Terrain parks and halfpipes are ubiquitous at ski areas and free to users with the purchase of a lift ticket.
That accessibility has helped create a generation of U.S. pipe and park stars, something that ski racing proponents would like to see replicated in their sport.
The locally based, nonprofit Bob Beattie Ski Foundation, bobbeattie.org, is part of an initiative to bring additional people and vitality into the sport by making gate-running more accessible to the masses. Beattie, who lived in Woody Creek for decades, died in April 2018 at the age of 85. He is credited with creating the head-to-head format, which supporters say is exciting, easy for spectators to follow and television-friendly.
Founded in 2011 by Beattie’s friends and former colleagues, the BBSF is working on a number of initiatives, including collaborating with the World Pro Ski Tour to help ski areas and clubs finance horse-race style start gates — where doors swing open simultaneously — as a way to promote dual racing.
“The Bob Beattie Ski Foundation believes the tried-and-true horse gates developed in the early seventies during the World Pro Skiing era and used though the late 1990s on the U.S. Pro Tour are a key component of the original and most successful dual format ever tried,” said Mike Hundert, chairman of the BBSF.
“They are superior to all others because the gates are positioned closer in the start and open up like horse gates (compared to the FIS drop-down gates), adding to the excitement,” said Hundert, a longtime resident of Snowmass Village.
Mark Tache, a former U.S. Ski Team member raised in Aspen who found tremendous success as a pro racer, echoed that sentiment.
“The BBSF is advocating hard for the dual format as an affordable access point for skiers of all levels, abilities and ages,” Tache said.
“It is a much easier format for a resort to host and set up because it needs a fraction of the hill space that a standard FIS single participant course requires. It’s exciting to do and to watch because it’s head-to-head. Skiers and spectators know early who’s winning and who’s losing or suddenly catching up. Importantly, it can be run without timing, making it even better for ski hills without resources,” he said.
Tache added that the BBSF is creating a criteria for junior programs and their respective resorts that are interested in applying for financial aid to receive BBSF-sanctioned horse gates.
Hundert noted that the foundation recently voted to fund building and distributing five sets of gates this winter. Recipients include Rotarun, a small hill located outside of Hailey, Idaho that is owned and operated by the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, and the Vermont Alpine Racing Association, an organization that will move the gates to various venues during the winter.
“We want to study the impact gates have on racing participation, as well as the impact free ski racing can have,” Hundert noted. He also said that Aspen Skiing Co., “led by Mike Kaplan’s keen interest in ski racing, has welcomed our collaborating to test a variety of ideas.” Those range from “free NASTAR Fridays to open practice courses with similar access to terrain parks. Come ski race! No barriers.”
Tache said the contrast seen one day last season between pipe and park usage and racecourse usage was a bit startling.
“Mike, Christin [Cooper who is married to Tache and is an Olympic silver medalist] and I witnessed the disparity at the Snowmass terrain park last season,” Tache recounted. “The terrain park was vibrant and full, with a variety of skiers and boarders of different ages and ability levels. At the same moment, the NASTAR course just up the hill at the Spider Sabich arena — accessed by the same lift — was mostly quiet and empty, seeing a fraction of the participation.
“The key takeaway, or certainly one of them, was that one was free, part of the cost of a lift ticket, and the other cost extra,” Tache added.
The horse-race style gates will be on display this season at World Pro Ski Tour races that are under the direction of CEO Jon J. Franklin. While the tour doesn’t include Aspen or Snowmass on its schedule this year, Franklin said, “It is our goal, 100 percent, to return to race in Aspen next season. Pro ski history runs incredibly deep in Aspen.”
Two seasons ago the tour stopped at Snowmass and locals including Baker Boyd, Victor Major and the late Sam Coffey were among the competitors who fought hard in the dual courses.
Joining the field at some events this year will be Ted Ligety, U.S. Ski Team A team member. During a recent interview at Copper Mountain, Ligety said he is excited for both the pro events as well as his starts on the FIS World Cup. He will only compete in giant slalom this year, which makes his schedule more amenable to jumping back and forth between both tours.
“It’s just a fun way to stay sharp,” Ligety said. “I think it’s good to have ski racing competition that’s out there and not have the hegemony of the FIS.”
According to Franklin, “For us to have Ted raises the level of competition.” He said several European racers and “another Olympic gold medalist” have also shown interest in the pro tour and that Ligety “will meet some stiff competition at the World Pro Ski Tour.” The tour’s reigning champion is two-time Olympian Phil Brown of Canada, a parallel silver medalist at the World Championships.
Franklin also pointed out that unlike the World Cup, races are all co-ed. “If Lindsey Vonn said she wanted to race, we would let her. Unlike the FIS,” he said. The elimination event begins with a round of 32 competitors.
The pro tour is also cognizant of the FIS race schedule due to “an understanding with the U.S. Ski Team.” That too could help produce more competitive fields.
“The tour is a great forum for the collegiate racer or journeyman racer,” who might get the chance to race against Ligety, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, Franklin said. This is Ligety’s 15th season on the World Cup tour.
The pro skiing season opens Dec. 14-15 at Vail with the Pepi Gramshammer Cup. The tour moves to Howelsen Hill in Steamboat for Moose Barrows’ Trophy. Eldora, Waterville Valley and Sunday River are the other season stops.
According to a published release, the WPST and the Bob Beattie Ski Foundation along with sponsor partner Alpine Bank will offer the “Kids’ Dual Challenge” as an element of the tour stops. Participating junior racers will be eligible for scholarship awards.
The tour has also partnered with Aether Films to produce the documentary series, “Life Between the Gates,” that offers viewers a look at life on the tour. The first episode will feature the upcoming Vail stop.
BBSF chair Hundert said the horse-race style gates will play well on the small screen.
“Both competitors are visible side by side in the start in the TV frame where their intensity and drama anticipating the gate openings is part of the suspense. The start itself then is thrilling, as it should be,” Hundert said.