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The First Freeskier Passes On

Cold Front

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No other person dominated skiing in america as much, or for as long, as this short man with long skis,” says legendary ski filmmaker Warren Miller of his old friend, ski pioneer Dick Durrance. Durrance died at his home in Carbondale, Colorado, on June 13, 2004.

Born in Florida in 1914, Durrance didn’t see snow until his family relocated to Germany, when he was 14. A natural-born skier, he won the 1932 German Junior Alpine Championships just four years after his introduction to the sport. He later attended Dartmouth College, where he kicked off a string of 17 national championship victories. An entrepreneur and artist, Durrance predated Warren Miller as a cinema-tographer, started the Dick Durrance Ski School at Alta, trained ski troopers for World War II, and went on to become Aspen’s first general manager. But perhaps his greatest accomplishment is the legacy he left powder skiers: The guy could float-on wooden skis, in leather boots, he could float. And he did it before anyone else.

“Dick was one of the first to develop a way to ski and actually enjoy powder,” says Alan Engen, director of skiing at Alta. Bill Leavitt, Alta’s mayor since 1972, sums up Durrance’s embodiment of the spirit of skiing: “Dick came forth as the first of the great American skiers. He could do it all.”