Note: This is the third in an on-going series of stories on those who have impacted the Colorado Ski program.  

BOULDER—Without him, would any of it have been possible?  When trying to explain the impact that Bob Beattie had on the Colorado Ski Program, that is a question that is hard to get around.  It’s the same question the United States Ski Association and the worldwide ski community should also ask. Luckily, nobody has to ask.

 

Beattie wasn’t the first full-time coach for the CU ski team, nor was he the first coach who eventually landed in the U.S. Skiing Hall of Fame. He was the second.  He was, however, the founding coach of the U.S. Ski Team and co-founded the World Cup, and was heavily involved in the early development of NASTAR, among many other endeavors. 

 

More on that, later.  First, a little back-story.  Tom Jacobs became the Buffs first full-time head coach in 1953 (prior to that, ski team members served the role as coach).  In the early 1950s, collegiate ski leaders were petitioning the NCAA to add skiing as an official sport.  In 1950, a postseason national championship was established and by 1954, the NCAA had adopted skiing as a sport and the first NCAA Championships were held.  Jacobs headed the NCAA rules committee in 1953 when he became the Buffs coach and authored the first NCAA rulebook for skiing. 

 

Perhaps it was that passion that drove him to become the executive director of the National Ski Association, a job he told CU officials he would be moving on to during the 1956 season. Jacobs’ success showed the CU administration that continued support of the ski team would be necessary.  

 

Enter Bob Beattie.  Perhaps it was serendipitous that CU served as a co-host along with Denver for the 1956 NCAA Championships in Winter Park.  Beattie skied for coach Bobo Sheehan at Middlebury, and at 23 years old, he had just graduated Middlebury and taken over the coaching duties for one season while Sheehan coached the U.S. Alpine team at the 1956 Winter Olympics.

 

Middlebury didn’t expect to have a solid season, but they entered the NCAA Championships as one of the meet favorites and Beattie caught the eye of CU administrators, eventually landing the job.  A Denver Post article from March 23, 1956, stated, “Beattie said he was definitely interested in the job and said he would like very much to move to Colorado, where the future of skiing is so great.”  

 

Lucky for CU.  Beattie’s success was immediate and he turned the Buffs into immediate championship contenders.  The Buffs finished second in the 1957 NCAA Championships, the school’s best finish to that point, and after a third place finish in 1958, Beattie took CU to the pinnacle, winning the NCAA Championship in both 1959 and 1960.  

 

Denver had won the first four NCAA Championships from 1954-57 and Dartmouth took home the title in 1958.  In those early years, both before the NCAA Championships came into being and until Beattie came on board, CU had good skiers and a solid team, but was not considered a championship contender.  It was Beattie who took Jacobs’ foundation and propelled CU into a perennial contender.  

 

Beattie’s success at CU caught the eye of the United States Ski Association. After the 1960 Winter Olympics, he was named the U.S. Ski Team’s founding head alpine coach.  While simultaneously coaching CU and Team USA, he evolved what had previously been a collection of skiers periodically coming together for Olympics and World Championships into a powerhouse, year-round program. He built a team that at the 1964 Olympics earned the first two Olympic medals in U.S. men’s alpine skiing history when Billy Kidd won silver and Jimmie Heuga bronze in the slalom.  Kidd attended CU but didn’t ski collegiately and Heuga is another of the many legends that graced the mountains representing the Buffs. 

 

That 1964 team consisted of Kidd and Heuga along with Buffs Buddy Werner, Bill Marolt and Ni Orsi, and Denver’s Chuck Ferries.  Five of the six skiers on the most successful alpine team in American history attended CU, and Beattie coached them.  

 

At CU, the 1963 men’s alpine team that featured Werner, Marolt and Heuga on the same team was heavily favored to win the title, but lost the championship during the jumping competition despite the Buffs having won each of the first three events.  While most of the alpine team was skiing for Beattie’s national team in 1964, the Buffs didn’t qualify a full team for the NCAA Championships and in 1965, Beattie’s final team took fourth at the championship. 

 

During his nine seasons, on top of winning two NCAA Championships and captaining the most successful Olympic alpine team in American history, he also led the Buffs to three runner-up performances at the NCAA Championships and two third place finishes, clearly establishing the Buffs as a perennial contender.  Four of his skiers, Werner, Heuga, Kidd and Marolt, are in the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame, and the three who skied for CU are in its Athletic Hall of Fame.  

 

Beattie’s skiers racked up 23 All-America honors, the first 23 in program history, from the likes of Frank Brown, Dave Butts, John Dendahl, Mike Gallagher and Sandy Limon as well as the aforementioned Werner, Heuga and Marolt.  His skiers also racked up the first 15 individual NCAA championships in program history, including four each from Marolt and Werner, who still rank tied for second most individual titles in the sport’s history at CU.  Additionally, Beattie’s skiers earned 15 individual RMISA Championships and four team RMISA Championships while winning 15 overall meet titles.

