Still a Kidd on the Steamboat slopes
Steamboat’s Stetson-wearing icon going strong after 40th season as director of skiing
May 23, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Billy Kidd is showing no signs of slowing down after four decades as director of skiing at Steamboat Ski Area.
"I hope this gig is only about half over," Kidd, 67, said last week in his gondola building office that's cluttered with enough skiing history to start a museum. "It's just a dream come true."
His continuing energy, excitement and passion for the sport are welcome sentiments to longtime friends and Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials alike, who heaped praise on the man who came to Steamboat Springs in 1970 — "with some medals in my pocket," Kidd said — after achievements including a silver in slalom at the 1964 Winter Olympics and a cherished gold in the 1970 World Championships.
Since becoming director of skiing on Mount Werner that year, Kidd has led countless clinics, taught generations of skiers how to improve, traveled the world to promote American skiing and carved turns on thousands of his famous "1 o'clock runs" open to anyone who cares to join him.
Andy Wirth, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Ski Corp., has interacted closely with about 20 major ski resorts during a career of more than 20 years in the industry. He said Kidd's impact on not only Steamboat and the Yampa Valley, but also on the sport of skiing, can't be underestimated.
"I would suggest that nobody has done as much for introducing people to the sport, getting latent skiers back into the sport, and inspiring young athletes to get into the sport," Wirth said. "No one has even come close to doing for skiing what Billy has done."
And yet, on the afternoon of April 11, on his last run of the 2009-10 ski season, Kidd — a man accustomed to crowds — found himself alone on See Me. He had finished a clinic, wished the participants well and headed down Heavenly Daze. The swirling festivities of Closing Day had drawn skiers and riders to the ski base, to the bars, to Gate D, or elsewhere on the mountain.
Kidd said he slid to a stop and reflected.
"I was thinking about the things that happened this year," he said. "God, what a great season this was."
Some wouldn't say that, with the below-average snowfall this winter. But Kidd said getting through the season without injuries, witnessing the historic accomplishments of Steamboat athletes at the Winter Olympics and facilitating successful group visits, to name a few highlights, all combined to create a positive season, his 40th on the mountain.
Kidd said he also reflected on the other 39.
New ownership of the ski area in 1969 brought a new marketing style that focused on All-American themes colored in red, white and blue with a Western, cowboy backdrop.
Bringing in a world champion with a name like "Billy Kidd" was a natural fit in 1970.
"The opportunity was ideal for me," Kidd said. "The door just opened up."
Wirth said Steamboat should be glad Kidd walked through.
"In the early '70s, when Billy moved to town, that's when things really took off for Steamboat," Wirth said.
Kidd is just one of a vast, colorful cast of characters that have made Steamboat Ski Area what it is today. It's called "Mount Werner" for a reason, and one man alone does not build an Olympic tradition the size of Steamboat's, or create the lifestyle that locals and visitors enjoy.
But Kidd has been the consummate ambassador.
Bob Dapper, director of mountain operations for Christy Sports, came to Steamboat in 1971 and has known Kidd for decades.
"The role that I think Billy plays, and he does it better than anybody I've ever seen in my life, is his huge, genuine caring when he talks to people," Dapper said. "He could be late for a plane, and he'll stop and talk to somebody, some kid, whoever … and explain to them how they're going to be the next Olympian.
"He never is too busy. There's no better ambassador."
And the Kidd still shreds.
"He's incredible," Dapper said. "If you were to have gone out and skied with him in April, and he was actually skiing, it's unbelievable how strong of a skier he still is — he just rips."
Kidd said the fundamentals of skiing — keep your feet apart and your hands out, keep your knees bent and use them like shock absorbers — are the same as when he was racing in the '60s. His love of teaching only has grown.
"I've found that I really like to help people ski better," Kidd said. "In a half-hour or an hour, I can see people ski better dramatically."
Wirth said that's an opportunity not to be missed next season, or likely, in many seasons to come.
"Here's a call to action for all locals — who, like many, will ski right on by — to go take 20 minutes and do Billy Kidd's 1 o'clock run," Wirth said. "I'll be shocked if you don't learn something."