From the Top: Skiing's Influence

From the Top

As we prepared this special millennium issue, my thoughts drifted back to Christmas morning 1968, when I had to be the most excited 10-year-old on the planet. Ever since I’d watched television coverage of Jean-Claude Killy winning three Olympic golds the previous winter, I was enamored with this otherworldly sport of skiing. And now before me, tucked under the tree, were a pair of leather lace boots and skis in a plastic carrying case. n It did not matter, as my mother revealed to me many years later, that the boots had two previous owners and cost all of $8. Or that the skis, bindings and poles, as well as the nifty plastic case, were purchased at K-Mart for $12.95. They were in fact made by a reputable manufacturer┬┐of TVs, that is. I loved my Zenith Olympiques.

I first skied at a place in Michigan called Swiss Valley, which boasted all of 200 vertical feet and a half-dozen rope tows. I thought it was the Alps. Like many tiny hills in the Midwest, Swiss Valley’s lodge is at the summit. So I fearlessly took off down the hill with my best friend in tow, and somehow we managed to come to a stop 15 seconds later with the help of some bushes.

It was then that our blossoming ski careers came to a temporary halt, as anyone who has faced the uphill transportation device known as the rope tow understands. An hour later, after 20 botched attempts to grab hold of that burning fiber, we made it back to the top: wet, cold, a little too late for a bathroom break┬┐and thoroughly elated. It did not matter that my friend took a bad fall on the next run and ended up in a patrol toboggan, or that neither one of us managed to make an actual turn all day. We were now skiers, and our lives would never be the same.

I grew up playing football, basketball and baseball. But everyone did that. Skiing was different. It was more than just a sport, it was a way of life. To return from spring break with new ski resort patches on my windbreaker and a racoon tan somehow made me feel special, and I think others noticed.

In this millennium issue of SKI, the dashing Killy tops our list of the 100 Most Influential Skiers in history. While this suave Frenchman opened my eyes to skiing, it was my then non-skiing parents who made the tremendous sacrifices to allow me to pursue the sport. Besides driving us all over the Midwest to experience new resorts or to compete in ski races, they both soon embraced the sport themselves. I’ll never forget when my mother took up skiing and jumped right on those Zenith Olympiques that I had since outgrown. They had been skied so much that the lacquer on the wooden base had worn off. So on a warm, sticky spring day on one of Michigan’s steepest trails, my mom the novice happily picked her way through a mogul field as if on snowshoes.

As you read this issue, you might reflect on the people who most influenced your skiing. And ask the question, “What would your life have been like without them?”