Tough Love

This post by Edith Thys Morgan originally appeared in the October 1998 issue of Ski Magazine. Thys, a former U.S. Ski Team member and two -time Olympian, started skiing at Squaw Valley as a Mighty Mite. Her father, Buck, passed away in January. “All snow is good snow,” was his mantra. His family and friends will gather today to celebrate his life. For more from Edie, head over to her blog on RacerEx.com


By Edith Thys Morgan

The idea of a vacation is different for everyone. For some reason, my parents’ idea of a good time was packing four kids into a station wagon every January and driving 12 hours from the San Francisco Bay area to Jackson Hole. The annual week-long pilgrimage had one purpose: to teach us how to ski powder. My dad believed there was no skill more valuable. And there was no better place than Jackson-where the runs are long and steep, and the snow is dry and deep-to get us to shut up and ski.

Edouard "Buck" Thys - Jan. 1, 1930 - Jan 29, 2016. Photo courtesy Thys Family/Land's End, Inc.

Edouard “Buck” Thys – Jan. 1, 1930 – Jan 29, 2016. Photo courtesy Thys Family/Land’s End, Inc.

I went back there last winter for the first time in 18 years because it was my parents’ 40th anniversary and Jackson Hole’s 30th. And because the reports of record snowfalls were too much to resist. After hearing so much about Jackson’s nouveau cowboy chic, I expected it to be much different from the ruggedly hospitable place of my memories. To be sure, some things were different:

Then, getting to Jackson was a 12-hour drive; now it’s a two-hour direct flight. Then, we crammed into shared beds at the bare bones Hostel; now, we spread out in a luxury log cabin at the ultra-buff Spring Creek Resort. Then, dinner was our choice of Calico Pizza or Mangy Moose burgers; now, you need a Zagat’s guide to help you decide on a restaurant. Then, there was no grooming to speak of except on the speed run down the Gros Ventre; now there are a host of ballroom-smooth steeps all over the mountain.

Many things had changed, but three things had not: The mountain is beyond compare, whining is beyond reproach and Corbet’s still scares me to death.

My parents have behaved quite well over the years. And so, though I wanted to relive my hyper-active youth, I figured I’d cut them some slack during their stay. I’d allow them their first truly relaxing child-free Jackson Hole vacation, which included things like lunch breaks, socializing with old friends and skiing on marked trails.

But could I still capture the magic of this place without the accelerator pegged? I would need a playmate, a victim actually, to complete my return to the scene. So I brought along a snowboarder friend who had the midwinter blues. From what I remembered of the place, Jackson was just the therapy she needed. Of course she could handle it, I promised,with mock confidence. It wasn’t the terrain that concerned me. It was the maintenance factor. I knew that once we were on that mountain, at the top of 4,000 very vertical feet, it would be impossible to stop or wait, no matter how much moral support she needed. Gravity sucks you into a feeding frenzy, and survival rules apply.

My friend arrived late Thursday night and awoke to her first taste of what was coming when I forced her to get out of bed at 7 am Friday morning. “Gotta be at the tram dock by 8 to get the first tram,” I explained. The 10-minute waiting rule is about 9 1/2 minutes too long at Jackson. And making the first tram, even on a non-powder day, is a matter of principle. At the top, my friend strapped herself into her snowboard as I took off down Rendezvous Bowl, thinking it was a bit steeper than I remembered.

Looking up from the bottom, though she was only a spot, I could see her fear. I was nervous-for her well-being if she didn’t make it down in one piece, and for mine if she did. By the time she reached me, she was covered with snow, but her fear had been replaced by exhilaration. Right then I knew she got it-the Jackson Hole tough-love phenomenon. It’s an unspoken version of those unconvincing parental assertions we endured as kids:

This is hurting me more than it’s hurting you; you’ll thank me later; I’m only doing this because I love you; what doesn’t kill you makes you better.

In skiing, tough love is the express route to improvement. While you’re trying to keep up, instincts and blind faith take over, and by simply surviving you jump light years in confidence. I’m convinced Jackson Hole’s tough love treatment built the foundation for both my World Cup downhill racing career and my life-long love of tthe sport.

That first run set the tone for the next three days. Each run my friend pushed herself. She never complained, and never turned back. Meanwhile, I had hooked up with a friend from New York City, an ex ski racer who also had brought a comrade in need of a spiritual boost. We decided to do our friends the greatest service possible, and took off at full-speed-sailing off cat roads and down chutes, dodging rock outcroppings, skipping down mogul fields, threading through trees. It was just like the good old days, when keeping up with my brother meant putting all sensibility aside. I had thought by now I was smart enough to stay within my capabilities. I was wrong.

All this time, my parents were content just to watch us perpetuate the tough-love tradition, so I still hadn’t really skied with Dad. But it was our last day, and I had been looking forward to heading out of bounds-a mission in which I doubted my father would partake. Dad loves powder, but he’s also a big fan of chairlifts. He’ll walk for nothing, except maybe the powder in Cody Bowl-the Promised Land, just opened by the ski patrol that day. The great white expanse stared at him, openly dared him (as none of our group would) to join the fun. Just as five of us were taking off for the trek , Dad noticed we were being briskly led by the oldest official member of the Jackson Hole Air Force. He grabbed his skis and said, “I’m in.”

