that we’re having two [Beaver Creek and Lake Louise] here on a continent likes ours? That’s ridiculous,” Beattie said. “Aspen not having a World Cup this year, I understand it, but it could have been done. Nobody does what Vail does, I concede that, but Aspen has done a hell of a job too.”
Still, Beattie isn’t about to stir up any kind of Vail-Aspen rivalry.
“Vail has always been there when we wanted them and more,” Beattie said. “We never asked Vail for anything that they didn’t deliver, and I have nothing but regard for them.”
In fact, Vail founder Pete Seibert and his marketing guru Bob Parker invited Beattie’s squad to train on the new mountain its first season in 1962-63.
“We started with the ski area at its opening and that year we had a downhill camp in 1963,” recalled Beattie. “We were so cocky we thought we didn’t have to go to Europe [to train], and I still don’t know that we do, to be honest with you.”
Beattie thought the only hope the U.S. had of taking down the mighty Austrians and French was to be more physically fit, so he drove his athletes relentlessly in the off-season and brought a football-like fanaticism to training. He also over-promised and under-delivered to American and European ski-racing fans, guaranteeing victories in every discipline.
“We put it upon ourselves to do well and the challenge was there and the pressure was there from a lot of people at home who didn’t particularly like us that much, especially old ski racers and Olympians who were all over us,” Beattie said with a chuckle.
“We had promised so much, but you know what, I think that’s the way things should be because I’m an optimist by heart. All those young guys – we had Heuga, Kidd, [Bill] Marolt and [Buddy] Werner – nothing bothered them. They were loose as a goose and having a lot of fun. It worked to our benefit.”
Kidd and Heuga came through in the final event of those ’64 Games, and Beattie coached at one more Olympics in ’68 before he launched the pro tour and worked as a broadcaster for ABC at four more Winter Olympics, including Franz Klammer’s hair-raising downhill at the ’76 Games.
Beattie also headed up NASTAR for recreational ski racers and founded the Buddy Werner League for young racers. He was inducted into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum Hall of Fame in 1986.
Editor’s note: During this Winter Olympic season and leading up to the 2015 FIS Alpine World Championships in Vail and Beaver Creek, this weekly series will tell Colorado’s rich snow sports history and heritage through stories about the state’s heroes and legends. The articles first appear in the Vail Daily and are written for the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum Hall of Fame, located on the third level of the Vail Village parking structure adjacent to Vail Village Covered Bridge. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call (970) 476-1876 or go to www.skimuseum.net.