Listening to an Icon

Dave Gorsuch

I read in Ski Racing Magazine this week where Dave Gorsuch passed away in his home in Vail, Colorado at age 82. Many of you may recognize the name if you ski Vail, as the proprietor of the uber- successful ski shop in Vail -Gorsuch LTD. The brand has expanded to several other large ski areas and always specialized in high end ski clothing and ski equipment. Dave’s history was in ski racing where he was a junior national champion, an NCAA downhill champion, and competed at the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley before he took his energy and passion into the ski business. Along with his best friend Max Marolt, who also competed in the Squaw Valley Olympics and was a member of the US Ski Team, Dave and Max were icons of the sport for many years.

Gorsuch LTD in the Vail Clocktower Building

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Dave and Max on a heli skiing trip years ago at the Bobbie Burns location for Canadian Mountain Holidays. There were three groups that week in house. Our group from Pittsburgh, a group from New York City and Dave’s group from Colorado. The Bobbie Burns was a new location for CMH and thus there was a dining area, a small lodging area and a log sauna. That was it for 500 square miles and we were all brought into that location by helicopter. The protocol was for the helicopter to fly all day and pick up each group, transport them to a ski location with a guide, and then fly on to the next group. We didn’t get a chance to ski with any other group but our own, but in the evenings, there was lots of time to have a beer, eat together, and have robust conversations with each group because really there was nothing else to do.

I didn’t really know of the pedigree of the Vail group as well as I should have, but in the conversations that ensued during the week, I knew I was in the presence of greatness. I loved listening to the stories of ski racing past, people in the industry who Dave and Max knew well, and in general- I took in some really good history of the sport of skiing through these two guys. For some reason, they took a liking to me and to my friend Rolf Sigmund who was an Austrian transplant here in the US and migrated to Pittsburgh. Rolf was rather humorous and the Vail group got a kick out of his antics. But the main thing that I took with me as a result of their kind friendship that week was to ………listen. That is hard for me. I like to talk. But knowing that these guys were the real deal kept me quiet and I learned a lot that week just from having beers and eating with the two world class skiers and entrepreneurs.

Juxtaposed to my keen interest in what these guys had to say was the demeanor of the group from NYC who had no idea who these guys were and could care less. All they wanted to do that week was to impress the Vail group with their prowess at Hunter Mountain and Killington. To Dave and Max’s credit, they politely listened to these guys and were polite and courteous in their responses. I admired them all the more- Dave and Max- not the NYC group. Too bad really because it was an opportunity to really learn about skiing and the history of skiing if they would only listen and not talk so much. I am really happy to have had that opportunity and although it was not planned, that week with Dave Gorsuch and Max Marolt was a week I will never forget. Oh yes- the skiing was good too.

I like to listen to stories about skiing because I have such a keen interest in the sport. Take my two friends who I ski with every spring. One guy lives in Tahoe and the other in Vermont – they both grew up together and ski raced as kids. Hutch was a race coach at Stowe and Eric raced for Cornell University back in the day. Both of them have great stories about New England ski racing and the history of skiing in New England. Again, I force myself to keep quiet and listen to their stories. None of the ” first liar doesn’t have a chance” one upsmanship conversations, because I really can’t compete with their knowledge and ski racing pedigree. So again, it is great to just listen and take in some fun tales about the sport that I love. And yes, the skiing with these guys is always good – no matter what the conditions are.

Eric and Hutch

So I guess the takeaway from all of this rambling is that it is really important to recognize where you can learn some things from people who are the real deal. Recognize their talent and ability and most of all, listen. I need to focus on that a little bit, but the times that I have forced myself to do it, I learn a lot and am grateful for the opportunity to spend time with some quality people. Dave and Max are both gone now but I will always remember the week in the Canadian Rockies where I had the opportunity to be with them. RIP Dave and Max. Skiing together in Paradise. Thanks for reading.

