When the first pro ski racing tour came along, it was made up of former World Cup racers and some former Olympians.

Dave Irons, Ski Columnist

Those who remember Bob Beattie’s World Pro Ski Tour can recall Beattie, who had already made himself well-known as an announcer for TV on the Olympic and World Cup stages. It was easy for him to get his new form of ski racing on TV. Having the racers go head-to-head on dual courses created an audience among non-skiers. Even longtime skiers don’t take the time to watch one skier at a time ski down a course against the clock.

Head to head, with the winner known at the end of the run, is easy to follow. Who wants to wait until all the racers have had their run and wait for the results? But that’s the way it is done on the World Cup and in the Olympics. In fact, all ski racing is done that way, except for the Pro Ski Tour.

And Pro shouldn’t be the operative word. If you think members of the Austrian Ski team are amateurs, I have some news for you. But in the days when Beattie set up his pro tour, the myth of pure amateur ski racing was still accepted. It didn’t matter that Jean-Claude Killy was on the payroll of the French Custom service, and who can forget Gustavo Thoeni, who after retiring from years as an amateur racer for his country’s ski team was found to owe the Italian Government some $400,000 in back income taxes. That’s quite a chunk after an amateur career.

That has all changed. Today, World Cup racers get a trophy and a check. I don’t know if and how much Olympic medalists get, but no one is pretending these are amateur athletes. So, in an email telling me to watch and cheer on River Radamus racing Super G for the US and Simon Breitfuss Kammerlander for Bolivia. The email came from the World Pro Ski Tour, where both are regular competitors.

When Ed Rogers, former owner of the Red Stallion at Sugarloaf, restarted pro ski racing a few years ago, he recruited officials of the US Ski Team. And having team skiers participate on the Pro Tour was encouraged as long as they could do so within their schedule. Team head Tiger Shaw, a former US Team member, recognized the need for the extra competition and the chance for the skiers to make some extra money. As a result, a number of team members race on the Pro Tour and are even competing in the Olympics.

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Ed sold his interest in the Tour, but WPST has a full schedule of events this season. This weekend, they are racing at Steamboat in Colorado and the championship finals are set for Taos, New Mexico from April 7-10. Unlike past seasons, there are no events scheduled here in Maine. But it was worth noting that some of the pro racers are skiing in the Olympics, and now that the Pro Tour and the US Ski Team are cooperating, we could see more of the team in the pros and vice versa.

I have seen very little of the Games, as most of the skiing has been at times when I’m not up for watching. I did see an interesting profile on Karl Anderson, who was on the US Ski Team in the 70s and in the ’76 and ’80 Olympics, most notably as a downhiller. Karl’s route to the US Team was a unique individual effort. He toured Europe on his own, skiing on the Europa Cup circuit, and he piled up enough results that when the team looked at the point standings at the end of the season, his FIS points were better than a number of the team members. He was named to the “A” team.

That route is no longer open, as racers on the Europa Cup must be sanctioned by their national team. Karl Anderson’s journey to the US Ski Team is truly unique, and he became one of our top downhill ski racers.

Finally, I can’t leave without some comment on the actual Olympics. While I didn’t see Mikaela Shiffrin’s performance live, I couldn’t miss the reruns of her two skiing out of the course mishaps in GS and slalom. I have also read the criticism of the way the TV press handled her misfortune.

Going into the Games, this young woman was our best bet for a medal in Alpine skiing, and everyone assumed it would be gold. After all, Shiffrin has not only been our best slalom skier in recent seasons, she has been the best in the world, dominating World Cup Slalom racing. I can understand the comments of the non-ski press. Only those who cover ski racing on a regular basis understand the pressure of competing against the best in the world, and I am sure there is a reason that hill was called a river of ice.

And slalom courses are the toughest to finish. At any level, DNF (Did not finish) rates can run 50% or higher. Think about it. A 60-gate course means a turn every second and the track is icy. There is no time to think, only to react to feel the snow and make one perfect turn after another.

I can forgive Ted Ligety, one of our best-ever racers, saying, “It was almost a rookie mistake.” After years on the World Cup, Ligety knows. The World Cup racers are the best skiers in the World and Mikaela Shiffrin has established her place at the top. It is unfortunate that her mishap took place at the one time and place where the world was watching. They toil on the World Cup every year against the same competition, but only once in four years do the major networks focus on their runs. It was a tough break, but Shiffrin has some years ahead and maybe another Olympics.

See you on the slopes.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer and columnist who hails from Westbrook. He has been contributing to the Sun Journal for many years and is among the most respected ski writers in the Northeast. He also is a member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. Write to him at [email protected] 


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