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Thread: "Buddy" Werner
01-21-2004, 09:59 AM #1
Werner stood tallest
Steamboat standout gave U.S. first male skiing star
By John Meyer
Denver Post Sports Writer
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS - Buddy Werner's brother, Loris, cracks a wry smile while recalling how he felt in 1959 when Buddy became the first American to win the world's most prestigious ski race, the Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbuehel, Austria.
"You're elated because he has won it," Werner said with a smirk, "but you're also, 'What took so long? You finally stood up and showed the world what you could do."'
More than a younger brother's posthumous attempt to tease his elder sibling's memory, Werner's wisecrack captures the no-nonsense character of Steamboat Springs and the heroic but hard-luck career of Buddy Werner, the first American male to command widespread admiration in European ski racing circles. Werner died in an avalanche 40 years ago this April.
Werner was the only American to win the Hahnenkamm downhill until last year, when Californian Daron Rahlves added his name to a list of champions that is a virtual hall of fame of ski racing. Apart from the Olympics and world championships, Kitzbuehel is the race downhillers most want to win, and in some ways it bestows an even greater mantle of immortality because of the courage it requires. The 64th Hahnen- kamm races will be held this weekend.
Werner's historic triumph on the world's most frightening downhill track showed a hard-nosed cowboy from Colorado could beat the Europeans at their own game. But Steamboat's favorite son was known more for the races he didn't "stand up," races in which he fell in an all-out effort to win when it seemed he was on the verge of victory.
Much like Bode Miller today, European ski racing fans loved him for his fearless, aggressive tactics. But he would end one of the most legendary careers in American ski racing without a medal in the Olympics or world championships.
"I never look back," Werner once said. "If I crash this week, what the hell, there's another race coming up next week, maybe I'll win it."
Werner always raced on the edge. Like Miller, it wasn't that he didn't know how to back off, he saw no point in it.
"There was no second place for Buddy," Steamboat icon Billy Kidd said. "He figured there were only two places in a ski race, first or fall."
Kidd, who idolized Werner as a Vermont teenager and then became his teammate in the early 1960s, said he believes Werner inherited his first-or-fall attitude from the pioneers who settled the West, including the ranchlands of Routt County. For them, it was survive or perish.
"In order to win, you've got to take chances, and in skiing you've got serious repercussions sometimes if you have miscalculations," Kidd said. "Buddy never thought about that. He never thought, 'I should back off here a little bit because it's too dangerous.' He would go as fast as possible."
In the 1956 Olympics at Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, Werner was on pace to win the downhill when he fell in a series of rolls just above the finish. The same thing happened at the 1958 world championships in Badgastein, Austria, and the 1962 world championships in Chamonix, France.
The Cortina crash was typical.
"He was going faster than anybody else, and by trying to get a little more speed he rolled back onto his heels a little bit to take the pressure off the tips and the first roll got him," Loris Werner said.
Kidd calls Werner the "personification" of Steamboat, but Werner was more than a reckless wrangler with an attitude. He was a tireless worker, a perfectionist and a brilliant technician. He was constantly tinkering with his equipment looking for an edge, and he designed ski racing's first form-fitting race suit.
Werner grew up racing on the slopes of venerable Howelsen Hill, which traces its competitive history to 1914. Steamboat native Jim "Moose" Barrows, another former ski racer, remembers watching Werner train in raging snowstorms when no one else wanted to be out.
"His deal was, 'I'm going to practice in this because I may have to race in this someday, and when everybody else is backing off, I can pour it on,"' Barrows said.
Werner once set a slalom course on the landing area of the 90- meter ski jump at Howelsen, a pitch far steeper than any slalom slope.
"He ran it until there were ruts in it," Barrows said. "I'm not sure I ever could have done it, and he did it really well."
How did Werner become an accomplished downhiller learning to race on Howelsen Hill, with a vertical drop of only 400 feet? He also was a ski jumper accustomed to launching off the ramp at 60-plus mph, so he was comfortable on sections of downhill courses that flung racers into the air.
"He was a heck of a good jumper," Loris Werner said. "He easily could have made the Olympic team in jumping. The turning end of it comes from the fact that Howelsen Hill is very steep. We would run a lot of giant slalom, so you'd learn to make high-speed turns."
More than anything, it was a fierce will to win that set Werner apart. Kidd said he was the most competitive person he ever met. Loris Werner said he was a gracious winner but a horrible loser.
Aspen's Max Marolt, who died while skiing in Argentina last August at age 69, roomed with Werner the year he won at Kitzbuehel.
"Dad always said Buddy had the God-given ability to be as competitive as anyone could be," said one of Max Marolt's sons, Mike. "He was just a total tiger when it came to winning, and he would do whatever he could. It made him come across as a (jerk), but Dad said he was totally misunderstood. He was a super guy, according to Dad, a real good person and friend."
Werner made his first international impact by finishing sixth in the downhill at the 1954 Austrian ski championships when he was 17. Later that year he won the Holmenkollen in Norway, a title he claimed again in 1956 and 1962. In 1958 he won a combined at Wengen, Switzerland, and finished fourth in the Kitzbuehel downhill.
Vail's Dave Gorsuch made his Kitzbuehel debut that year and remembers Werner attacking the plunging slope below the starting gate despite horrendous visibility.
"It was so foggy at the start, today they wouldn't run the race," Gorsuch said. "You couldn't see the first gate. He went out of the starting gate like he could see the whole world. It sort of surprised the Austrians."