My father once got me down a steep hill by placing a succession of cherry cough drops in the snow, which I scooped up as I slid down the entire run on my stomach. I don’t remember the crying, though it was well-documented. Instead, I remember the feeling of accomplishment when I looked back up from the bottom. Now it was me doing the bribery, luring him up the boot-packed trail with nothing but water, and brief moments to catch his breath. You’ll thank me later, I assured him, as we pushed on. As a skier passed, and Dad imagined one more set of tracks in Cody Bowl before his, he picked up the pace. When he worried that the snow, once he got to it, might be wind-blown or crusty, I reminded him that all snow is good snow. And when I felt guilty about hurrying him I reminded myself that you have to be cruel to be kind.

He was exhausted, but nearly giddy with expectation. Waiting for us was the powder in Cody Bowl, then over the next ridge a seemingly endless run of untracked powder and corn snow-new territory and a new memory for both of us. All he could say at the top was: “Where’s my cough drop?” But I could give him no candy, not a drop more water, and no more resting time than what it took to put on his skis. I love you Dad, but as they say, paybacks are hell.

Los Tres Amigos

Olympic Champion Bill Johnson was Held in High Regard by his Squaw Valley Family

By Nancy O’Connell

Most hotels have their check-in and check-out times posted clearly on the door. But at the Thys house on Lanny Lane, known around the valley as the ‘Hotel California’ things are a little bit more lax. Barry Thys met Olympic gold medalist Bill Johnson in 1978 at a U.S. Ski Team scouting camp in Copper Mountain. After Johnson flung a few insults at Thys, the two somehow became friends and were both named to the U.S. Ski Team.

“He was a character,” Thys says. In typical Tahoe tradition, Thys told Johnson that if he ever was in the area and needed a place to crash, the door was open. “My family jokes about it,” Thys says, “they call it the Bill Johnson syndrome. He came for a week and stayed for three months.” The Thys house became a home away from home for Johnson, and was where he crashed landed, with one notable exception, when he was in town.

Every wall in the Thys family home is covered with framed photographs of Buck and Nina, their four children, Anne, Beatrice, Barry and Edith, their grandchildren and a few select others whom they count as friends so close, they’ve become family. The collection in the front hallway is tightly pieced together, like a jigsaw puzzle. In the middle, is a framed poster of Johnson, wearing his gold medal with the American flag behind him. He has autographed the poster, thanking the Thys family for their friendship and support, and for providing accommodations at ‘the Hotel California.’

Bill Johnson's autographed poster hangs in the hallway of the Thys family home with a collection of family racing photos.

Bill Johnson’s autographed poster hangs in the hallway of the Thys family home with a collection of family racing photos.

The affection and respect was mutual. “Bill could be really brash and abrupt. He was rude to a lot of people but he was never rude to my mother. Not once. Not ever,” Thys says. “Back when my sisters and I were racing, this house was the center of all of it. My parents wanted it that way. When there was a race here, the place was full. And Bill was a part of that.”

Thys reflects back on those times but the memories are bittersweet. It’s been a tough season. Winter has returned following several sub-par, drought years but Buck’s collapse on the deck of the locker room in late January brought things to a screeching halt. He was taken by helicopter to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno and passed away on Jan. 21. One week later, on Jan. 27, Johnson died in the assisted care facility in Gresham, Oregon, where he had been living since a stroke in 2010.

Following Johnson’s death, there was a deluge  of stories in the national press about his image as the original bad boy of ski racing, but Thys recalls someone who was much deeper and nuanced. “Bill was really, really smart. He was probably smarter than most of the people he was racing against in terms of intelligence. I’d put him in the top 5%. His ability to calculate the lines he needed to take was phenomenal. We went to wind tunnel testing in 1979 at Lake Placid and Bill spent three to four times more time in the tunnel than the rest of us did. I didn’t quite get it but he did. He perfected his aerodynamics and told me later that was a big reason for his success. I went to the same testing and I learned a lot,  but I learned so much more from Bill. He figured a lot out in the wind tunnel and he taught me and helped me see things I didn’t see before.”

Despite Johnson’s conflicts with the U.S. Ski Team, Thys says, “I really believe that if you’re good enough, the politics don’t matter. He was. He proved that.” While the press compared Johnson to Muhammad Ali when he brazenly declared victory before the downhill in 1984 at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics, Thys said that was nothing new. “He was always really brash . . .  tough, and super opinionated. He was cocky but he backed it up, way before that day. That Gold Medal/World Cup thing – he had a magic cloud over him. No one was going to beat him. He won those races even before he went out of the starting gate. In Aspen, just after the Olympics, I was rooming with him. He told me that morning I should be looking for a place to have the victory party. He just knew.”

From the inception of Alpine ski racing and the first winter Olympics in 1924, the sport was dominated by Europeans. They were better funded and they trained on the steep, aggressive terrain where most of the races were held. Americans didn’t win, especially in downhill. From his perspective as a member of the U.S. Ski Team, Thys sees Johnson’s Olympic and World Cup victories in a much broader context. “He was the first American to win a gold medal in skiing and to win a World Cup downhill – actually three – that was huge.”