ICE

The Streif

Well this was Hahnenkamm weekend over in Austria. The Super Bowl of Downhill – the speed event in ski racing. I love to watch it every year on the Olympic Channel as I had the opportunity a while back to view it in person. Nothing can prepare you for what you see there in course preparation. The Streif as they call it, it literally a sheet of rock hard ice all the way down the course and that is the way that the World Cup downhillers like it. Years ago, Kenny Griffin and I had the opportunity to witness this event along with about 50,000 other rabid Austrian fans.

This years winner, Beat Feuz of Switzerland

Kenny and I were skiing in Austria and made our way to Kitzbuhel to see this world famous race. We packed our daypack with apple strudel and some fruit, Orangina, and some cheese. As we made our way to the famous jump called the Hausbergkante, we were amazed at the speed of the racers as they soared off the jump and into the distance on the course. The finish is 90 plus miles per hour into a sea of roaring fans. No fans this year due to Covid, but when Kenny and I saw it, it was a real spectacle. But the really sobering thing was the condition of the course- rock hard, ice.

Bullet Proof

We had the opportunity to ski parts of the course the next day, and believe me, it was like skiing on a mirror. A real challenge just to get down let alone average around 70 MPH on that course for the World Cup. Now I am no stranger to ice. I grew up in the east where we have alternating snow and rain events – freeze, thaw which builds a nice base of ice for us to enjoy. LOL!! The key is sharp edges and a technique that is rooted in self belief that your equipment will win the day over the ice. Oftentimes, when it is real hard or ” scratchy” as the Maine people say at Sugarloaf, you have to glide over the tough parts until you can find a place to turn. Not so on the Streif. Those turns are mandatory and at high speed. Very impressive indeed.

I always chuckle when I ski out west and I hear someone say it is “icy”. They really don’t understand the magnitude of that statement for an easterner. I always joke and say ice is when you can see last summer’s dandelions underneath that black, mirror like glaze. They are fortunate out there in that they can ski on the nice days and leave the cloudy, not so nice, “icy” days to us visiting easterners. Bullet proof ice is what we cut our teeth on and my years skiing in New England with my friend Eric Durfee, and my season at Sugarloaf honed my appreciation for the slippery, rock hard conditions. They used to have the Can-AM Races( now the Nor-Am races) at Sugarloaf on the Narrow Gauge Trail. I watched the Canadians( Todd Brooker, Steve Podborski, and Ken Read) roar down that trail with reckless abandon. No fear of the ice and looking for speed at every moment. The tech guys worked real hard to put a razor edge on the skis and prepped them all the way to the start of the race. Skiing the Narrow Gauge after the races was a real interesting experience. Very hard and “scratchy” .

Kitzbuhel.

But again, nothing is more intimidating than a World Cup ski race course. Oftentimes the course preparation crew uses a technique called water injection to harden up the course with dropping temperatures. Or if the course is soft and sloppy, salt is used to firm up the conditions. When Kenny and I witnessed the race, the Austrian army hosed down sections of the course. It was as bullet proof as any trail I had ever seen. If you get the chance to see a World Cup race in person, do it. You will be amazed at the skill, strength, and technique of the world’s finest skiers. It will make you appreciate the meaning of the ski report phrase- ” icy conditions.” Thanks for reading and think snow.

Get to know an Austrian

From the Best of http://www.chroniclesofmccloskey.com

Trans Can HigwayGoogle Image Result for http--www.flags.net-images-largeflags-AUST0002.GIF (2)photophotophotorodeln01 If you check out my Janury 23rd blog post about my time in Austria called “The Rodelrennen” you will see some funny things that happened along the way there. If you are a skier, at some point you will meet an Austrian. Even if you are not a skier, you will still like the stories of a very passionate and humorous people whose lives revolve around winter sports. As I said in the post, my first experience with the Austrians was on an exchange trip between U.S. and Austrian ski instructors. I was a guest for two weeks in that country and participated in the Rodelrennen(read about it), skied in many areas including the Soelden glacier where the recent World Cup opening races were held, and taught for a week in Kuhtai- a small resort near the Italian border. Witnessing the Hahnnenkamm World Cup Downhill Race, I got to see the passion of the Austrians up close and personal as 100,000+ people line the “Streif” to see their heroes rocket down the slope at nearly 90 MPH into the finish area. This race is like the Super Bowl in Austria and the whole town of Kitzbuhel buzzes with the energy of the world’s greatest ski race.

