Steamboat Springs Chad Fleischer was 12 years old — still a new kid in Vail and nothing but a recreational skier — when American Bill Johnson won the gold medal in downhill skiing at the 1984 Olympic Games in Sarajevo.
“I turned to my parents right then and said, ‘I want to be an Olympic ski racer,’” Fleischer recalled Monday. “That was a truly defining moment. I chose my path within 10 seconds and I never looked back.”
Fleischer went on to live that dream, competing on the U.S. Ski Team for nearly a decade and racing in both the 1994 and 1998 Olympics.
On Friday, Fleischer, a product of Vail who now calls Steamboat Springs home, learned he was to be inducted into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame later this year.
“When you retire, you hope you’ve done something for the sport or within the sport that’s meaningful, and that’s what this means to me,” Fleischer said. “It signifies that to my peers out there in the ski world what I did in the sport, what I continue to do in the sport, is enough to be inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame, and I take a lot of pride in that. Skiing has always been my love, my life and my passion.”
Fleischer was born in and grew up in Nebraska, but he moved with his family to Vail when he was just 10. He didn’t take up racing seriously for two more years, but he shot to the top once he finally did.
Once he reached the top, he battled it out with some of the legends of ski racing, specializing in downhill and super-G events.
His career-best result came in the downhill finals of the 1999 World Cup, where he earned silver, just behind Norway’s Lasse Kjus, who won the World Cup overall title that season.
Several weeks later Fleischer was competing in the super G at the World Championships in Beaver Creek and had another day he said he’ll never forget. He set the pace while competing in his own backyard and waited as skier after skier failed to top his mark.
He said more than 25,000 spectators packed the mountain that day, making for an atmosphere simply unheard of in American skiing.
Finally, some of the field’s elite managed to slip in under his time and he ended up sixth, but just 0.28 seconds back of the world champion.
“That was probably one of the tightest, best super G races of all time, and it was on my home turf,” he said. “They did awards for the top six, so I was in the plaza on the main stage and it was just a really cool deal, to be there in your hometown, to be that close and have that kind of support.”
Fleischer won the downhill national championships in 1996 and 1998, but he never quite realized the Olympic success that had helped inspire him as a child. With a reputation as a go-for-broke skier who was prone to crashes, he failed to finish three of his four Olympic races.
A knee injury permanently sidelined him in January 2002. After two years of comeback attempts and 12 surgeries on the knee, he finally announced his retirement.
He trained for a period after high school in Steamboat Springs with Aldo Radamas, and in that time he decided he would return some day. That opportunity came after his retirement, and he now lives in town with wife, Renee, and sons, Jonah, 7, and Talon, 5. He runs Fleischer Sports, which includes a location at One Steamboat Place.
Fleischer also has spent time commentating on ski racing since he stepped away, working for Outdoor Life Network, VS and Universal Sports from 2002 to 2010.
“Your entire life you strive to win the Olympics,” he said. “That’s why I became a ski racer. Did I win the Olympic gold medal? No. Is that disappointing and does it make my entire career feel like somewhat of a failure? Yes. That’s the reality of it. It’s the ultimate prize and I didn’t get there.
“Does that mean my career wasn’t a great career? Not at all.”
Fleischer, nominated by Erik Steinberg, was one of 15 people nominated for the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame this year. Four were elected. The ceremony will take place Oct. 18 in Broomfield.
“I’m very proud of my career, and very proud of the fact I could inspire as many people and kids as I did,” Fleischer said. “The Hall of Fame, this is the icing on the cake, showing how important ski racing is in my life, how ski racing was an enabler for me to have a voice and be recognized in the world of skiing.”