Thys points out that  Johnson’s success created a culture of possibility; “he showed that it could be done. He gave confidence to other American racers that it was possible for an American to win. He not only told the world he was gonna do it, he did it. At the time nobody believed it was possible. The Europeans said he was just lucky and that he could only win if the course was easy and flat, but that wasn’t true. At Aspen, he was behind up on top where it was flat, and the bottom was steep and knarly. He won on the bottom. He won because of his technique and his complete ability to ski beyond the edge of his comfort zone. He won because took risks that paid off – until the end. Racing downhill basically means throwing your body down the mountain and letting your skis catch up with you – with reckless abandon – you have to be a phenomenal skier, you have to be strong.”

“I learned a lot from Bill. I absolutely idolized what he did. Winning the Europa Cup, the Olympics, three World Cup races – those were my goals. I felt really privileged to be friends with someone who had done that. With his friends, he shared that experience and made you a part of it. He was very loyal to his friends. I saw a guy who was relatively close to me win the ultimate dream in skiing. When I was young, I felt that if I won the gold medal, that my life would be complete. Now, I know there is more to it than that. He taught me that when I saw him fall from grace.” Johnson reached the pinnacle and he didn’t know where to go from there. “As intelligent as he was he didn’t quite have the social skills to navigate the post-racing world,” Thys says.

Johnson had a second, close connection to Squaw Valley. In 1982, the U.S. National Alpine Championships were held here. Nina Thys was on the committee that handled housing arrangements for the athletes and when Bill Johnson’s name came up, there was a momentary concern. Johnson had been kicked off the U.S. Ski Team and had a reputation as a handful. “The committee didn’t know where to put Bill,” Barry says, “and then my mom figured out where to put him. She said the Herhusky house would be perfect. Mary Lou had six boys and wouldn’t take any of Bill’s crap.”

Three decades later, long-time locals still refer to Miracle March. It started snowing on March 27 and thirteen days later, there was over twenty feet of snow. Mark Herhusky lights up when he talks about that spring. “It was crazy. Bill’s Pinto got buried. There wasn’t even a lump or anything. He was supposed to be here for a week but he ended up here for a month. It took him forever to dig his car out! But Bill and I – we really bonded and we became friends.” Thys and Herhusky were already close friends, and together, the three of them landed somewhere between the Three Amigos and the Three Musketeers.

Two years later in 1984, Johnson went to Sarajevo while Thys and Herhusky drove from ski area to ski area, competing on the Nor Am circuit. Herhusky remembers being on the road for over two  months. “We were more or less living out of the car. I don’t think we’d showered in probably two weeks when we showed up at Copper Mountain for the U.S. Nationals.” Johnson was there as well. “Bill has a helicopter and a penthouse suite and when he sees us, he’s grinning ear to ear. He tells us, ‘Boys – wait til you see this!’ We get to his suite and the place is overflowing with flowers, chocolate covered strawberries, plates of amazing food. Then he pulls out this black case and  he shows us the medal.”

“He was so loyal. He didn’t have to even acknowledge us but he couldn’t wait to share it with us. Everybody wanted a piece of him but he was like ‘No – these are my boys and I’m hangin’ with them.’ Then, when I got home, there was a postcard sent from Sarajevo the day he won the gold medal in my mailbox. It was so cool that he took the time out of his day to do that. I was blown away but that was the kind of guy he was. He never forgot his friends.”

That loyalty went both ways. When Johnson crashed at the U.S. Nationals in 2001 in Whitefish, Montana, he was in a coma and not expected to live. Johnson’s mother, D.B. Cooper called Thys and Herhusky and they flew to his side. “We sat there and talked to him,” Herhusky says. “We just kept talking and telling him that we were there. I was holding his hand and he kept spinning my wedding ring. That was all he could do. But he beat the odds and woke up.” Afterwards, he came to stay with Herhusky and his wife, Stacy at their house in Tahoe. “He came back. It was amazing. But he was never quite the same.”

Fifteen years later, Herhusky again rushed to be by Johnson’s side, with Johnson’s sons, Tyler and Nick, but they didn’t get there in time. At the airport, waiting for their flight to Portland, Cooper called with the news that Johnson was gone. “D.B. told me that she was going to wait for us, so we could say goodbye to him. I got there at nine at night and I think we talked until 3:30 in the morning. It was surreal. He was gone, but I could still feel his presence, like he was there listening to us.”

Herhusky  and Thys will head to Aspen with Bill’s former wife, Gina, and their sons, Tyler and Nick next month, on April 9, for a memorial celebration hosted by Mark Schelde, Johnson’s King of the Mountain Pro Downhil Tour partner. “I want to to hear these stories one more time. I don’t want his story to end in that hospital. We’re going to scatter his ashes at the top of the Men’s Downhill.”

“The cool thing is that now Bill is with me,” Herhusky says. He smiles and looks up toward the top of KT. “All I have to do is think of him and he’s with me. If you were lucky enough to be in his inner circle you got to see a side of him that he didn’t show to the world.”

