Steamboat Springs Billy Kidd was in a production meeting the day before the slalom skiing race at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, when he mentioned that the course had been so thoroughly prepared with water, that someone could ice skate from top to bottom.
A day later, Kidd proved as much, taking to the ice for the TV cameras and to the delight of millions tuned in thousands of miles away in the United States.
The International Skiing History Association presented Kidd a Lifetime Achievement Award last week, honoring the face of Steamboat Springs for the decades of broadcast work that followed a celebrated skiing career.
It was stunts like that on the French ice that helped Kidd standout as he broadcast from Olympic Games and helped bring his sport into American living rooms.
“Broadcasters think everyone is hanging on their every word, but when I put myself in viewers' shoes, I knew people weren’t always listening to what you say,” Kidd said. “I had to get their attention somehow and tell them something they didn’t already know. Most ski racing fans didn’t know its that icy.”
Kidd’s list of skiing awards is about as long as it gets, including an Olympic silver medal, a world championship in 1970 and, in 1976, induction into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. Kidd said he was uniquely proud of this newest honor, however, something he entered wide-eyed at the 1972 Olympics soon after his retirement from ski racing.
He stepped in front of NBC's cameras at the Sapporo, Japan, Olympic Games without any experience.
“They just gave me a microphone and said ‘Tell us what you see,’” he said. “Luckily for me, my fellow Vermonter Barbara Cochran won the gold and made me look really smart.”
Wearing the cowboy hat that defined him then as well as now, Kidd served as a representative of Steamboat on the national broadcasts even when he couldn’t work the town into the conversation.
All along, he said he tried never to forget the wide audience he was speaking to.
“For most of my life, I was focusing on ski racing and talking to ski racing people, so when I did television, I had to keep in mind I’d be talking to a grandmother in Alabama who didn’t ski and a taxi cab driver in New York City who may not ski,” Kidd said. “I tried to relate things so it wasn’t so technical, yet I also wanted to make sure skiers could see some of the things maybe they didn’t know.”
Kidd’s broadcasting went beyond those Olympic shows, as well. He skied down famous downhill courses around the world with a camera — again showing, not just telling — to give viewers a vantage point they could never otherwise get. He worked for all three major broadcast networks, ABC, NBC and CBS, and he had a syndicated show, American Ski Scene, that ran for a decade. He also hosted a radio show and frequently filmed skiing tips for CNN.
Kidd has stepped away from commentating on ski races. He said the demanding in-season schedule, requiring frequent travel to keep up with developments among the world’s best skiers, eventually took its toll and “if you live in a place like Steamboat, you don’t want to go anywhere.”
The award was given April 12 in Vail, coinciding with Kidd’s 70th birthday celebration at Steamboat Ski Area and the family reunion that came with that event.
“It’s great because the main thing I’ve done with my life is ski racing. I got some good results and that opened doors,” he said. “That allowed me to travel around the world and talk about skiing, inviting people from London and Tokyo and Sydney to come to Steamboat to go skiing. Yet this award is for my broadcasting, not my ski racing. That is very satisfying for me.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com