Question and Answer: Deb Armstrong
October 14, 2007
At the tender age of 20, Seattle native Deb Armstrong won Olympic gold in the women’s giant slalom at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. As the former ambassador of skiing for Taos Ski Valley, Armstrong has spent the past 23 years of her life sharing her passion for skiing with others. A National Ski Hall of Fame inductee, Armstrong most recently was named the Alpine technical director for the Steamboat Ski and Snowboard School.
The accomplished and dedicated athlete is about as humble as they come. (In fact, she wasn’t sure which box she had packed her gold medal in.)
At Home’s Alexis DeLaCruz had the opportunity to spend a perfect fall day on Mount Werner with this entertaining, enlightening and inspiring skiing star.
At Home: Let’s start with the obvious, how has your life changed since you became an Olympic gold medalist and how has that shaped the last 23 years of your life?
Deb Armstrong: I’ve always said that winning a gold medal is like having a baby because one, it’s with you for the rest of your life. It’s something that evolves and grows and matures, and on the day you win it, it means something. A month later, it means something else. A year later something different, and what it means to me today or to Billy (Kidd) back when he won his medal, it’s something different again. In the last 23 years, it’s in some respects defined who I am. I’ve worked very hard to make sure it’s not the definition of who I am. I’ve worked hard to continue to grow my career, all that kind of stuff.
AH: So in a sense you won it, but it’s not who you are?
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DA: Oh no way. No way. I won it and it was a highlight of my life, but if I stopped there as a 20-year-old, my life would have ended. The way it changes things : it opens doors, no question about it, and it’s up to me to bring it home. I’ve got to deliver the goods. Nobody cares. If I’m teaching a ski lesson, for the first three minutes, I’m a gold medalist. For the next hour or two or for the rest of the day, I need to deliver. The medal adds flavor. It adds really fun color. And it kind of ends there as far as I’m concerned.
AH: Do you remember what that day was like? What do you remember feeling? Were you nervous? Were you excited?
DA: Leading into the Olympics was good. I had very strong results. To the American media, my win was a surprise. To the ski community, it wasn’t a surprise. On that day I was there to win a medal. No question about it. I wasn’t nervous, it was just the ultimate of excitement. There were really three things that went through my mind on that day. Don’t get to the bottom of the run and wish you had a second chance. In life, these really are life metaphors here. How often do we wish we had a second chance? It’s the Olympics (where) you don’t get a second chance. The second one was, the Olympics were unique and I knew that, and I wanted to feel and experience the uniqueness of it. That kept me really in the moment. Was I going to be more nervous, less nervous? Anything that came with it I was interested and excited to experience. And the final thing was just to have fun. That’s what was on my mind.
AH: You recently moved to Steamboat from Taos, N.M. What brought you here?
DA: I needed more of a professional challenge. Skiing is what I love. I wanted to be more involved with the technical direction of a ski school. I’m passionate about technique. I’m passionate about teaching skiing. I feel that I’m in a very unique position, one to deliver the glitz and the glamour of my gold medal, but two to deliver the goods technically. As a PSIA Alpine Team Member, I’ve worked very hard on being current. This job here really blends all those passions for me.
AH: What are you looking forward to in living in Steamboat? Do you have high expectations?
DA: This really was the one Colorado destination resort that was on my list that I felt I could live because it’s a year-round community. It’s definitely a community, community. It’s so supportive. I think the (Steamboat Springs) Winter Sports Club is a real testament to the commitment to families, to activities. That’s one example. Everything about this community fits my lifestyle – the outdoors, the mountains, the passion about skiing. I love to golf. I love to mountain bike. I know it’s going to be a good fit.
AH: You had mentioned you’re really interested in the technical aspect of teaching. What about equipment? How has the revolution of skis in general changed over the years, and have you had to adapt to that?
