Since his passing last month, there have been many tributes to Bob Beattie, and they are far from over. We can’t overstate what he was to the sport of skiing and what it was to him.
One particularly moving tribute was a letter written by Bobby Moyer, a skier on the CU team who grew up in Aspen, and learned to ski at the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club (AVSC). Moyer explained that it was not until sitting down to write the letter that he fully realized Beattie’s impact on his own life: “I mean growing up in Aspen you just ski. It’s the community. And when I sat down to think about what I wanted to say, I realized that community was because of Bob.”
Similarly, while I can’t start to know or to capture all Beattie did for the sport, when I think about my own evolution as a skier I see how Bob’s contributions influenced it at virtually every stage. As such it offers one small window into his impact.
Like many kids, my first experience ski racing was with NASTAR, Bob’s vehicle for bringing skiing to the masses.* It was something my family did during our annual one week road trips to Jackson Hole. At the time we knew and cared little about ski racing. Those medals, however, got our attention. As proof I once wrote a letter to NASTAR because they had run out of silver medals on my day of greatness in Jackson Hole. When they sent me the medal, life, as a seven-year-old knows it, could go on. At age nine, while watching TV one February night, I became irreversibly hooked on ski racing as Beattie called Franz Klammer’s gold medal DH run in Innsbruck. (This also triggered an obsession with the movie Downhill Racer—where Beattie’s influence is rampant— as well as a longstanding crush on Robert Redford.)
My ski racing addiction was nurtured at Squaw Valley, where many of my coaches were able to exist as coaches thanks to the pro tour that Bob had created. With the fun, competition and extra cash of this side hustle, they were able to stay vital in the sport, and pass on their skiing skills and spirit. Eventually their instruction led me to a spot on the US Ski Team, which Bob created, competing on the World Cup, which Bob also created. While the things he did to grow the stature of skiing are impressive, his impact went well beyond those accomplishments. It lay in the passion, optimism, purpose and enthusiasm he instilled in the people in the sport.
I will never forget the pride of having my first sit-down “Bob Beattie Interview,” or my grandmother’s thrill at seeing me on TV, being interviewed by the real deal. Somehow, he managed to pronounce my name correctly from Day 1, as if he knew and cared how much that mattered to proud grandmothers watching at home. Just before I went to my first Olympics in Calgary, I received a personal letter of congratulations from NASTAR’s National Coordinator, Kathe Dillman. It contained the thank you letter I had sent to her office all those years earlier. The people who cared enough to do those things were the people Bob drew into his orbit.
Bob was a constant on the World Cup tour, whether on the hill as “TV Guy” or in our hotel as US Ski Team Cheerleader in Chief, always looking to encourage us even in the darkest days. No matter our results he and Marci greeted us with warm smiles and consolation, and every so often congratulations. Whenever the ski team was especially in shambles, he wanted to know what was really going on, beyond the spin, and how he could help.
After I retired from racing, and started duties as a Ski Racing reporter and an elected athlete rep on US Ski Team Board, I still felt more like Bob’s groupie than his peer. Whether I ran across him on the hill, in the press room or in the board room Bob always greeted me with a cheerful, “Hi honey!” and a bright smile. It was the same whether it has been a year or a day since I’d seen him last, and it helped convince me that I mattered, and was a valued part of the ski family.
Later, as a member of the USST Foundation Board, we sometimes found ourselves next to each other during presentations and he would “whisper” unfiltered, entertaining commentary. At some point in every meeting he would take the floor to ask, “What about the
college skiers?!” and to remind us that, “Skiing it too expensive!” His influence on both causes is enduring and ongoing.
This year, in talking to a lot of college coaches, I noticed in many of them something reassuring and familiar, something very Beattie-esque that I couldn’t quite name. My revelation came when recalling John Wooden’s explanation for the cornerstone of his own coaching success: “I coached with a lot of love,” said Wooden.
Mike Hundert, Beattie’s pro tour director and president of the Bob Beattie Ski Foundation, put it well in a letter he wrote immediately after Bob’s passing: “Beattie was a champion of the racer. He coached young people to be their best by insisting and convincing them that they can. His winning attitude was contagious. His care for people was endless.”
Bob’s love was for the sport and for every member of his expanding family, be they at Middlebury or Colorado, on the Pro Tour or on the World Cup. He never traded teams, but only adopted more of them. Looking back at his career, and hearing the stories, I imagine that a lot of that coaching love was tough love, as Bob was unafraid to assert his opinions, defend his ideals and promote his ideas. He could and did argue bitterly with friends and adversaries alike, but always with a spark in his eye. The spark implied an expectation that, no, he would not back down, but, yes, he would still be a friend on the other side. The sport was bigger than any argument, many of which would end with Bob proclaiming, “I hate you and I love you.”
On the second point, about the expense of skiing, Bob’s proudest accomplishment was starting Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s “Aspen Supports Kids,” in 1989. The program supports 1600 local kids annually with scholarships, transportation, instruction and 400 sets of free skiing and snowboarding equipment. If you knew Bob at all, you know how much he cared about this program. If you want to honor him, that’s a good place to start. Every donation made in Bob’s memory to the club’s Bob Beattie Endowment Fund before June 1, 2018, will be matched dollar for dollar up to $45,000.
How else do we honor Beattie’s legacy? As Hundert puts it, Bob Beattie was, “larger than life, a father-figure to scores of young people he coached and guided on and off the hill, who he prodded, poked, kicked in the butt, and mentored, who will now pick up the mantle of his passion and dream for all of us and the sport of ski racing.”
Now it’s our turn. Every time we cheer for the US Ski Team, or advocate for college skiers, or support the hardworking underdogs, or look for ways to make ski racing more exciting, or contribute to a cause or place that lets more kids discover and love skiing—every time we stretch ourselves to do something positive for the future of this sport or its people, we’re honoring Bob. None of us can hope to touch skiing on as many levels as Bob did, but we can all make our mark in some small way.
Get the full scoop on Aspen Supports Kids at teamavsc.org. Donate online, by check (to AVSC with “Bob Beattie” in the memo) or by calling Miah Wheeler at (970) 205-5102. Stay tuned to AVSC for details on a celebration of Bob’s life Dec 8, 2018 in Aspen.
*an earlier version credited Beattie with creating NASTAR. The program was actually John Fry’s creation, which Beattie fulfilled.