Thys is quiet for a moment. It’s a lot to take in. “Bill got to experience the ultimate achievement of a ski racer. I don’t think you can do much more than Bill Johnson did. There is no higher mountain that you can climb then he did in ski racing. There is just no way. I’m sad for him that he wasn’t able to do more. I think that he could have done more. But he was a super loyal friend. He made mistakes in his life, as have I. And I feel fortunate in my life that I’m still able to learn from my mistakes. He doesn’t  get to do that anymore. But his legacy – what he gave us, what he did for American skiing – that will always be his.”






Fast Thinkers

Bill Johnson, the first American to win an Olympic Downhill at Sarajevo in 1984, passed away on January 21, 2016. He was a maverick and was well-known for his unorthodox behavior, but the reality was far more complex and nuanced. In an article she wrote for Ski Magazine, two time Olympian Edith Thys Morgan takes us inside the mind of downhill racers and speaks from first-hand experience. Her words vividly describe what its like to be on course, hurtling down the mountain at speeds that exceed posted speed limits on most American highways. For more from Edie, check out her blog at RacerEx.com.


By Edith Thys Morgan

Stare into a downhiller’s eyes in the starting gate and you will see the pinpoint focus of a world-class athlete in attack mode. Hermann Maier had it in Nagano, moments before his now-famous Olympic wreck.

Perhaps at the start of his flight he believed that inertia and sheer guts would pull him out of it. But when he reached his pole toward the earth and felt nothing, he must have known it was over. Were it not for his mirrored goggles, we could have seen precisely when Maier’s look changed from one of invincibility to one of panic. Seconds later the Hermanator, “Das Munster,” the most dominant man in the sport, came crashing down to earth.

Watching the spectacle from the comfort of home, one might have thought, “That man is crazy.” And in the heat of competition, he was indeed possessed. Despite appearances, Maier and his fellow downhillers are not a pack of fearless fools with a death wish. Downhill, though it involves seemingly unreasonable risks, is in fact a thinking man’s sport.

The mind has a capacity to prepare the body for things that go entirely against its basic survival instinct. A downhill racer routinely taps that capacity, and learns to depend on it. If there’s one thing on which a downhiller’s mind and body agree, it’s that the safest gear in downhill is full-throttle. To back off is to invite the mountain to take charge of your fate.

Bill Johnson, the first American to win three World Cup Downhills, and an Olympic Downhill.

Bill Johnson, the first American to win three World Cup Downhills, and an Olympic Downhill.

Consequently, two disparate urges, self preservation and the need for speed, meet in the starting gate. From there, the downhiller’s art is in knowing the thin line between courage and insanity, then forcing himself as close to that line as possible¿without going over.

To many observers, both familiar and unfamiliar with ski racing, Franz Klammer’s 1976 Olympic gold medal winning run in Innsbruck, Austria, remains the enduring image of downhill racing. Though to spectators it looked like a wild, reckless rodeo ride, Klammer maintains he was in control. Just as a linebacker runs through his opponent, the downhiller throws himself down the mountain to confront hazards on his own terms. Klammer’s longevity and success on the World Cup, 25 downhill wins over a decade, with no serious injuries, ultimately proved his point. Yes, Klammer had natural gifts and a thirst for speed, but guts alone don’t make for long careers in high-risk sports.

Former Swiss downhiller Bernhard Russi, who designed the past three Olympic courses and this month’s World Championship track at Beaver Creek, Colo., believes that downhill is an innate undertaking. “You have to be somewhat fatalistic because you cannot calculate downhill. When you are going 90 mph and your skis are flying around, there has to be a desire that comes from your subconscious, telling you to go even faster.” It may not be a higher calling, but it is an inner calling, as impossible to affect as it is to deny. Speed and danger keep the downhiller’s heart beating. And for every male downhiller, there is one place that slakes the thirst.

The place is Kitzbühel, Austria, and the race is the Hahnenkamm, skiing’s equivalent of the World Series. In a downhiller’s universe, you are a rookie until you’ve successfully conquered it. The Streif, as the run is called, is not the longest or fastest in the world, but it is universally recognized as the most technically demanding, the hairiest and thus the most satisfying.

The tension surrounding the Hahnenkamm puts to bed any notions that downhillers don’t get scared. “It’s like a funeral at the start,” explains former U.S. Ski Team downhiller Kyle Rasmussen, “especially during the course holds.” A course hold means that somewhere down below, on the minefield of blind icy turns, wild jumps and cruelly abrupt compressions, a racer has gone down. The team radios start crackling as trainers fail to turn the volume down before the racers can hear the panic on the other end.

“The first year I was there they helicoptered three guysff the course on the first training run,” recalls Rasmussen. Such delays give racers plenty of time to do something downhillers do far too much of anyway¿contemplate their fate.

The key to survival, and success, lies in mental preparation. “Seeing past the danger allows you to relax and move with the terrain,” says Rasmussen. Sounds simple enough, but it’s a tall order considering the Hahnenkamm’s daunting history of wrecks and injuries, legendary carnage familiar to every competitor.

