Billy Kidd Reflects on Striking Gold at Squaw Valley
William Winston Kidd, better known as Billy Kidd, is an icon in the ski world, often recognized by his signature Stetson hat. Billy and Squaw Valley’s own Jimmie Heuga were the first American men to win Olympic medals in alpine skiing. Kidd won the silver and Heuga brought home the bronze in the slalom at the 1964 Games in Innsbruck, Austria. Four years later, Kidd beat Jean Claude Killy at the Roch World Cup slalom in Aspen. The next year, in 1969 Kidd won the World Cup slalom here at Squaw Valley.
Kidd retired from ski racing in 1970 after winning the gold medal in the combined at the World Championships in Val Gardena, Italy, and moved to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He joined the pro tour and also won the championships that year. He retired after the 1972 season due to chronic injuries. He was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1976 and has been the Director of Skiing at Steamboat since his retirement from racing.
Kidd, now 73, has earned a reputation for being an enthusiastic supporter of a number of causes, including the Special Olympics and The Jimmie Heuga Center in Edwards, Colorado. He says he’s excited about the World Cup returning to Squaw Valley.
Was the 1969 World Cup the first time you skied Squaw Valley?
No. Jimmie Heuga and I both qualified for the 1960 Olympic team but the U.S. Ski Team wouldn’t put us on because we were so young. Jimmie was 15 and I was 16. After Innsbruck, I lived in Tahoe and I loved it. It was one of the happiest times in my life. And I come back a couple of times a year with different projects I’m involved with.
Tell me about the 1969 World Cup – you won the slalom which was unexpected.
Really? I thought I won the giant slalom. That was almost 50 years ago! What I remember was the insane amount of snow. I’d never seen anything like that. The downhill was cancelled because of too much snow – it was crazy! I think it was nine feet in three days! The mountain was shut down and they had to dig the lifts out by hand. When they finally got the mountain open, they only let the World Cup skiers up. It was closed to the general public and we had the whole mountain to ourselves.
That happens here sometimes. Mother Nature has a real sense of humor. Why was that so unusual for you?
I’m from Vermont and deep powder in Vermont is maybe two feet. And because I’m from Vermont, I didn’t know how to ski deep powder. So here I am on KT in nine feet of fresh snow. Like a good little racer I’m on the center of my slalom skis and my tips keep going deeper and deeper. Finally, my heels release and there I go. I went end over end down the West face. We didn’t have ski brakes in those days and as a racer, if you fall, you want to get away from your skis, so we didn’t use safety straps either. I tried to swim up to find my skis but on the West Face in nine feet of powder that’s just not going to happen. I had to yell to someone on the lift to come help me and it was a little embarrassing. Here I am, covered in U.S. Ski Team patches, and then I realize I’m just completely covered in snow and no one can really see anything. Pascal Heuga (Jimmie’s dad) was a great powder skier and Jimmie knew all the secret places to go. It was just a great time.
Back to the race – Dick Dorworth, who was Chief-of-Course, said your win was unexpected. Why?
When I was racing, I had a chronically sprained ankle. I had hurt it again and hadn’t skied for three weeks before the Squaw Valley race. Maybe skiing in the powder just got me loose and relaxed. I don’t know. It’s hard to pinpoint how or why. Everything just clicks into place. I think sometimes it’s easier to figure out why you lose –you can pinpoint a spot or place where that happens.
Did you know Tom Lippert got his start as a photographer because he got the shot of you winning and Sports Illustrated ran it full page?
I didn’t know that. We’ve met a number of times over the years and he’s never told me that.
He was hired to work as a sherpa for Sports Illustrated photographers John Zimmerman and George Long. The day of the slalom, they didn’t need his help, so they gave him a camera, a light meter and some film. They had given him a few pointers and told him to go take some pictures. He says that photo gave him the confidence to pursue his career as a photographer.
I had no idea. What a great story! I’ve been lucky enough to live my dream. It’s nice to know I did that for someone else.
You gave the Squaw Valley bid to host a World Cup race a ringing endorsement, correct?
Andy Wirth raised his family in Steamboat Springs, and we became good friends. I worked with him very closely on a number of projects at Steamboat, and when he decided to bring the World Cup back to Squaw, I supported him fully. I consider him to be a good friend, but I also have a lot of respect for his skills and talents. He did great things at Steamboat and he’s doing great things at Squaw.
Will you be here next year for the World Cup?
You bet! I can’t wait – it’s going to be a lot of fun and we’re going to get to see some great skiing. See you there!