 

Taking a deeper dive on the national scene, perhaps the college coaches of the era taking on the responsibility of coaching Team USA were taking on too much.  After Schaeffler won the first four titles at DU, he became the director of Team USA for the 1960 Olympics, a predecessor to that head coaching role, and in that timeframe of 1958-60 were three of the only four seasons Schaeffler did not lead the Pioneers to the NCAA Championship between 1954-70.  

 

When Beattie brought CU to the forefront of college skiing in 1959-60, he then took over Team USA and that enabled Schaeffler to focus solely on college skiing and he rattled off seven in a row and nine of out the next 10 titles while Beattie continued to have great success at CU and was building the foundation for the national team that still exists today.  It wasn’t until Schaeffler replaced Beattie after the 1968 Olympics as the national coach that the Buffs and Marolt — then the coach — bested that streak of seven straight championships by winning eight straight from 1972-79.  

 

Perhaps it was that toll of coaching Team USA that opened the doors for others at the collegiate level.  After the 1965 season, CU at first granted Beattie a one-year leave of absence to remain as the head coach of the U.S. team while continuing to serve in an advisory capacity.

 

Beattie told the Boulder Daily Camera, on July 1, 1965, “I have requested a year’s leave of absence to devote my full attention to the National Alpine program. It is my definite intention to remain associated with the University.  At the end of a year, the developments which have occurred will dictate my future course.” 

 

A conflicting report in the Denver Post two days earlier on June 29 announced that Beattie would not consider returning to CU.  It stated, “Beattie may be offered a leave of absence so he could be called on as an advisor for the CU ski program. But he said he definitely wouldn’t return to the university.” 

 

That article also states that heading the national team was becoming more of a full-time job and Beattie was responsible for creating a national training camp program that he would expand into the late 1960s.  He co-founded the World Cup in 1966 and coached Team USA in the 1968 Olympics.  

 

One of his strengths was his ability to promote.  That ability helped him recruit the top American skiers to ski for him at CU.  For the national team, he pioneered a new era of promotion and fundraising for the team that led to its early success, and aside from co-founding the World Cup, he took over promotion of the NASTAR recreation skiing program in 1968, a program that is now under the leadership of the U.S. Ski Team and brings thousands of new participants into ski racing annually. 

 

Back at CU, regardless of the circumstances of Beattie’s leave of absence, the program entrusted two of his skiers, M.J. Elisha and Gorton Eaton, with the program as graduate students.  It was essentially what Beattie did for Middlebury a decade earlier when he took over for Sheehan.  But college skiing had changed significantly in that decade and the experiment didn’t work as well for the Buffs.  In 10 short years, development of skiing turned coaching from a part time endeavor to a full time necessity.

 

When Beattie didn’t return for a second season in 1967, the program was in need of an overhaul after not qualifying for the NCAA Championships in both seasons, just the second and third time that happened — and the last time. CU has since qualified every season since 1968.  While Beattie was preparing Team USA for the 1968 Olympics, CU hired one of his star pupils, Marolt, as coach.  

 

Beattie stepped down from coaching the national team in 1969, in part frustrated with restrictions against skiers winning prize money, which likely led him to founding the World Pro Ski Tour in 1970.  Ironically it was Schaeffler who then took over Team USA for the 1972 Olympics, ending his run as the Denver coach when Marolt was just beginning his run of consecutive championships. 

 

Beattie was also hired by ABC as a ski racing commentator, where he was frequently paired with Frank Gifford, and he covered the 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988 Olympics.  He continued to manage the World Pro Ski Tour until 1982 and in 1985 he started hosting skiing programs on ESPN.  

 

He authored or co-authored three books and was inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1986.  In 1997, he was given the International Ski Federation’s journalist award.  He was given the U.S. Ski Association’s highest honor, the Julius Blegen Award, in 1964 for his leadership forming the U.S. Ski Team and won the AT&T Skiing Award in 1983 for his lifetime contributions to the sport.  In 2000, he was given the U.S. Ski Association’s Russell Wilder Award for his contributions to youth skiing through NASTAR. 

 

At CU, he was known for developing American talent in U.S. colleges and remained passionately engaged in the sport and an outspoken critic late into his life.  The U.S. Ski Team created the Bob Beattie Athlete Travel Fund that has funneled millions of dollars into an endowment to help national team athletes.  He often wrote letters to college coaches and national leaders in skiing worried about the development of U.S. skiers on the national stage.

Later in life, he also became an advocate to lower the cost of entry for young ski racers.  On top of his dealings with NASTAR, in 1986 he drove negotiations with the Aspen Skiing Co. to provide affordable skiing for kids in the Roaring Fork Valley. The result was the ASK program (Aspen Supports Kids), now called Base Camp. The program thrived and today serves 1,800 kids with affordable entry into the sport. 

He was responsible for CU’s ascension to the top of the college ski world and established Team USA, the World Cup and NASTAR, among many other endeavors, and remained passionately engaged in the sport until his death in 2018. 

 

So, would it all have happened without him? 

 

It’s hard to imagine how.

 

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