While the Hahnenkamm showcases downhill’s intensity, a post-race peek inside Kitz-bühel’s Londoner Bar defines catharsis. Here, in another time-honored tradition, the racers gather to revel in the success of surviving skiing’s toughest test. They take turns tending bar, all of them soaking up their celebrity.

More than bravado, the feeling among the racers in the Londoner is one of mutual regard. By race day in Kitzbühel, there are typically about 40 competitors left in the field, half that of a normal World Cup downhill. Even racers who have finished in the top 10 at other World Cup sites opt out of the Hahnenkamm because of the danger. This makes Kitzbühel’s survivors an elite brotherhood, with a respect for what they can’t control and a genuine appreciation for what they can.

That humility is essential for survival. I once had a downhill coach who grew up on a ranch. He would frequently remind us that, “A wild horse will hurt you, but a tame horse will kill you.” He meant that we needed to pay attention, to have some fear in our hearts and to give every course the respect it deserves. Because sometimes, thanks to the democracy of fate, even the best physical and mental preparation isn’t enough protection. Accidents, bad accidents, do happen.

Canadian Rob Boyd remembers watching from the finish area in Wengen, Switzerland, in 1991, when Gernod Reinstadler, a promising young Austrian, swung too wide in approaching the finish. His ski got caught in the safety netting and he was split apart like a chicken bone. “From the bottom it looked as if he was sliding over his ski,” recalls Boyd. “But then the ski got longer, and we realized it was blood.” Reinstadler sustained a compound fractured femur, which severed his femoral artery, and died later that night.

In 1994, tragedy struck on the women’s circuit. Austrian Ulrike Maier, a two-time World Champion in super G and the only mother on the World Cup circuit, caught an edge on an icy downhill in Garmisch, Germany, struck her head against a timing stake and was killed. In an instant the myth that women’s downhill was safer, more protected, had been shattered.

Hilary Lindh, who collected her first World Cup win the next week in Sierra Nevada, Spain, recalls the fallout from Maier’s death. “It touched everyone so personally because it was such a fluky thing, and it could’ve happened to anyone,” remembers Lindh. “Downhill is unpredictable. That’s part of the rush. It brought everyone down to the ground and made us think about what we were doing.”

Boyd and Lindh recall these tragic events thoughtfully, yet not over-dramatically. Racing downhill requires a constant analysis, evaluation of risks, dealing with fear and learning where to find confidence. There are times to excel and times when it is beyond your capacity. Good downhillers are bright enough to recognize the difference¿and patient enough to wait for their time to come.

That patience is in a constant tug-of-war with greed for the incredible feeling of power that comes with a good day of downhill. Words cannot begin to describe the raw sensation, but if you watch a downhiller flat out for speed, snow trailing off the skis like smoke, you can understand that power. And suddenly, the addiction doesn’t seem so crazy. It is a conspiracy between mind, body and the mountain, to feel something unreasonable, elusive and short-lived.

To feel invincible.

This article originally appeared on SkiMag.com on February 1, 1999 at  http://www.skinet.com/ski/1999/01/fast-thinkers


The Long Road, en Français

If you haven’t discovered Edie Thys Morgan’s blog, RacerEx, go there, just as soon as you finish reading her latest post below. Her insight and experience is combined with wit and humor. Even if you aren’t the parent of an up and coming junior racer, her observations apply in a much broader context. For those of you who don’t know Edie, she is a Squaw Valley Ski Team alum, two time Olympian and currently living in Etna, New Hampshire with her husband and two children/junior racers. On her website, she says “I retired like most athletes—tired and bitter, glad for the experience yet wishing I had done more. That first autumn, not going to the glaciers or to torturous dryland training camps, and suddenly spending my time sitting in a classroom, I found myself with plenty of time to reflect. So when Gary Black, publisher of Ski Racing, suggested I write an article about my new perspective I jumped at the opportunity, and a few hours later Racer-eX was born.” We will be sharing some of her posts here on occassion, but I encourage you to check out her blog at racerex.com.




By Edie Thys Morgan/RacerEx on March 1, 2016

Well Happy March to you! Assuming that you have already awoken and said “Rabbit rabbit” into the mirror, parents of ski racers have one more task. It is the annual tradition of reading The Long Road, to keep blood pressure in check during the upcoming weeks. This year, in addition to reposting the piece, I am including a French lesson. This comes in the form of excerpts from a fine book my sister recently unearthed, “Ski the French Way,” by Georges Joubert and Jean Vuarnet, published in 1970. My sister had kindly bookmarked the section on “child prodigies” with a post-it. Thanks to her, and to an excellent translation by Sim Thomas and John Fry, I can offer some time-tested nuggets of wisdom to support a broader perspective and healthier approach to this season of championships, selections and seemingly make-or-break scenarios.

