Back in 2011 a bunch of racers from the World Pro Skiing Tour gathered for a reunion in Lake Tahoe. Among them were big names of the tour during its heyday — competitors including Klaus Heidegger, Gunnar Grassl, Andre Arnold, Hank Kashiwa and Otto Tschudi, who have all gone on to have successful business careers in and out of the ski world. During the course of the reunion they realized that none of them would know each other, or be where they were today in business, without Bob Beattie.
Beattie conceived and started the World Pro Tour on which they competed at various times during its run from 1969 to 1981. World Pro skiing was a party on snow and Beattie — creative, ambitious and connected — brought it all together. He secured sponsors and TV coverage, building the tour into a premier circuit by luring top amateurs from U.S. and European national teams, the best of whom could make $1 million per year.
The fun-loving, hard-charging pros made big knee pads, big jumps, big hair and big crashes iconic of skiing’s wild side. Parallel competitions were staged in highly visible parts of the mountain and even in such cities as Montreal and Boston, while many pros became as comfortable with corporate execs and limos as with lifties and snow cats.
The reunion-goers envisioned a World Pro Foundation, with the first objective of honoring Beattie. By March 2012, this was accomplished enthusiastically at an Aspen gathering, attended by 360 former racers and friends whose lives Beattie influenced as coach, commentator, visionary, organizer and, above all, master motivator. Amidst the parties, concerts, socializing and of course head-to-head racing, the mission of the Pro Foundation began to take shape.
First, it seeks to promote and protect the history of the World Pro Skiing Tour. To that end, the Colorado Ski Museum recently unveiled an exhibit featuring pictures and memorabilia from the World Pro Tour during the Vail World Championships.
Second, the World Pro Foundation aims to provide opportunities for kids to ski. So far, that has been in the form of scholarships given to Beattie’s Aspen Supports Kids program (now called Base Camp and run by the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club), that provides 1,700 underprivileged youth with gear, tickets and lessons. “I sound like a broken record,” Beattie says with a laugh before launching in to his oft-repeated lament that ski racing is simply too expensive. “We need to develop and invest in local programs and keep kids in them.”
Third is the embrace of head-to-head ski racing — the “Pro Format” — as the primary format of alpine ski racing competition. Until recently that may have seemed far-fetched, but the USST and the IOC have indicated interest in more such events while the FIS, in hosting Team events such as the one at the Vail Champs, is already dabbling in it. “We need more team events and dual events,” says Beattie, adding that the mainstream has never heard of most U.S. Ski Team racers, “let alone learned how to follow the sport.”
The final objective, one that is especially dear to Tschudi, is to provide insight and mentoring of young athletes to best prepare them for the transition from racecourses to careers. This is desperately needed in the amateur ski world, particularly as funding goes down, the average age of competitors goes up and athletes find the need to pursue parallel career and education paths while competing.
Indeed, with national team athletes banding together in privately-funded teams such as “Redneck Racing” and “Team America,” top-level amateur racing more closely resembles the pro circuit of yore, where each team was responsible for its own training and travel. The lack of centralized funding is a challenge but, as the pros then knew, it is more conducive to fostering the independence and relationships that can build a successful life.
“We had to engage with the sponsors, dress properly and fit into a corporate setting,” Tschudi recalls of his time on the tour. “We got educated to make the convergence to real life.” When it came time for Tschudi to leave the sport, he turned to a business mentor with whom he had built a relationship through his racing career. That connection ultimately led to a successful career in investment banking. Currently Tschudi is managing director of international sales at Stifel Nicolaus.
Tschudi is further positioned to spearhead this effort through his collegiate experience. The 1975 Denver University (DU) graduate won five NCAA championships and competed on the Norwegian World Cup and Olympic teams while a full-time student. In 1992 he was brought on to the DU Board of Trustees to resurrect the ski team, which today is referred to as a “World Cup Factory” in the European press.
The U.S. Ski Team has given the green light to the Foundation to create panels and roundtables at training events, and to help build mentorship and internship programs. The first such formal “conversation” will take place on April 3, during this year’s FIS Spring Series in Sun Valley. The free event will be open to all kids and parents and will feature a 90-minute panel of five to six former athletes and corporate executives who will share their experiences and talk about how to prepare for the transitions beyond athletics. Tschudi says he hopes this outreach will broaden as the network and the foundation builds. “We don’t want to just talk to national team kids,” he says, “but it helps to start at the top, then go down from there.”
The fun stuff picks up the following afternoon from 3 to 5 p.m., with a pro-style parallel race at the bottom of Warm Springs (complete with live band), a trial run for head-to-head racing at the U.S. Nationals in Sun Valley next year.
To this day, Beattie, who co-founded the World Cup, is an ardent supporter of the national team, keeping in touch with current athletes as well as those he coached to medals in 1964. “If pro skiing were to exist again,” Beattie says, “it could do it through the U.S. Ski Team. It would be a way to get more events into the flow.”
Check out the World Pro Foundation and enjoy some seriously big hair at www.worldproskiing.org