John F. Russell: A lifetime on the slopes

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John Russell

John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by John here.

— For a few dedicated skiers in Steamboat Springs, the NASTAR race course is as much a part of winter as snow.

Jerry Taylor was one of those skiers.

The former United Airline pilot fell in love with skiing as a child. His daughter Michelle LaFleur said her father used to ride the ski train to the mountains when he had the money to ski and said he and his friends learned the basics by following ski instructors across the hill, hoping to overhear a few words of advice.

Jerry’s passion for skiing followed him his entire life. He skied whenever he had a chance, and he skied for the college club team when he was at Colorado State University.

Skiing took a back seat when Jerry left to serve in the Navy, but his love for the sport never faded.

Michelle said her father would have loved to have trained to become a competitive skier when he was younger, but she said money, opportunity and time were in short supply.

Years later, NASTAR gave Jerry a second chance. It gave him a chance to compete on skis and feel like the Olympians he admired.

“I think he always felt like he missed his chance as a teenager when the circumstances didn’t allow it,” Michelle said. “I think NASTAR allowed him to make up for that.”

He qualified for the NASTAR National Championships throughout five decades and won his age division at last year’s championships after years of settling for second.

He logged more runs on Bashor than any other skier, and he raced 92 days last winter, chalked up 632 results and was ranked at the platinum level.

But skiing was about more than results for the part-time Steamboat resident from Arvada who found a home on the slopes of Steamboat.

When Jerry was diagnosed with cancer at age 74 and came face to face with his most relentless opponent, he kept on skiing.

“I think he wanted to show cancer that it couldn’t keep him down,” Michelle said. “He was determined to beat the odds.”

Jerry approached his battle with cancer just like it was another race on Bashor. There was no question that Jerry was determined to beat this opponent, and nobody who knew him would have wagered against him.

Three times, he came out on top, and before the fall, it looked like he was on his way to complete victory.

When Jerry was diagnosed with cancer for a fourth time, everyone expected his fight to end with another win. But this time, Jerry couldn’t top his opponent. He died in late December.

“Oh yeah, I miss him,” Tom Zehner said about his longtime friend. Tom spent a lot of time skiing and racing the NASTAR course with Jerry .

He said that through it all, Jerry’s love of ski racing remained strong.

“He had bought new skis, new boots and a new race suit,” Tom said. “He was ready for the season, and he was ready to race.”

On Saturday, Jerry’s family and friends showed up at the Bashor course to honor his memory with a few runs. It was a fitting tribute to a man whose passion for skiing made him a champion.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com

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