Steamboat Springs Just as his skis have changed since his epic silver medal-winning run at the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, so, in recent years, has Billy Kidd’s headgear. Yes, while he still holds court at 1 p.m. almost daily at the top of the gondola at Steamboat Ski Area, he now wears a helmet instead of the cowboy hat that grew to be as much his signature as anything he could do with an ink pen.
Kidd added an Alpine skiing world championship to his trophy case in 1970 and has two other World Championship podiums on his resume. For 41 years, though, he’s been guiding a daily clinic that starts at 1 p.m. on Mount Werner.
Now 68, he’s as big a fan of Steamboat and Mount Werner as he’s ever been, and he said he’s hoping he’s only halfway through his skiing career.
On the verge of what he called his busiest time of year — the Christmas week tourist rush — there didn’t seem to be a better time to sit down with one of Steamboat Springs’ most enduring icons.
Steamboat Pilot: How did the daily clinic start?
Billy Kidd: I started doing it because I wanted to do something similar to what Stein Erikson used to do when he was involved with ski areas at Aspen Highlands, and then Snowmass and then Deer Valley. He would go out at lunch time and do a flip off a bump right there in front of the lunch crowd. ... I did enough flips when I was downhill racing and didn’t want to do any more, but I talked with Doak Walker and we thought it might be neat to ski down the hill with people. I remember when I was a kid growing up in Vermont, Olympic skiers would come to town and I would go ski with them, follow them. That was a big deal to me, and that was the beginning of my 1 o’clock run.
SP: With your racing and television commentating, you are the first thing many people know about Steamboat Springs. What’s it like being so closely identified with Ski Town USA?
BK: It’s pretty satisfying. You always wonder, whatever you’re doing in life, does it make a difference? I’ve always felt when I tell people about Steamboat, they’ll have a good time here. It’s not going to be dependent on weather or good luck and 2 feet of powder. When people come to Steamboat, I know they’re going to have a good time, and it happens all the time. ... People in New York City and Florida or Europe or Asia, they just don’t realize that the Old West still exists in America, and Steamboat represents that so well. People come here and find that the weather’s really nice. People are nice. It’s great skiing down the hill, then they find out it’s such a great place to live.
SP: You always seem to be able to find great powder stashes for photographs. Any tips?
BK: Come to Steamboat! If you’ve never been in powder before and we have 2 feet of it, I can take you up on Tomahawk, along the edges and you can go straight down through there and just wave your poles and (yell) “Yahoo” and you’re skiing the powder without being in danger because you can go right straight down without going too fast.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to get a cover shot for Skiing or Powder magazine, we have certain places, too, that are like secret and hidden around the mountain. Of course, more and more people are getting to be better skiers because of fat skis and snowboards, and they can get into trees that used to only be for the bravest of experts. But you still can find powder even a day or two after a storm.
SP: Do you have a favorite run?
BK: My favorite place to ski when we get powder is Shadows. We didn’t cut the trees off on that trail, just thinned them. So if you go down the center line, there’s a tree every 50 or 60 feet. Off the center line 100 yards, you’re out in natural trees and there’s a tree every 10 or 12 feet, so you can choose your danger level. One of the nice things about it is Shadows faces west, so you get that afternoon light. It’s a photographer’s dream.
SP: You’re always smiling so wide in those photographs. How do you take them?
BK: It’s not that I have to keep smiling in mind or think “He’s about to click, so make sure I’m smiling.” When you’re in waist-deep or chest-deep or chin-deep powder, you can’t help but smile. I’m a skier. I grew up in Vermont and I traveled all over the world, and I know one of the most fun things I can do is to ski down through waist-deep powder. It’s ecstasy once you experience it.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com