To start off, a little word of caution:

“An increasing number of young children…are able to ski today with almost as much ease as excellent adult skiers or even authentic champions. Many of them may well be future Olympic stars. Much harm can be done, however, by the individual parent who focuses all his attention on his own offspring. Having seen dozens of parents in France push their children, sometimes against their children’s wills, into difficult competitions, and having seen those same children abandon racing five or six years later from loss of enthusiasm just at an age where maximum participation in the sport was crucial to their development as skiers, we believe it a duty to warn fathers and mothers about so-called skiing prodigies…”

After pointing out how the relative advantage of intensive early training can be more than made up for with sustained enthusiasm and good coaching by an athlete’s mid- to late-teens, the authors make the same case for early physical advantages:

“…Another point—that of physiological age as opposed to actual age—should be mentioned in any discussion of child prodigies. It is not unusual to see a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old with the physical and athletic qualities of a seventeen-year-old. These precocious children are capable of real feats for their age, but considering their physical endowments, the feats are not remarkable.”

They take it even further with respect to girls and women:

“This problem applies especially to young girls….one concludes a little too quickly that only young girls, thirteen- or fourteen-year-old virtuosos can become champions, and that by age 19 they are over the hill…it makes no sense to believe that an athletic young woman in full possession of her physical abilities and the indispensable characteristics of a champion should be handicapped in relation to younger girls. The champions in all well-evolved specialized sports are all over twenty. “

Love these guys! Especially where they advise that one should never sacrifice education for elite athletics:

“…There is certainly a case to be made for the grand champions, called amateurs, who earn a lot of money. But for the small number who reach this category, how many fail to make it?…”

Finally—and I mean finally for now, because I’ll be busting this book out for reference plenty— I offer you their exquisite take on the particular joys of ski racing that will always transcend results:

“Even if you finish far behind in a race, you’ll still be rewarded. First, you’ll have had the pleasure of participation. You’ll have felt the special tension which preceded the race, the acute concentration during the countdown…and the release at the final, “go!’ And you’ll have fought with courage against the elements, for which there are few opportunities in our civilized world.”

So with that I say “Rabbit rabbit” to all. Read The Long Road, keep it real, and let’s have some fun this March. À votre santé!

Read “The Long Road” here: http://www.racerex.com/its-a-long-road-for-a-box-of-chocolates/

Questions From Fro and the Zen of Dorworth

Deadlines are always crazy. Even though the Squaw Valley Times isn’t a daily or even a weekly, things still get nuts. Every once in a while, it can be a three-ring circus and I don’t mean that metaphorically. During this past production cycle, I was working on a couple of different stories and while I was on the phone, another call came in.  It never fails.  One of the stories for the issue was a piece about the memorial scholarship set up in memory of  Robert “Fro” Frohlich.  Fro was the voice of these mountains for several decades, a noted writer, friend and fellow ski bum. He was one of many who came for a visit and never left.  He died in 2010 following a lengthy battle with cancer, but in spirit, he remains an integral part of the community.

I’m always a little melancholy and nostalgic at this time of year. The end of the season always shows up to me as something of a good-bye. Not ‘see-you-later’ but more of a “we may lose and we may win, but we will never be here again” kind of thing. Writing about Fro and doing another story on the Shane McConkey Foundation put me in a strange space. Winter was a no-show and even though it was warm enough to wear shorts, I felt just a little blue.

I clicked over on the call-waiting, and I’m always amazed at my ability to do that without hanging up on both callers. One small step for womankind. The voice on the other end of the phone instantly reminded me of so many things I am grateful for, including the great blessing to have known so many of the people we have lost from our Squaw Valley family. He did all that with just by saying “Hi.”

My conversations with Dick Dorworth are always a revelation. I learn something about myself, about life and navigating my way through the day, one turn at a time. Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, he was my ski coach. Skiing with him was, as a former teammate put it – “transcendent.”  Some things don’t change. The conversation meandered around, from Shane to Stevie (McKinney) to Sully and Fro. I appreciate that Dick doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff and that he somehow keeps it all in perspective.  When I got off the phone, he sent me the link to this post.

I opened up the link, and fell into a quiet reverie.  I felt a little voyeuristic, reading this intimate, honest, funny and brilliant encounter between two of my favorite writers.  As soon as I finished, I jumped on to my email to send him a quick thank you note and only then did I read the rest of his message to me: “Yes, spring is early this year and there isn’t enough water. Spring is always the end of something – this year it is early and disturbing but, as the song continues, “ . . . don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy . . . Take it easy.”



By Dick Dorworth/dickdorworth.com June 22, 2014

Robert “Fro” Frolich was a beloved member of the Squaw Valley/North Lake Tahoe community for many years. When he died in 2010 after a long battle with cancer, the world of mountains and the soul of adventure lost one of its most passionate and articulate spokesmen and chroniclers. His two coffee table books, “Mountain Dreamers: Visionaries of Sierra Nevada Skiing” and “Skiing with Style. Sugar Bowl: 60 Years” are classics. Fro was many things to many people—writer, skier, climber, adventurer, seeker, bon vivant and trusted confidante with huge shoulders. First of all, to me, Fro was my friend, and just after my book “Night Driving” was published he sent me these questions.

