Tom Ross remembers: Little Jack lived and skied large
October 25, 2008
Little Jack lived and skied large
Little Jack Taylor was probably the best Steamboat skier you never met, or perhaps never even heard of.
Taylor disappeared from the Steamboat scene in about 1980. But for the preceding five years, he was king of the mountain, both at home in the ‘Boat and all over the skiing world. Taylor was the pre-eminent American moguls skier in the mid-’70s, dominating the old Chevrolet and Midas professional tours.
Little Jack died April 14, 2008, when the small boat he was rowing in rough seas capsized in Fernando Bay near Jacksonville, Fla. He was in the process of ferrying a new sailboat to its summer mooring in Maine, a trip he had made every season for many years. They found Jack’s body the next day in the marsh. He was 60.
Let’s not forget what a brilliant life he led on the ski slopes of North America.
Taylor had tremendous personal influence among a circle of friends and competitors, and he willingly shared his cerebral approach to his sport. Taylor was famed among friends for adopting an unorthodox training regimen, for reasons that seemed perfectly logical to him. He was known to have trained naked while skiing autumn snow on Rabbit Ears Pass because it gave him a strong disincentive to falling down.
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Taylor was the world champion mogul skier for three consecutive years (1975-77). During those days, one never knew when he might return home to Steamboat and set runs like Concentration ablaze with his speed and precision. He could be intimidating to mere mortals. His ability to turn rapidly in the bumps was dazzling, yet his upper body was supremely quiet, his wrists flicking subtly to set each pole plant.
Pro tour veteran Rusty Taylor (no relation) said Little Jack taught him his method for keeping a quiet upper body and his gaze three or four bumps ahead.
“Jack visualized his hands and eyes forming an isosceles triangle,” Rusty Taylor said. “He always kept his eyes and hands in the same plane, and his goal was never to let one side of the triangle get longer than the other.”
By adhering to this relationship among hands and eyes, Little Jack was always in balance, letting his hips and legs turn the skis while his upper body addressed the fall line.
Doug Muller, another Steamboat-based pro mogul skier from those days, said Little Jack was known for launching huge air – twister spreads and spread eagles – right down the fall line.
“Jack had a style no one else ever quite had,” Muller recalled. “He was so balanced, his pole plants were always at 10 and 2 o’clock. He was always competing with himself, and I can’t say I ever saw him fall down.”
Little Jack’s best friend, Big Jack Carey, called Taylor the forerunner of modern moguls skiing.
“Jack was the quickest turner, knees going so quick, absorbing bumps. He didn’t do recoveries. He was the closest thing to a flawless bump skier. Contests were not a dual format. It was one man skiing his line and judged by a panel of five.”
The mid-’70s represented a pivotal moment in the history of freestyle skiing, when the sport struggled to shed its “hot dog” image and the reputation its athletes had for partying hard.
The demeanor of the athletes changed for good with the advent of the Chevy and Midas tours and serious prize money, Rusty Taylor said.
“The partying stopped when the money got big,” he recalled. “You couldn’t afford not to take it seriously. The (weekend) purses were as much as $250,000, and team skiers had victory schedules” that called for the sponsors to bonus athletes who finished in the top 10. First place might bring an extra five grand.
With many podium finishes, Little Jack may have been pulling down some good money, but that he was rarely employed was more a lifestyle choice, one-time girlfriend Cheri Witz said. The couple spent summers in Little Jack’s native New England, particularly on the Maine coast. At times he worked on lobster boats or in lobster shacks. Other times, after a vigorous storm, they scouted the rocky beaches for lobsters that washed ashore.
If he took a casual approach to employment, Little Jack was rigorous in his training, and all of his friends seem to recall a different story about his unorthodox off-season training methods.
Rusty Taylor said the best bump skiers had always established a mogul run on Rabbit Ears Pass by October. They hiked in from U.S. Highway 40 to an area known as Little Snowbird.
“One day I hiked in with my skis and found Jack was already there. It was a warm, bluebird day. Jack liked to wear painters’ hats. He was standing there in Scott boots and a painters’ hat and nothing else.
“I asked him, ‘Why are you naked?’ and he answered (with a straight face), ‘This way I can’t fall down.'”
When the pro mogul tours lost sponsorship after serious injuries took place in aerial competitions, Little Jack permanently retired from competition and left for Telluride and backcountry skiing.
He never lost his love of the ocean. For many years, he sailed his 35-foot sloop, “Different Drummer,” between Florida and Maine – often sailing solo.
Not long before his death, he traded Different Drummer for a new boat he named after his mother, Alice.
Little Jack left this world in the midst of a sailing adventure. But his friends and admirers in Steamboat probably will remember him as locally based freelance writer John Day did in an old article in Powder magazine.
During competitions, Taylor’s practice was to stand at the top of the run and perform deep breathing exercises until he was ready, then let out a piercing yell that cleared his mind before charging down the course.
Little Jack loved competing to the music of the Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger howling “Jumping Jack Flash.”
But it’s all right now. In fact, it’s a gas.
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