Famous son talks Olympics, his love of skiing, and what he owes his hometown
THE KIDD FROM STOWE
A young Billy Kidd carves a turn at a ski race in Stowe. This photo appeared on the cover of Mt. Mansfield Skiing, published by the Mount Mansfield Ski Club, February 1968. Kidd on a visit to Washington, D.C.
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verything!” says America’s first male Olympic medal-winning skier and one of Stowe’s most famous sons, Billy Kidd, when I ask him what the town he grew up in means to him today, some five decades after he left. “Literally, it still means everything to me. Without Stowe, and the people there who helped and supported me as a young skier, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have had the career I’ve had or lived the great life I’ve lived. I wouldn’t be talking to you.” Sitting in his Steamboat Springs, Colo., home office, surrounded by pictures that depict his full life and illustrious career, he points to a treasured keepsake from his early, formative years in Stowe. It’s a framed cover of Mount Mansfield Skiing, from the mid 1960s, published by the Mount Mansfield Ski Club.. “Whenever I look at that I’m reminded of all those people in Stowe who helped me,” says the 75-year-old Kidd. “There were so many, from my parents to C.V. Starr, Sepp Ruschp, Othmar Schneider, Paul Biedermann, Charley Daly, and so many more. They did everything from encouraging me to training me to backing me financially.” Kidd first strapped on skis when he was just five years old. He remembers the thrill of sliding down a small hill in the backyard of his Brooks Avenue home in Burlington. “The yard was maybe 100-feet long and had a little pitch to start with,” he says with a broad smile. “I would push off and push and pull and skate and go fast enough and make a turn to the right. Then I’d go back, do it again and make a turn to the left. That’s how I learned. I just loved everything about skiing. When I got a little better, Dad took me to the Burlington Country Club to ski down a small hill on the first hole. I was hooked.” Kidd’s father Bill, an avid skier, moved the family from Burlington to Stowe in 1956 when his son was 13 years old, shortly after he placed second in a Vermont State Alpine Championship in Underhill. “My dad realized I had some talent and he knew I could get lots of opportunity to ski and receive the training I needed in Stowe,” remembers Kidd. “He and my mom opened the Buccaneer Motel on the Mountain Road not too far from Mount Mansfield.” (The small lodge’s name was a nod to the Kidd family’s distant relative, the 17th century pirate/buccaneer Captain William Kidd.) Skiing in Stowe during the 1950s was far removed from what it is today. “By comparison, our equipment, wooden skis, leather boots, and bear trap bindings, was prehistoric by today’s standards,” says Kidd. “And there was no snowmaking at the mountain. But we didn’t care. We were allowed to get out of school for two afternoons every week in the ski season to go skiing. If you didn’t ski, you had to stay in the study hall. Needless to say, everyone went skiing.” He’d ski at Spruce Peak with the Mount Mansfield Ski Club and, anxious to get even more time on skis, would go solo tree skiing down a small trail he had cut behind his father’s motel. Kidd joined the Stowe High School ski team as a freshman and claims, “I was never a great athlete.” He explains that he was as “lousy” on the basketball court as he was on the baseball diamond. “I know that sounds odd, because I was a ski racer, but I found that what I lacked in athletic ability I made up for in other ways. Most people think sporting contests are determined by natural ability and by how fast or tall you are. But in ski racing, I found that I could beat people who were taller, stronger, better athletes, because I was very determined and analytical. For example, I eventually discovered I could analyze the fastest way to ski though a race course better than almost anyone else.” Local dairy farmer Paul Percy, a high school ski teammate of Kidd’s, remembers how aggressive Kidd was on the slopes and analytical he was while training. “Billy always attacked the course,” says Percy. “And, unlike many teenagers, he was always open to instruction. He was a student of the sport, determined to get better.” As the New York Times would note after Kidd won his Olympic medal in 1964: “Slender, soft-spoken Billy was considered a better-than-average student when he was graduated from Stowe High School in 1962. He has a calculated and studied approach to skiing.” Sports Illustrated once called him “a scientist,” adding, “Billy studies a slope like Ben Hogan studies a golf course.”
Next page, from top: AP wire photo, Oct. 25, 1962. “Billy Kidd of Stowe, Vt., a top prospect for the next U.S. Olympic team jumps under the eye of his father, also
Bill, as the ski season opened informally atop Mount Mansfield with an eight-inch snowfall. Father and son are skiing at the start of new Skimeister trail, with cables to ski lifts in the background. Billy, as alternate on the 1962 U.S. FIS team, has just returned from a summer skiing in South America where he won several races.” Kidd races in the U.S. Alpine Championships, hosted in Stowe in 1966, with 10,000 spectators and CBS coverage by Bob Beattie and Betsy Snite. Guy Perillat, Jean Claude Killy, and Jimmy Heuga took the podium. Collectible ski card. Above: Olympians Kidd and Heuga made the cover of Sports Illustrated, Feb. 5, 1968.
