Tom Ross

Tom Ross

Tom Ross: Ski racing great Buddy Werner could be a rapscallion after all

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Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Tom here.

— One of my great regrets is that I never got the chance to meet Buddy Werner, the great Olympic skier from Steamboat Springs who died too young in 1964.

I was in sixth grade and just getting introduced to the sport of skiing. I was a big fan of Jim McKay and ABC’s Wide World of Sports, so it’s likely I watched Werner ski on the old black-and-white TV set in the living room at 5022 Marathon Drive. I just can’t conjure up a memory of him.

The next best thing to knowing Buddy was attending the dedication ceremonies this week for the new Buddy Werner exhibit at the Steamboat Springs public library that bears his name.

Billy Kidd told a great story about Werner befriending a much younger Jimmie Heuga during a training camp in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1957. Remarkably, Heuga, age 12, had been given the keys to the family car so he could drive his pals from their home in the Lake Tahoe area to Sun Valley.

Kidd also told a story of being stranded in the airport in Denver and summoning the nerve to call his boyhood hero to see if he would come and retrieve him (Werner happened to be in Denver).

“I had pictures of Buddy Werner on my bedroom wall growing up in Vermont,” Kidd said. “I had come out from Stowe when I was 17 and didn’t have any money.”

After competing in Colorado, Kidd went to Denver to catch a flight to Sun Valley, but he missed the plane.

“The only person I knew to call was Buddy Werner,” Kidd recalled. “He said, ‘I’ll come out and get you.’ When he showed up at the airport, I was so awestruck I was totally tongue-tied.”

There are many stories about how humble Werner was as well as his willingness to take time to encourage admiring youngsters. He had an enormous capacity for physical training and virtually willed himself to become a better skier. It almost makes you wish he had a little streak of the rapscallion in him. I mean, any guy who can cross the Atlantic Ocean and become the first American to win the famed Hahnenkamm downhill by pointing a pair of wooden ski straight down the most feared course in skiing has to have a bit of a wild streak in him, right?

Turns out he did.

Werner’s cousin, Ray Heid, spoke Tuesday night about how Buddy loved to bring his trumpet on backcountry horsepack trips. On one trip into the mountains, the group devoted a pack animal to carrying enough whiskey to last the trip and then some.

This particular trip into Horse Thief Park took place in 1963, prior to the establishment of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, and that’s an important thing to keep in mind.

Along the ride, Buddy encountered a stray sheep and stopped to round her up. Werner heaved the sheep onto a packsaddle where the sheep rode serenely and became the trip mascot.

At the close of a good sojourn in the mountains, the group dug a shallow trench in which to bury its empty whiskey bottles.

When the soil had been tamped down over all of the dead soldiers, Buddy produced his trumpet and played a mournful rendition of taps.

What kind of whiskey did they drink?

The kind that comes in square bottles, so it won't roll away from the campfire, Heid said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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