Fro: You’ve been pumping out an array of stories for over forty years. Finally, you’ve published a book. It’s about time. What’s been the hold up and is there a novel on the way?
DD: The short answer is that if I had a dollar for every publisher rejection I’ve received I would be able to take that money and fill up my car with gas, drive to Squaw from Ketchum, buy a lift ticket for the day, ski all day with a fine lunch at High Camp, take you out to dinner in Squaw’s best restaurant, fill up my car again and drive back to Ketchum and have a few dollars left over. The long answer is that my writing career, as I once told Mort Lund, “……has been hampered by all the time I spend skiing and climbing and traveling. If it weren’t for the mountains, I think I could become a hell of a good mountain writer.” I’ve got at least two more books worth of material already done that if “Night Driving” proves successful I’ll try to get published. Yes, there is a novel on the way, though it’s still in my brain and not on paper or even in the computer.

Fro: Your writings and your lifestyle have been compared to part Kerouac part Edward Abbey even part Hunter Thompson. Whose actually been a big influence and do you have any Hunter stories?
DD: Well, those three were writing about several issues, experiences and attitudes that interested me and they are among my favorite writers; but I’d been driving long distances around the U.S. long before I became aware of Kerouac, altering my own consciousness long before “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” was published, and pissed off about the environmental destruction of my homeland before I knew about Abbey. Among the beats, Gary Snyder certainly has long been an influence. Hemingway was such a strong early influence that much of my early work sounds like third rate Hemingway and I had to quit reading him for about 20 years, but now that he’s no longer a threat to my own voice I admire him more than ever. My young influences included Mark Twain, Jack London, Thomas Wolfe (not Tom), John Steinbeck, Scott Fitzgerald, Montaigne, William Blake, Gertrude Stein, Edna St. Vincent Millay and, of all people, Monty Atwater. No, I don’t have any Hunter stories that haven’t already been told.

Fro: Night Driving has long been celebrated as a classic piece of writing. And it has just as much power in its words today as way back yonder when you wrote it. Have we come full circle as a society to still embrace its message?
DD: Society as a whole seems to me as out of control as ever, but every individual can read a book, embrace its message and change some small part of their world that needs changing. There is great hope in that and if “Night Driving” in some small way adds to that hope in action I am pleased.

Fro: You write that our ultimate tragedy, the deepest despair, is to not be who we are. It seems to me you’ve been several different people in your life—athlete, rogue, loadie, Buddhist, etc. Not to be sophomoric, but is there a time and place for truly discovering oneself?
DD: Yes. The time is now. The place is here.

Fro: You write in “A Place To Start” that “…hope is the intention to trust the true nature of things.” Yet so many times we feel despair. We feel hopelessness sometimes whether reading the newspaper or just looking at our own lives. Have you ever had the same feelings and where did you look to start believing again?
DD: Fro, it is a continuous, unending struggle. Joy does not exist without sorrow, nor does life without death. It is the human condition. And, yes, I’ve had my fair share of black holes in life. The great writer and activist Terry Tempest Williams was asked by a conservative U.S. Senator who disagreed with her thoughts about Iraq and other national policies, “What are you willing to die for?” Terry answered, after a great deal of introspection“….that was not the question, it wasn’t what I was willing to die for, but what I was willing to give my life to.” You get out of black holes by figuring out what you are willing to give your life to. What else is there to believe in?

Fro: You’ve hung out and played with some dynamic and groundbreaking people. My favorite friend of yours, of course, was Steve McKinney. Do you have a favorite McKinney story?
DD:  Steve was raised as a McKinney, though biologically he was not. His biological father and mother had divorced when he was young, and the father was estranged from his children and bitter and angry. The parents’ disputes and differences were, as usual, dropped upon the heads and hearts of their children. Steve knew who his father was and even where he was, but he did not know his father. Steve was in his 20s when he decided one night he wanted to contact his biological father who lived on the other side of America and who he had not seen since he was an infant. He phoned. His father told Steve he did not want to have any contact with him and to never phone him again. Steve did not, but he told me he was very hurt, confused and depressed by his father’s response. I asked him what he thought about it, and about his father. His reply took my breath away and has always resonated with me. Steve said, “Well, I know he was doing the best that he could do with what he had to work with at the time.” That’s my favorite Steve McKinney story and how I remember him.

Fro: Who’s the downright craziest skier or climber you ever knew? Was there ever anybody you stayed away from because they were just too weird?
DD: All the real crazies of my era and even of a couple eras after are dead or no longer skiing or climbing. Without mentioning names, yes, there are a few people I avoided (and avoid) for a variety of reasons involving personal taste and self-preservation.

Fro: In today’s ski industry the wooing of “extremism” is so big that no one can deny its influence. Its movement has changed the perception of ski terrain radically. High risk means high pleasure and, though attempting defy-defying acts for most sane folks is tantamount to digesting a bowling bowl, especially Tahoe skiers and boarders, who chase cliffs the way a dog chases tires are called crazy and willing to be hit. Do you think that extremism sends a mixed message to young people out there who think this is what the sport is only about, about going big and skiing sick lines? You were one of the first going big and doing it on huge skis. Does it blow your mind with what’s being skied on the hill these days? What advice do you tell young skiers jumping all these cliffs and skiing such outrageous lines?
DD: To borrow the title of Bode Miller’s fine autobiography which I recommend to every skier of any age, ability and degree of love for the sport, “Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun.”