With international-class skiers coming to Stowe to race, Kidd had many opportunities to watch and learn from the best. His bedroom walls were plastered with pictures of his heroes, skiers such as Buddy Werner, Andrea Mead Lawrence, and other award winners. He remembers, “In the 1950s my dad took me to the American International races on Mount Mansfield where I got to see my heroes and European legendary skiers such as Toni Sailer, Stein Eriksen, and Anderl Molterer. I was in awe but was also excited to be able to study their technique in person.” As Peter Oliver notes in his book, “Stowe: Classic New England”: “For a young Billy Kidd, it must have been like being a teenage basketball hopeful given a chance to play a little one-on-one with Michael Jordan ... in the late 1950s, he was still just a kid with big potential and bigger dreams, and among those dreams was the chance to ski with the greatest racers in the world. “A day or two before the International downhill was to be held on the Nose Dive, [Anderl] Molterer was at the top of the course, preparing for a fast inspection run ... Molterer, who had never raced the course before, wanted to find out just how treacherous this famously treacherous course really was. And when he took off, in his wake followed the adolescent figure of Billy Kidd. “ ‘I managed to stay with him for the first few turns,’ says Kidd. ‘But on the seventh turn, I lost it. I slid on my chin right up to his feet.” Still, for a few precious seconds, he had been able to imagine being the equal of one of the greatest racers of all time, and that, more than 40 years later, remains with Kidd as a shining memory of his youth. ‘It’s where I got hooked on the adrenaline of racing,’ ” Kidd says.
oday, Kidd smiles when he’s reminded of those early days when he met his larger-than-life heroes in person. “Imagine you were a teenager and a die-hard Joe DiMaggio fan. Then one day you not only got to see him perform but you could also step up to the same plate after he did and try to mimic his swing. Some of the best ski racers in the world let me tag along after them on their runs. That was invaluable. Everyone was so generous to me.” Watching his heroes ski with such grace, power, and speed, Kidd would often dream of making it to the Olympics one day. “But then I’d remind myself that no American man had ever medaled in the Olympics,” he says. He was an honor-roll student but admits that his academic life took second place to skiing. Kidd remembers the many times he would sit in his high school study hall drawing stick figures of himself skiing. “These were all about technique. I was drawing the best ways to make my turns, showing where my hips and shoulders should be, where my hands and feet should be. I’d draw sketch after sketch to depict the proper step-by-step sequence of skiing most efficiently.” Thanks to skilled coaches affiliated with the Mount Mansfield Ski Club and his own experience in junior races, Kidd realized he could improve his technique by searching out and skiing on difficult sections of a course, such as icy patches. “I knew I would have to learn how to adjust to skiing on ice so before a big race I’d look for areas on Mount Mansfield where springs had bubbled up from the ground and frozen. Then I’d practice making turns on them,” he explains. Another favorite spot for this snow-to-ice transitioning was a small hill that abutted a skating rink off the Mountain Road. “I’d do my detailed stick figure sketches in high school study hall and then practice my turns there after school,” he says. “I’d start out on the snow then continue onto the skating rink. Looking back, I realize it was an invaluable way to handle the challenges of skiing down icy runs.” Billy Kidd, the self-described “mediocre athlete,” never stopped learning—or improving—his skiing skills throughout his high school days in Stowe. He won races throughout New England and further afield to become a top junior ski racer. Remembers Paul Percy, “We knew Billy was on his way. He was that good.” In 1961, Kidd’s senior year in high school, he was named to the U.S. Ski Team. Next page, from top: UPI photo, Feb. 8, 1964: “Billy Kidd of Stowe, Vt., and Jimmy Heuga of Tahoe City, Calif, are congratulated by coach Bob Beattie after they
earned the U.S. its first medals in an Olympic men’s Alpine ski event. Kidd and Heuga won the medals by finishing second and third, respectively, in the slalom final. Austrian Pepi Stiegler won the race, which took place in Innsbruck, Austria.” March 1961 issue of Mt. Mansfield Skiing with Billy Kidd on the cover. Mount Mansfield Ski Club’s Rip McManus and Kidd were named to the 1964 U.S. Olympic Team in Innsbruck. Above: 1964 Olympic slalom medalists: Kidd, Stiegler, and Heuga.