DA: That defines skiing; this relationship between technology and technique. What we’re going though and what we’ve been going through the last 10 years is nothing new to skiing. We went through in the ’30s and the ’50s and the ’60s. It’s not new. It’s just new to us. So, no question about it, I’ve had to adapt my technique. I’ve worked hard at that. Now I’m to the point of bringing the pendulum a little bit more back to center. There are more similarities to the ’70s and ’80s than there really are differences. But there are differences that we need to honor, and those differences are very much to our advantage. It’s a good thing.
AH: Do you ever reflect on what your skiing would have been like in the ’80s had you had some of the equipment that’s available now? Do you ever think about what that would have done?
DA: It would have been good for me. I was a very athletic skier, a real power skier. I wasn’t a finesse skier. I was just raw athleticism. The equipment these days for racers is about athleticism and power, so I think this equipment today would have worked to my advantages as a ski racer.
AH: What do you think the future of skiing is? Where do you think this sport is headed?
DA: I think much of that is driven by the kids. You see it with the X Games. And that is exciting. We see it with snowboarding, we’re seeing it with twin tips. You’re seeing these kids who are popping these jumps off moguls or in the half pipe, and they’re upside down and backward and every which way. They’re really showing all of us and redefining what is possible. I think that’s extremely exciting. Where the sport is going, well, these kids are leading the way there, and that’s great.
AH: Have you every tried snowboarding?
DA: Oh yeah, I love it. I absolutely love it. I mean, I embrace. When I turned 40, that was my year for throwing helis. How could I turn 40 and not do helis? So all year I’m out there throwing helis everywhere. I like challenge. I like fresh. I like new. That’s what snowboarding has been.
AH: Why have you chosen to dedicate yourself now to teaching and instructing?
DA: There’s a lot of choices after you win a gold medal. For me it was very important to continue to grow, continue to evolve and contribute. We all contribute in different ways. There’s been nobody more important for skiing and Steamboat than Billy Kidd. Billy and I are different, but both very valid and important in what we do. For me, my passion is education. I come from a family of educators. I’m a communicator; I’m an educator; and skiing for me is about lifelong learning. I’m passionate to explore that, and then I feel I have found a way where I can reach people in a way that really works. It’s in this silly little sport of skiing. I’m not saving the planet, but I’m making a difference with people on the hill, making them happy. Teaching them something, challenging them. Exciting them. That is so important, and I love it.
AH: What is your relationship with skiing now?
DA: I’m much more analytical with it now than I was when I was a racer. I’m much more thoughtful about it. I’m as passionate about skiing now as I was when I was a young racer. When I was a racer, it was selfish, it was individual. Now it’s all about sharing.
AH: What do you do in the off season?
DA: This year hasn’t been all that good because I’ve been moving, but I like to bike. I like to run. In the fall, I’m in the weight room. I like to move. I’m 43, and the older we get, our range of movement tends to narrow if we allow that. It’s important that I get out there and move my body in unexpected ways to keep that fresh. Skiing is 100 percent athleticism. It’s balance. It’s agility. It’s quickness. It’s power. It’s the ultimate sport. It’s spontaneous.
AH: Are you counting down to opening day? Are you ready for some snow?
DA: (Laughing) I want to get in shape first. I’m getting fearful. But I am counting down. Billy’s been talking about the early chair and the powder. I can’t wait. I’m very excited.
AH: What’s your take on the timing of you coming here on the heels of the Steamboat Ski Area being purchased by Intrawest?
DA: I think the timing of me coming here right now under new ownership and the things that are happening in terms of infrastructure, in terms of the slope, are important. I mean, they brought me in. They’re committed to building and growing what we have, whether that’s infrastructure or programs. I think I am just one of the examples of the commitment of Intrawest and of Steamboat to getting this place back to really its potential and where it should be. I don’t know a lot of the history, I’m coming in fresh, but all I see is potential and excitement, so I think for me personally, the timing couldn’t be better. It’s going to be very exciting I think.
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