The Hahnenkamm course of today is nearly identical to the one Werner ran in the 1950s, featuring steep, icy turns, teeth-rattling bumps and insane speeds. In those days, there were no safety nets.
"It was probably just as much or more of a thrill when you were on leather boots and wooden skis, and you're still going 70 to 80 mph," Gorsuch said. "A lot of these kids today, if they had to use the equipment we did, they'd be busy."
Werner's victory at Kitzbuehel in 1959 - by 0.2 of a second over Swiss star Roger Staub - made him the favorite going into the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics, but he suffered a broken left leg training in Aspen two months before the Olympics. Four years later at the Innsbruck Olympics, Werner knew it was his last chance.
Having failed in the downhill and giant slalom, Werner caught a tip in the slalom, finishing eighth in his last major race. But if the mentor failed, two young teammates who learned to be ski racers by emulating him made history that day. Kidd won the silver medal and Jimmie Heuga took the bronze, the first alpine medals for U.S. men in the Olympics. Heuga said he owed so much to Werner he wanted to give him his medal.
Two months after the Innsbruck Olympics, Werner was shooting a ski film near St. Moritz, Switzerland, when an avalanche released above him. He managed to outrace that slide, but another avalanche broke free across the valley and Werner skied into it. He was 28.
Storm Peak, where the fledgling Steamboat ski area was in its second year of operation, was renamed Mount Werner.
"He was Steamboat," Loris Werner said. "He was not only Steamboat, he was American skiing."
WALLACE 'BUDDY' WERNER
Born: Feb. 26, 1936
Died: April 12, 1964
Hometown: Steamboat Springs
Olympic teams: 1956, 1964
World championships teams: 1954, 1958, 1962
Siblings: Gladys "Skeeter" Werner (1954 world championships team, 1956 Olympic team); Loris Werner, (Olympic team, 1968)
Major international titles: Holmenkollen downhill (Oppdal, Norway) 1954, 1956; Holmenkollen giant slalom, 1962; Holmenkollen combined, 1956, 1962; Hahnenkamm downhill, (Kitzbuehel, Austria) 1959; Lauberhorn combined (Wengen, Switzerland, 1958)
U.S. titles: downhill 1957, 1959; giant slalom 1959, 1963; slalom 1958
What: The 64th Hahnenkamm World Cup races
Where: Kitzbuehel, Austria
Thursday: Downhill (replaces race postponed last week in Wengen, Switzerland)
Friday: Super-G; defending champion Hermann Maier, Austria
Saturday: Hahnenkamm downhill; defending champion Daron Rahlves, Sugar Bowl, Calif.
Sunday: Hahnenkamm slalom; defending champion Kalle Palander, Finland
TV: Hahnenkamm downhill, Outdoor Life Network, 5 p.m. Saturday (repeated 3 p.m. Sunday)to all my friends, it's not the end
the earth has not swallowed me yet
01-21-2004, 10:39 AM #2
my first summer in steamboat i worked at the clubhouse of the sheraton steamboat golf club. i met alot of hometown heroes there including -
- now sheraton golf pro Gary Crawford (former olympian)
- Buddy's sister Skeeter Werner / Doak Walkers wife, a few years before her death
- Doak Walker himself - cleaned his golf clubs many times before his death on the hill at steamboat
- "Moose" Barrows (skied with him a few times - he points 'em)
yes i feel privileged
Last edited by xboat; 01-21-2004 at 01:58 PM.
01-21-2004, 10:46 AM #3
Hey xboat...how do the locals feel about Billy? I was there a couple of winters ago, right before the Olympics and there was a send off in town for the Steamboat Olympians. Billy was on stage with a bunch of others and some locals (?< I think) were really dissing him.
BTW.....GO DARONQuando paramucho mi amore de felice carathon.
Mundo paparazzi mi amore cicce verdi parasol.
Questo abrigado tantamucho que canite carousel.
01-21-2004, 10:50 AM #4
yeah, pretty much everyone thinks the guy is a dork.
edit: irul - i think i was there that night, send off parade downtown, giant screen t.v., band playing on the courthouse lawn and cold as all hell?????
Last edited by xboat; 01-21-2004 at 11:00 AM.
01-21-2004, 11:17 AM #5Registered User
- Join Date
- Dec 2002
- The Garden State
Great article. Reminds me of my Loris Werner story.
In 89 I worked on the race crew in Steamboat. That was the first year they held a WC womens DH. We were busy setting up safety fences on the lower part below Heavenly Daze. Loris Werner was out testing the course. I was working on some fencing right above a tricky left with a steep fall away on top of the final pitch, (I don't remember the name of the trail). Here he comes flying out of the chute below the Daze at full speed, tucking over the roller down into the flat, ducks a closed rope across the trail, (at a height of at most 4 feet), as he nears the gate at the top of the knoll I notice he's got a cig in his mouth burnt down to near the filter, he sets up and nails the gate perectly with minimal air below and dissapears out of sight. True cowboy.
That was my gate during the race. I stood there on race day watching a lovely thick trunked Austrian woman fly off balance over the knoll into the safety fence that awaited below. I exhaled on my cigarette, turned to the spectators behind me and cooly mentioned, " Loris nailed that one".
01-21-2004, 11:28 AM #6
Buddy, Loris, Skeeter, Moose and Doak. Is there something about Steamboat that makes people with strange names gravitate there?
01-21-2004, 12:07 PM #7Registered User
- Join Date
- Dec 2002
- The Garden State
Totally AD, after all it's in the "Yampa Valley".