Steamboat Springs Billy Kidd figured his window of opportunity was a couple of years at the most.
As an Olympic silver medalist and world champion, Kidd had an opportunity to create a new life for himself in Steamboat Springs, but he predicted his moment to shine would be short-lived as skiing fans waited for the next great American racer to come along.
More than 30 years have passed since William Winston Kidd became America's first gold medal winner at the International Skiing Federation's World Championships. And like he envisioned, those other medalists have come, but the bond between Steamboat and Kidd is one not even time has been able to sever.
The changing of the year marks Kidd's 33rd season as director of skiing at the Steamboat Ski Area. Originally from Stowe, Vermont, he was brought to Steamboat Springs in 1970 as part of a marketing and development plan implemented by LTV Recreational Development Inc.
The Dallas-based company purchased the Mount Werner Ski Area in 1969 and put $10 million into expanding and creating the Steamboat Village Resort. In addition to opening the face of Storm Peak and installing the six-passenger Bell gondola in 1970, LTV wanted to market Steamboat in a way that would appeal to the masses.
Mix Beauvais, director of marketing from 1967 to1983, aspired to give Steamboat an All-American feel, mixing patriotism with the authenticity and charm of cowboys.
With Kidd, Steamboat got both.
He wore an American flag on his racing helmet and a Stetson for fun. He was an internationally renowned skier with a name befitting the Wild West.
"Steamboat is America and Billy personified that," Beauvais said. "There wasn't a second choice."
Now, Kidd has his own line of Stetsons with a band of pheasant feathers and a turquoise stud. The cowboy has become the centerpiece of Kidd's trademark look.
"It's a lot warmer than a wool hat with a brim that protects you from sun exposure," Kidd said. "I like function more than style or image, and I think that's what Steamboat is. People can afford to buy Rolls Royces but you don't see any. They can afford to buy mink coats yet you don't see any in town. This town, like the authentic old West, is based on function."
Skiing is a series of efficient moves as well, Kidd said. Nearly every day for the past 33 years, he has given a group of intermediate skiers the tools to become an Olympian. He hosts a free clinic down Heavenly Daze, emphasizing basic things like stance, proper pole plant and post-race speeches. (Don't forget to thank him, of course.)
Other than the Stetson, it is the small gestures like the free clinic that separate Kidd from the hundreds of great skiers that have come since he made himself famous over three decades ago.
"Over the years he's never been too busy to talk skiing to anybody," former Olympian and long-time friend Moose Barrows said. "He'll do it anytime, anywhere in the most grueling circumstances. He excels at making people feel comfortable on skis. Whenever I have a problem I go up with him. It takes five turns and two words from Billy. He's still the best technical skier there is."
But giving free advice and spending time with skiers interested in getting better, is what passionate people do, Kidd said. It's never been about promoting himself; it's about promoting a sport and a mountain he loves.
"Over the years I've found that what I'm doing now at Steamboat, being director of skiing, which is a fancy title for basically hanging around and testing the snow, is that it keeps me in touch with people and gets me out of the office," Kidd said. "I think a tremendous amount of satisfaction comes from improving people's skiing very quickly."
Any day, Kidd said, he thinks someone is going to walk into his office filled with posters and photos and Stetsons and tell him to get a real job.
So it still comes as a surprise to Kidd that his image is printed on lift tickets and preserved in bronze statue form in Gondola Square. "Usually you have to be dead for that," Kidd said.
Or perhaps a living legend.