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.