Thank You Sir May I Have Another…Season

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Sometimes you just feel beaten. We’ve probably all felt like that a lot this year.  And yet, we had a ski season, so there’s that. And THAT, is pretty huge, considering where we were a year ago—stuck inside and, for the luckiest of us, skinning up whatever patches of snow remained on whatever hillside would allow us to find a few more turns.  

At our club’s end of season dual last weekend, one coach summed it up by saying, “I’ve never been more grateful for a season, and for the fact that we got the whole way through it.” Agreed.  It helped our attitude that the last day was bright and sunny, the kids were in costume, the parents were smiling (behind masks of course), and everyone made it through the slush ruts without incident.

But it has been tough, and I suspect we’ve all had our moments of wondering if the struggle and chafe to pursue this sport is worth the effort. In those times, and especially this year, I always come back to the people and the friendships. They are why, no matter how bad the beating it serves up, this ridiculous sport makes sense. As one of my fave FIS racers put it in his recap of some comically inappropriate race day theatrics: “I don’t get it. The whole point is to have people be happy for you when you do well. That’s like, the entire thing!”

It seemed like an overly simplistic assessment, but I realized, he’s kind of right. Without the friends and the good people allied in enjoying the sport and making it as good as it can be—without being part of that positive, contagious juju—the chafe might not be worth the hassle. This concept of being around people who want to make each other better is an important one. In the words of Ron Burgundy it’s, “kind of a big deal.”

Lessons from the Masters

My line of work allows me to interview many of the greats in this sport. Their stories and experiences broaden my perspective, reinforce the lasting value that comes from the pursuit of skiing and ski racing, and consistently answer the “Why do we do this?” question. It may be the same with any sport or obsession, but this is the one I know.

Recently, work on the Bob Beattie Ski Foundation’s documentary about the late great Spider Sabich, has taken me on a trip back in time to the heyday of the World Pro Ski Tour (which is baaaaack!). Sabich was a remarkably talented athlete but an even more impressive person, teammate and friend. Hours of interviews recount his remarkable looks, charisma, charm, spirit and presence, but the magic he inspired came from how he mentored other athletes, among them Tyler Palmer.

Palmer’s interview stuck with me for many reasons, but especially for his succinct take on the four people who most influenced his career, and the unique lessons they each taught him. Those mentors were Bob Beattie, Jimmie Heuga, Billy Kidd and Spider Sabich.

Beattie, known simply as “Coach” to so many, looked out for Palmer, protecting, encouraging, pushing and always cheering him on. Heuga imparted key tactics: “You don’t ever win a slalom in the first run” and “you don’t win a race in the first five turns.” Kidd led by example, modeling a meticulous attention to detail, not only in training and competition, but also in every part of his day.

Sabich provided the spark that ignited all those lessons, allowing them to kick into gear. He instilled confidence, by assuring Palmer of his unique and untapped abilities before even Palmer himself knew he had them. Sabich’s conviction left Palmer no alternative but to believe in himself as well, and just go.  

Hearing how vivid these lessons still are in Palmer’s mind, 45 years later, highlighted a few things for me. First, good things happen when generosity and curiosity meet. Second, a major part of the impact lay in these older athletes taking the time to offer their help, whatever it was. Making that gesture says, “you matter,” and is a mark of great coaches and great friends. Finally, we all need those people who believe in us, even when we don’t believe in ourselves. They make all the difference.  

Palmer went on to pay it forward, taking every opportunity, as a coach and friend, to pass on the lessons he’d been given by these four key mentors and others. “I’ve tried to do the same with what I’ve learned, and give it away for free,” says Palmer. (If you want to hear more from Tyler, his brother Terry and the legion of pro skiers and players from that golden era, stay tuned for the Spider Sabich documentary coming atcha in December.)

The takeaways…always the takeaways

The vagaries of this year, its false starts, dead ends, hard stops and abrupt swerves, served up a crash course in all the unglamorous but real things you hope will turn an experience into an education.  These are the things that test your mettle and your commitment, that teach you to be independent and resilient. They show you the value of being a good friend and teammate but also of being able to look out for yourself. And along the way, despite all the inherent hazards of the sport, it’s still the most fun and productive way I can imagine for young people to get the dopamine hits and endorphin releases their brains and bodies seek.

No matter how each of us come out of this season, making the best in a situation we’d never imagined, we’ll have learned something about ourselves and our relationship to the sport. By the looks of the liftlines this winter, few of us lost our enthusiasm for it! This skier, for one, can still think of no place she’d rather be than on the top, side or bottom of the hill, as the show goes on.

9 thoughts on “Thank You Sir May I Have Another…Season”

  1. Excellent writing! You just made me realize how old I must be. I knew all of the players in your article! Although I was just a kid on the borderline of the old pro tour! ThomyT

    • Ha! You and me both. That was a pretty golden area of skiing no matter what age you were. Thanks for reading!

  2. Sometimes I drive by Spider’s family house in Kyburz and think how great it would be if I could talk to him nowadays . I have heard what he gave to Tyler and Terry and they in turn gave it to others. They were coaches who believed in us. The most important and somewhat rare thing.

    • Not sure how I missed this way back but better late than never! I can sure see you and Spider hanging out. Bet he would have been almost as cool as Hansi.

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