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Ski Resort Life

Last Chair: Out on Top

After nearly 20 years leading the U.S. Ski Team, Bill Marolt will retire following the Sochi Olympics. "Best in the World" remains his mantra—and, he hopes, his legacy.

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SKI » soon after taking over, you set a lofty goal: to become “best in the world.” There were doubters—and a few snickers—but not anymore. What worked?

B.M. » When I started, we didn’t have a core direction. Were we an event company? Sales- focused? A fundraising organization? What we are now is an organization about kids—about young people with aspirations. In order to pursue “best in the world,” you have to remain completely focused on that vision at all times.

SKI » You’ve made big changes over two decades. What’s the greatest challenge for the next 20 years?

B.M. » The success of any global enterprise is to make it relevant to the changing marketplace. That was a big impetus for us to work hard to bring new freeskiing and snowboarding events into the Olympics—it’s what kids are doing at the resorts. You always need a sense of urgency for change: new and better ways to present the sport.

SKI » Mainstream interest in competition peaks every four years with the Winter games. What can be done to make competition more popular during the non- Olympic years?

B.M. » It all goes back to “best in the world.”

Successful athletes drive that interest. Last year we brought live coverage of our U.S. events to television for the first time. We’ll expand on that this year, along with digital distribution, web streaming, and other initiatives. And NBC will have a great Winter Olympics if our athletes are successful. That will inspire 200 million NBC viewers.

SKI » Who are the best skiers you’ve ever seen on snow, from any team, from any era? The naturals?

B.M. » What stands out to me most are those athletes who were game changers for their sport. In my era as an athlete, it was what Jimmie Heuga and billy Kidd did in 1964. Not only did they win, they changed the face of their sport globally.

SKI » Any insider advice to skiers watching the games?

B.M. » It will be a fun Olympics because we have athletes who will be competitive in literally every event. The new events in freeskiing, snowboarding, and women’s ski jumping will be popular, with many having late-night starts to ensure live coverage. In particular, watch for the effect of a strong superstar in a sport pulling up the depth of the rest of the team. The concept of team is a subtle one but it’s had a strong impact for us.

SKI »What’s the biggest hurdle facing USSA as it sets out for another great medal haul at Sochi?

B.M. »Sochi will be different than Vancouver, and we’ve prepared for that. We have a team with a good blend of experience and youth. We’re going with a veteran staff. We know the venues. We’ve invested time and energy building partnerships with the Russians and spending time on the venues. Our athletes across all sports did well in test events.

SKI » Only a small slice of elite U.S. athletes are attracted to the sport—imagine LeBron James on snow. What can be done to increase the talent pool? 

B.M. »The key to improving our sport’s growth is greater partnership with stakeholders: parents, volunteers, clubs, and local resorts. We need to do a better job telling our story—especially to parents—and letting people know of the opportunities that exist so that young athletes can aspire to be like Lindsey, Julia, Bode, Ted, and others. Then we have to do our work relative to talent identification, skill development, and coaches’ education.

Info » An Aspen native, four-time NCAA ski champion, record-setting ski coach at the University of Colorado, and now president and CEO of the U.S. Ski Team, Bill Marolt, 70, has spent his life on the hill. Tiger Shaw will take over leadership of USSA after the Games.