Fro: The Lake Tahoe Basin, surrounded by a dozen alpine resorts, and blessed with big mountains complemented by big snowfall, is extreme skiing’s breeding ground. Extreme skiers traveling to Lake Tahoe is comparable to surfers visiting the North Shore of Oahu, or windsurfers making the pilgrimage to Ho’okipa on Maui. Tahoe’s terrain is a rite of passage for the ski or snowboarding enthusiast, especially Squaw Valley. Is Squaw Valley the mother ship for extremists and is it that rite of passage? What are your thoughts?
DD: I probably don’t know enough about modern extreme skiing to make an intelligent comment, but the most extreme skiing and lines I’ve seen have been in Alaska. I was very grateful that I was too old to think that I needed to ski them, though those who do are wild and beautiful adventurers.

Fro: You’ve traveled to some of the most remote places in the world. You probably have more frequent flyer miles than the Rolling Stones. What are some of the most far out places you’ve traveled to? Do all airports look alike or do you have a favorite. Any place you ever went where you should have stayed home?
DD:Kashgar, China; the Rongbuk Valley under the north face of Mt. Everest, Tibet; Mustagh Ata, Pamir Mountains, China; Patagonia, Argentina; the bottom of the Grand Canyon, Arizona; Mt. Steele, Kluane National Park, Yukon, Canada; Yosemite, California before, say, 1975; Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada before, say, 1960; Mt. Shasta, California; Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho; Indian Creek, Utah; the volcanoes of southern Chile. I like airports less and less with every journey and there are no candidates for favorite. Yes, like all people who tend to wander, there are many places I went where I should have stayed home, but I didn’t know that until I got home.

Fro: After decades of being on your skis you appear to not have slowed down. How many days per season do you still “boot up”? Skiing is your lifeblood. Has it ever felt like a job or does the love for the sport continue to increase every day?
DD: I ski nearly every day all winter, though often for only a couple of hours; between the lift served mountain in Sun Valley and the backcountry I probably ski 120 to 140 days a year. Like most skiers, I began skiing for the joy of it; then it turned into a competitive endeavor; and then to a professional one; and now it is back to being what it was in the beginning. Yes, it has been a job at times, but my love and appreciation for skiing continues to grow.

Fro: The ski industry has jettisoned itself from a rather fringe sport into big business fueled by corporate takeover and real estate. It’s a far fling from the days of staying at the Heatherbed in Aspen Highlands or The Star Hotel in Truckee. However, the ski industry as a whole continues to move from independent ownership to a structure fueled by corporate takeover and real estate. Has there been anything lost in the transition of free enterprise? What are some of the good and maybe some of the bad directions taking place in today’s snowsport industry?
DD: Think of the principle that guides a community, and think of the principal who guides a corporation. Think of a privately owned cattle ranch with meadows that have supported cattle for a hundred years, and think of a CAFO.

Fro: Reading “Europe: Fourth Time Around” made me laugh and cry. Those were great days. Adversely, do you think skiing has lost its soul, its on-slope experience? KT-22 on a powder morning has one of the worst vibes full of grommets, poseurs and gapers jostling in liftline. What are people’s anxieties about these days? In general, what’s everybody so stressed about? We are living in mountain paradise in a wonderful community amongst groovetron folks. Why are people so upset? Are people just as tweaked in the mountains and need counseling as in the urban areas?
DD: Beats me what the people you’re talking about need, but it’s a shame they can’t get it. The business of skiing has lost its soul, but the experience of skiing and the skiers who tune into it have not. The basics never change in skiing or anything else.

Fro: That looked like a really cool camper that you hung out in while writing your essays at Camp 4. Whatever happened to that rig?
DD: I bought that from my friend Louis Bergeron (now a doctor in Elko) for two pairs of skis, drove it for a few years and sold it to a gentleman (I’ve forgotten his name) who was into restoring old vehicles. I like to think the old Chevy is still on the road at old car reunions, full of soul and good karma.

Fro: If there is one thing to take on the road what is it? Peanut Butter, Bible, Swiss Army knife, Six Mix-A-Lot CDs? And what is the one indispensable thing you take with you when you’re doing big walls. (Dave Nettle once told me a headlamp as example).
DD: On the road take good coffee; on a wall take a pair of prusiks.

Fro: Does it ever blow your mind about what a long strange trip it’s been? What is your favorite testimonial to Tahoe and what does Squaw Valley mean to you in the big canvas of things?
DD: Yes. Didn’t you read “Night Driving?” I grew up at Tahoe and grew up some more in Squaw, and, to pursue the big canvas metaphor, Tahoe and Squaw are the undercoating to everything.

Fro: Do you have a favorite anecdote from a moment through the years that puts your lifelong efforts into perspective; funny, humbling? Is there a moral to all this?
DD: If there is it was summed up in “Europe: Fourth Time Around” by Emile Allais when he laughed and laughed while sitting in the snow after a fall and said, “Oh, it’s good for us to fall down every now and then,” and he laughed some more.

Fro: Bonus Question: What’s your favorite line at Squaw Valley?
DD: The Nose, the West Face, the East Face, Chute 75 in powder were my favorites, but I haven’t skied Squaw in several years.