Steamboat Living: 8 questions with Steamboat skiing icon Billy Kidd

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Q. How’d you first end up in Steamboat?

A. I moved here in 1970 from Stowe, Vt., after graduating from the University of Colorado in 1969. It was right after I won the World Championships. I’d heard about Steamboat from Buddy Werner and Moose Barrows, who were on the CU and U.S. ski teams with me. I got hooked on powder and sunshine, and with the town’s ranching background and a name like Billy Kidd, I thought I’d be comfortable here.

Q. Is it the Yampa Valley Curse that has kept you here?

A. As a ski racer, I never thought that far off. Long term was four years to the next Olympics. Then I had the opportunity to become director of skiing, so I stayed, and I’m still here 43 years later. I’ve been really lucky. But I don’t like the word curse. It’s not a curse; it’s a privilege. I tell people, “If you’ve never been here, you should come, but be careful because you might get hooked.”

Q. How much longer will that sign be at the top of the gondola?

A. I still enjoy skiing and don’t see any reason to quit, even though I don’t ski as fast as I used to. I like to stop every 100 yards or so to look at the views. Banana George skied and snowboarded until he was 92, and Klaus Obermeyer is doing the same. Jack Rabbit Johannsen skied until he was 104. So I still see a lot of good years left.

Q. What’s your favorite run?

A. If it’s powder, Shadows. I’m an old ski racer, and the trees are just like slalom gates. You just don’t want to hit them. Plus, the mountain faces west, so it always has good lighting and visibility. For cruisers, I like Buddy’s Run, which brings back memories from skiing in the Olympics with Buddy.

Q. What’s it like being the face of Steamboat?

A. It wasn’t my goal. It just happened. I used to talk about Steamboat all the time on my travels. That’s one of the most enjoyable parts of my life. The Western image here is real. It’s not manufactured. There’s an authentic ranching history here. I can be in London, Tokyo or New York, and when people see my hat, it says American West and Steamboat.

Q. Tell us a little more about that hat.

A. It’s a Billy Kidd Stetson. They’ve had it in their line for 30 years and sell it all over. On cattle drives in the olden days, if the herd stampeded and your hat fell off, you wouldn’t go back for your hat. So they all had stampede straps to keep them on. That’s the main difference with my hat; it has a stampede strap to keep it on. It’s also turned out at the front so the wind blows it on instead of off. It’s ideal for skiing. Of course, now I wear a helmet most of the time when I’m skiing.

Q. Did you ski on record-setting Presidents Day last year?

A. You bet. That was a pretty good day. If I was wearing my Stetson, it would have almost come up to its brim. But I also remember a day in 1997 when Warren Miller was up here filming “Snow Riders.” It snowed every day for two weeks, and then we went into Shadows on the first sunny day afterward. Then it was over the top of my hat.

Q. How are you going to celebrate your 70th?

A. I’m not sure, but I’ll definitely get out and ski. My birthday’s April 13th, and 13 has always been my lucky number. I wore that number when I won the World Championships in 1970, so the numbers 13 and 70 fit together. But if they have a birthday cake with that many candles, they might have to be careful — that’s a lot of fire danger. ■

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