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CARBONDALE, Colo. June 14, 2004 – Olympian Dick Durrance, who universally was considered the first world-class alpine racer from the United States, has died. He was 89 when he passed away Sunday from natural causes, his family said.
Durrance was born in Altamonte Springs, Fla., and he learned to ski when his mother took the five Durrance children to Germany in 1927. They lived there for five years and Durrance, the second eldest, became an outstanding racer; he was the 1932 German junior champion and won other races on the continent.
However, as Hitler began his ascent to power, the family moved back to the United States. Durrance eventually enrolled in Dartmouth College and won four college titles; he also won the Harriman Cup, arguably the most prestigious ski trophy in that era, three times in Sun Valley. He also won nine U.S. championships – the downhill, slalom and combined gold medals in 1937, ’39 and ’40.
After graduating from Dartmouth in 1939, he worked as a photographer at Sun Valley and later was part owner of Utah’s Alta Ski Area. In 1947, after selling the infant area a T-bar, he was named the first general manager of the young ski area in Aspen, Colo.; he established the onetime mining town as a ski destination when he attracted the 1950 alpine World Championships to town. He also was the chief of race for the alpine events at the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif., and produced more than 40 ski films. He was selected for the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1958 and in 1995 co-authored his autobiography, “The Man on the Medal,” referring to the medal struck by USSA’s predecessor, the National Ski Association of America, and awarded during U.S. championships in the 1930s and ’40s.
“As a competitor, as a technician, as developer, resort developer, as a movie maker, he had a commitment and passion for skiing that was a lifetime commitment,” said Bill Marolt, president and CEO of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. Growing up in Aspen, Marolt – a 1964 Olympic racer and former U.S. alpine champion – was friends with Durrance’s two sons, Dick Jr. and Dave. “Dick was an inspiration to me as a young ski racer in Aspen, a real ski hero i could look up to.”
Dave Bradley, a ski jumper with the 1940 Olympic Team which never competed because of the war and a Dartmouth teammate of Durrance, said, “Dick Durrance was the greatest skier this country ever produced.”
Most skiers in those days, Bradley said, were four-event skiers “so you went out and practiced for whatever it was. We learned a great deal about alpine from Dick, who seemed to enjoy coaching us. He was a good leader. He also (skied) cross-country and placed third in one meet …
“He was irrepressible,” Bradley said. “He had the damnedest, fastest reactions you ever saw.”
Miggs Durrance, his wife of 62 years, died in 2002. They are survived by their two sons.