In nearly 25 years serving U.S. Ski & Snowboard, including 17 as its board chair, Dexter Paine has seen countless medals and crystal globes. In his tenure, he’s never missed an Olympics or World Championships, always in the finish area to greet the athletes. But when you talk to him about his career in the sport, what he gravitates to most quickly is volunteerism – a concept dating all the way back to his childhood.
This week U.S. Ski & Snowboard recognized Paine with its Julius Blegen Award. He was selected by his peers as the 74th recipient of the organization’s highest honor a year after handing the board helm over to Kipp Nelson.
Paine was, and still is, the consummate volunteer, serving the entire organization from grassroots clubs to Olympic champions. As a vice president of the International Ski Federation, he continues to support the USA as a respected global player. Despite running a global agribusiness, he has always made U.S. Ski & Snowboard his priority, attending every Olympics in his tenure – 53 Olympic medals during his chairmanship alone.
Paine grew up in New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington Valley. “My dad was a TD (technical delegate), my mom made lunches and was a gatekeeper,” he recalled. He began skiing at two, including lessons from the Hannes Schneider Ski School. Ski racing got into his blood as he watched local U.S. Ski Team heroes Terry and Tyler Palmer, and Abbi Fisher.
As a young ski racer, he saw what it took to put on a race – 50 parents or more on the hill. “It could be ten below and blowing, or 34 and pouring rain,” he joked. “You still had these same volunteers – the same ones who met every month to raise money and do all the things to help the club be successful.”
He fondly recalls New England’s preeminent volunteer, Anna McIntyre from Waterville Valley. “I love Anna,” he said. “She’s the quintessential example of the volunteers that makes ski racing work. I think she disqualified me a few times,” he laughed.
McIntyre, who won the Blegen Award in 1996, new the Paine family well. Her team of volunteers at Eastern Region races gained the moniker of Anna’s Army. They were among them.
Paine’s family ran a small farm and an inn. His father, who was a lawyer, often served as chief of race for events at Cranmore Mountain. “Dexter was skiing for Holderness. I showed up (at their inn) one afternoon before the next day’s race,” recalled McIntyre, who was the technical delegate. “There was a note on the table telling me how to feed the sheep and when to put the casserole in the oven. We all counted on each other for help.”
Going back to his youth, Paine was always competitive. It showed in his ski racing at Holderness and Williams College, and later in business. He began his tenure with U.S. Ski & Snowboard in 1996, connected to the team by longtime supporter Thom Weisel – first as a trustee and then taking on the foundation president role in 2002. He frequently played host to fundraisers in his then Silicon Valley home. It was an era of dramatic evolution in athlete success with an organizational vision that was adopted in 1997 of becoming best in the world.
While the 2006 Olympics in Torino was not the medals showcase the team had been expecting, the gold from Ted Ligety in combined and Julia Mancuso in giant slalom were cause for jubilation. After a rocky start with early disappointment in the downhill and the U.S. Ski Team being in the media spotlight, Paine stood in the finish and watched in jubilation as unheralded Ted Ligety, then just 21, came from behind to win. Across the street from the finish in Sestriere, Paine and team supporters celebrated at U.S. Ski Team House. In just a few months, he would take the reins of the board and guide the team through its most success period in history.
“I was still getting to know Dexter a year or so before Vancouver,” recalled then athletic director Luke Bodensteiner. “I was in the stands with him at a race where Lindsey (Vonn) and Julia (Mancuso) went one-two. Dexter literally wrapped me into a choke hold with excitement laughing and shouting ‘best in the world.’ At that point, I knew he was a competitor. He was an awesome part of a very special team at that time. He embraced competitive sport and was very clear that the objective was to win.”
Paine’s business world brought him in contact with leaders of industry and finance. “He used our success on the hill as a gear to create more resources and more momentum,” said Bodensteiner.
Paine was a strong chairman for the team’s aggressive President and CEO, Bill Marolt. They communicated virtually daily, always respecting each other’s roles. But they both shared the passion for winning.
“The whole idea of best in the world appealed to him,” recalled Marolt. “He was all in right away. He loved the idea and the focus, the intensity, the enthusiasm. He was the perfect partner.”
“Dexter was unrelenting,” said Bodensteiner, who recalled Paine’s assessment of the team at an annual board meeting one year. “He rated our athletic performance as a C+, despite the fact that we had won more medals than any other nation. When we won, he was satisfied – but only for a moment. Then he would quickly look ahead to keep everyone focused on the next opportunity to come. He liked to say, ‘we’re only as good as our last race.”
Paine, together with Bodensteiner and Marolt, worked hand-in-hand leading up to the Olympics at Vancouver in 2010. Despite 10 medals (two alpine) in Torino four years earlier, the Games were well below expectations. The approach to Vancouver was different. There was no pro-active buzz of ‘best in the world.’ The team went there simply to get the job done. And it did.
Vancouver saw the anticipated medal haul from snowboarding, a bigger-than-expected medals performance from freestyle, a complete surprise of four medals in nordic combined and an off-the-charts string of eight alpine medals from stars Bode Miller, Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso and Andrew Weibrecht – cover stars on Sports Illustrated. Paine was there to see it all.
“We were partners. We were a team,” said Marolt. “He understood what we were trying to do.”
Reflecting back on his career, Paine still points to the unexpected gold medals from Ligety and Julia Mancuso in 2006 as one of his big highlights. Coupled with that was Mikaela Shiffrin’s 2015 defense of her slalom World Championship title at Beaver Creek in front of thousands of hometown fans.
Today, Paine continues to serve in his leadership role on the FIS Council, as well as on the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Board of Directors and its foundation. He also sits on the board for US Biathlon. In his role with FIS, his passionate drive to be the best comes out often as he battles on issues to make the international organization better.
When Marolt retired in 2014, Dexter stayed on to help in the transition to new leader Tiger Shaw. “I found him a huge, selfless mentor and leader,” said Shaw. “He spent endless time with me as I started and he went to more events than I ever would imagine a single human could do! We spent almost every day together at Sochi. I was amazed at his drive to get to everything – never tiring, always on top of who was who on teams and what the scoop was on every race and situation.”
While he attended dozens of Olympic, World Championship and World Cup events in his tenure, Paine’s greatest thrill was handing out annual awards at the spring U.S. Ski & Snowboard Congress.
“The great thing about the awards ceremony is that it’s about the volunteers and the athletes,” he said. “It’s about the people who make our organization successful. I don’t think we step back and appreciate those people as much as we should.”
The Blegen Award is the second oldest of the many U.S. Ski & Snowboard honors (only the Beck International Trophy for the best athlete is older). It recognizes an established history of distinguished service and a lasting contribution to U.S. Ski & Snowboard and its membership. It is named in honor of Julius Blegen, a key leader of the National Ski Association in the 1930s. It’s past recipients, starting with legendary National Ski Association Roger Langley in 1946, are a veritable who’s who of individuals who have truly shaped ski and snowboard competition in America.
As chairman, Paine had the honor of giving out the Blegen Award 13 times. “These Blegen winners share a love for seeing our athletes being successful – whether that’s a town race or a World Cup. It’s seeing those athletes coming up through our program – athletes who have that chance because of our volunteers,” he said.
“To be one of those people who is recognized for the passion that they have for the sport, well, I just really appreciate it.”