Amateur Skiers

The ski racers deserve every penny they get paid to wear the advertising banners

There is no such thing as an amateur ski racer.

In December 1947 when Ward Baker and I were skiing at Badger Pass in Yosemite and living in our teardrop trailer, we got a part-time job working for the mountain manager, Charlie Proctor, who in the early 1930s was the ski coach at Dartmouth. He was paying us 25 cents an hour to shovel bumps on the rope tow hill. Charlie came by that first day and we told him, “We are going to go to Sun Valley for the winter and try to become ski racers.”

Much to our surprise, Charlie said, “If you work on the ski patrol or anywhere on the mountain, you will be considered a professional skier because you have an unfair advantage over someone who lives and works in a city. Because of this unfair advantage, you will only be able to race against ski instructors and other professional athletes. In fact, anyone who works on the mountain at a ski resort is automatically considered a professional skier.”

With that statement we put our skis back on and with a shovel in one hand and ski poles in the other we skied down to the lodge and collected our 75 cents each for the three hours that we had shoveled snow. We now had an extra buck and a half between us for gasoline to get from Yosemite to Sun Valley, Idaho. A dollar and a half in 1947 would buy 10 gallons of gas.

Two days later we parked our trailer in the Challenger Inn parking lot. In the end of January it was time for our first race and we thought we might get the Sun Valley Ski Club to buy our gasoline to get to Boise, Idaho for the race. It didn’t work.

About that same time the Olympic ski team got together in New York City, where they were given a pair of ski pants, a parka, an overcoat and a pair skis and poles. Included in the package was a round-trip boat ticket to Europe so they could race in St. Maritz. They were amateurs.

By the 1960s, the amateur vs. professional ski racing scene was changing rapidly. Karl Schranz won the Harriman Cup downhill. The next day a friend of mine was skiing on Baldy on the pair of skis that were autographed by “Karl Schranz, the winner of the Harriman Cup.” He had paid $300 for them. Karl, of course, had gotten them free from the manufacturer, Franz Kneissl.

The next day there were two more skiers on Baldy with an identical pair of skis autographed by Karl and they had each paid $500 for their pair. The line between amateur and professional skier had rapidly become fuzzier.

It takes a lot of years of training to earn a berth on an Olympic team and I think that kind of devotion to perfecting an athletic craft should be rewarded. However, why don’t the athletes give back to the team 10 percent of their earnings to help the next wave of young racers who are coming up?

I agree that I am old-fashioned, but when untold millions of dollars are exchanged in and around the Olympic ski events I think the word “amateur” should be eliminated.

When a ski racer goes through the finish line they manage to get out of their skis and hold them up so they face any photograph of them that may be taken have the skis in them as well. It’s all part of the commercialization.

The Olympics have become such a worldwide phenomenon that literally billions of dollars are exchanged every four years. I guess I should just enjoy ski racing for what it is: Men and women racing down an icy, narrow, tree-lined trail at speeds in excess of 70 miles an hour.

The ski racers deserve every penny they get paid to wear the advertising banners of companies where the chairman of the board has a condominium at a ski resort somewhere.

I wonder if in 1947, if I had been out on a ski hill with a movie camera instead of a shovel knocking down bumps, that camera would’ve automatically made me a professional skier. Probably.