In my teaching experience over there at Kuhtai, I was reminded that the origin of ski instruction was in St. Anton, Austria. The technique of the Austrians was never questioned and the introduction of the wider stance by the PSIA American Technique was seen with a wary eye by the patrons of the Kuhtai resort. I was trying to teach them the wider, more athletic stance that the racers were using, but the ladies and gentlemen who were taking the mandatory lesson at the time would hear none of that. They wanted me to guide them basically around the resort and not try to teach them anything new especially the current teachings of the PSIA. I drank their plum schnapps and reveled with them as they all enjoyed their time in Kuhtai, but make no mistake, we were in the land of skiing- Austria. Anyone else who thought differently was a usurper to the ultimate degree.

Personally, I have met many Austrians in my skiing adventures and as much as they are a proud people who take their winter sports very seriously, they are a fun lot. Take my friend Max Katzenberger. Max was a pilot for USAirways and was proud of the fact that he was a captain and worked his way up through the Austrian military. He always walked in front of his crew and remarked to me one time that whenever he was in a holding pattern and wanted to land, he just thickened up his accent a bit and they got him down in a hurry. Another time, some guys were ignoring the flight attendants on the plane and their instructions. Max called the security at the gate and had them removed from the plane. He remarked,” I tell you guys to behave, you don’t behave, now you go to the Klink!!!” You don’t mess with an Austrian. Max was fun to ski with and was a very enjoyable host on my honeymoon with Janet. We met Max and his wife Barb in Austria and toured the country with them. They showed us his home town of Moedling and we spent some time in the Austrian wine country in the foothills of the Alps in a town named Gumpleskirchen. Max had that joyous love of life. He passed away a few years ago and he is sorely missed among the local ski community.

Josef Cabe was the ski school director at Hidden Valley Resort here in Pa. for many years. Josef and I would travel to PSIA update clinics and it was so funny to hear his big hearty laugh and his very thick accent. He constantly criticized the clinic leaders and insisted on showing them the right way to ski. He was strong as a bull and could ski most people into the ground, including the clinic leaders. In the evenings, he led the group in song with Austrian anthems and everybody loved Josef on the slope and off the slopes.

Another Austrian that I spent some fun time with was Rolf Sigmund who owned a ski shop in town at the time. Rolf was a solid skier in the Austrian mold and we went heli-skiing one time in British Columbia together. He didn’t like the off piste skiing in the trees, and in the wind packed conditions that you get sometimes before you hit the deep powder that is always shown in the movies for heli-skiing. Sometimes it gets pretty rugged and Rolf always remarked to me on that trip that,” thees is pullsheet McClaaaahskey. We should go to Tahoe. The slopes are smooth and the chicks look at you in da lines and it is way more fun than theeees pullllsheet McClaaahhhhskey.” I laughed as he tried to bribe the helicopter pilot into flying us back to the lodge so we could watch the Super Bowl. Rolf was hilarious as he drank his schnapps and abused some loud obnoxious New Yorkers who were along on the trip.

I got my rear end chewed pretty well one time by a rather intimidating Austrian named Rudi Kuersteiner. I was with a group of guys skiing rather fast through a beginner area at Whiteface in the Adirondacks. We were there for a clinic and Rudi saw us and skied up to us at the bottom of the hill and demanded that we all follow him to the side of the slope. There he told us in no uncertain terms how rude we were and how dangerous it was to ski that fast where beginners are learning to ski. He was right!! We were wrong and were told so by an old pro. Again, you don’t mess with an Austrian. Fun loving people but don’t get on their bad side.

The Austrians are passionate people and if you get the chance to ski with them, talk with them, drink beers with them, you will surely have a good time and you will be told how skiing really is and how you must go to Austria to ski where it all began. I always laugh when I think of their universal famous line to me…………” you don’t know sheeeeet McClaaaahhhskey.” They are right. Thanks for reading.