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ASPEN — More than 300 friends and family from around the country gathered in Aspen over the weekend to celebrate the memory of longtime resident Bob Beattie, a larger-than-life figure widely regarded as the patriarch of American skiing. And while his list of accomplishments is unparalleled in the sport, their recollections focused on his passion for people and the sport he loved.
Beattie, who died in April at the age of 85, was a former ski coach at the University of Colorado, the founder of the modern U.S. Ski Team, the coach of the first American men to win Olympic medals in skiing, co-founder of skiing’s World Cup tour and a long-time commentator for ABC Sports. He also was a passionate advocate for children’s ski programs who was still trying to help make the sport affordable for them in the Roaring Fork Valley, even from a wheelchair in his old age.
Those who came for the remembrance didn’t need to be reminded of his achievements, because they had watched it unfold up close as far back as the 1960s. They came together to swap stories and honor his impact on their lives.
Beattie’s son, Zeno, said one of his father’s final wishes was for his life to be celebrated with a reunion of those he touched. It seemed appropriate to wait until ski season, so they came to Aspen from both coasts to ski, put on a race involving kids from the Aspen Valley Ski Club and shared their memories.
Pam Fletcher, a downhiller on the U.S. Ski Team in the 1980s, recalled the day of the downhill at the 1988 Calgary Olympics when a course worker skied into her path and collided with her only 45 minutes before the start of what she thought was going to be the race of her life. The mishap left her with a broken right leg.
“Bob was working with ABC Sports at the time,” Fletcher recalled. “When he found out what happened, I don’t know who cried harder, Bob or me.”
Mark Tache, who grew up in Aspen and raced for the U.S. Ski Team and the U.S. Pro Tour of the 1980s, recalled skiing with Bob and Zeno when he was 8 or 9 years old, but he also remembered Beattie’s generosity. When Tache was 14, he attended a Beattie spring training camp on an Oregon glacier that cost $250. When Tache got back home, he discovered Beattie had returned his father’s check because he knew the cost was a hardship for Tache’s family of five kids.
“Right to his last breath, the guy lived and breathed skiing and ski racing,” Tache said. “He wanted it to be a core value for anyone who lived in a mountain town.”
After Saturday’s race at Aspen Highlands, they gathered in a ballroom at the historic Jerome Hotel. They watched a tribute video assembled for the occasion and another put together by ABC Sports to celebrate Beattie’s 50th birthday in 1983. Narrated by the late Frank Gifford, the sometimes wacky ABC video included contributions from John Denver, Jimmy Buffett, Ethel Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Howard Cosell and Tom Brokaw.
In the slalom at the 1964 Winter Olympics, Beattie coached Billy Kidd and Jimmie Heuga to silver and bronze medals, respectively, the first Olympic ski medals won by American men. Kidd also won a gold medal at the 1970 world championships.
“When I was a teenager and he named me to the U.S.Ski Team, I was not a good athlete,” said Kidd, the director of skiing at the Steamboat ski area since 1970. “He made me believe that he cared about me, and that this world he was in was the best place on the planet to be.”
Kidd and Bill Marolt, a teammate on the 1964 Olympic team, recalled how Beattie coached them by the “exhaustion method,” which meant running to exhaustion and then running some more. Marolt later became a ski coach, athletic director at CU and the longtime chief executive of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
“All he ever wanted to do was be a coach,” Marolt said. “He had a passion to work with kids. It didn’t matter how young or old, he just loved kids.”
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