idd wasted no time making an international name for himself. In the 1962 World Championships in Chamonix, France, racing against the world’s top skiers, he placed eighth in the slalom and 15th in the giant slalom. The Associated Press described Kidd, “the 18-year-old newcomer from Stowe, Vermont” as having “an outstanding showing ... considering the world caliber of the field.” Two years later lightning struck. Kidd, just 20 years old, stunned the world by winning a silver medal in the slalom at the 1964 Winter Olympics at Innsbruck, Austria, becoming the first American man to win an Olympic medal in alpine skiing. (He was just 0.14 seconds behind gold medal winner Pepi Steigler and was followed by teammate Jimmy Heuga, who won the bronze.) “Nobody, except our parents and our coach Bob Beattie, expected me to win a medal,” he says. Most of Stowe turned out to welcome home its native son and Olympic medal winner on March 11, which was declared “Billy Kidd Day.” Main Street was packed as Kidd and Jimmy Heuga were honored for their Olympic wins. One of the proudest attendees, which included Vermont Gov. Philip H. Hoff and Malcolm McLaine, chairman of the American Olympic Winter Games Committee, was Kidd’s longtime mentor and legendary ski school director Sepp Ruschp. A few days earlier Ruschp had told the New York Times, “I am very happy, very enthused. As far back as 1962 I realized there was potential in Billy, and from the beginning of the Olympic Games I was confident Billy would bring home a medal.” Injuries kept Kidd off the slopes during the next several years but he would return to rack up a staggering number of firsts, before turning pro in 1970: • First American male to win an Olympic medal in alpine skiing; • First American male to win a gold medal in alpine skiing; • First American to win a World Alpine Championship combined gold; • First American male to medal in a World Championship slalom; and • Only racer to win both amateur and professional titles in the same season.
In 1972 Kidd retired from professional skiing and signed on as director of skiing at Steamboat Ski Resort in Colorado, a position he still holds. He’s written several well-received books on skiing, has done television commentary on skiing, been a spokesperson for numerous ski-related products, and is developing property he bought when he first came to Colorado in the 1970s. He still skis as often as he can and continues to teach skiing, a lifelong passion. Indeed, visitors to Steamboat are invited to “Ski with Billy” almost every day during the season and receive free lessons from the former Olympian. “I’ve never charged for these sessions,” says Kidd. “It’s a way to pay back for all the help I’ve received along the way.” “Besides, I’m still having too much fun!” Kidd has also donated time to causes such as his former Olympic teammate Jimmy Heuga’s Multiple Sclerosis charity, the Special Olympics, the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition, and a variety of Native American (he is part Abenaki) ski programs. “He’s been so generous with his time and so enthusiastic about spreading the joys of skiing,” says Stowe-based ski writer Kim Brown. “He’s an inspiration.” Billy Kidd blushes at such praise and explains he’s just doing what anyone who has been so blessed would do. He tells a story about the time he asked Sepp Ruschp, his former coach and one of his ski mentors, how he could thank him and the people of Stowe for all they’ve done for him. Kidd, who was just 17 at the time, remembers, “Sepp answered, ‘You don’t have to.’ Then he paused a moment and added, ‘Just pass it on.’ “It was great advice and something I’ve never forgotten.” n ©STOWE GUIDE & MAGAZINE, WINTER / SPRING 2018-2019
Next page, from top: Billy Kidd skiing in Steamboat Springs, Colo., where he is director of skiing. Kidd with Stowe’s Tiger Shaw at the Stowe Challenge, 1983. Shaw, a fellow Olympian who grew up racing for the Mt. Mansfield Ski Club, is president and CEO of the United States Ski and Snowboard Association. The event was in conjunction with the ski club’s 50th anniversary with a “salute to the ‘legends’ of Stowe with costumes and skits. Billy Kidd flew in as an honored guest and speaker. A chicken barbecue preceded the next day’s team races—the U.S. Ski Team Challenge, complete with pari-mutuel betting. The event organized by Joe Welch and Nancy Cooke raised over $12,000” for the club’s educational foundation. “The telemark skiers raced for the von Trapp Trophy and all retired to the Stuberl for the awards party,” according to a historical note on the ski club’s website. Above: Kidd was on hand when the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame inducted its class of 2017 at an event in Stowe. (Thank you to Mike Leach and the Mt. Mansfield Ski Club for copies of Mt. Mansfield Skiing.)
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Profile of Olympic Champion skier Billy Kidd