A Kidd at Christmas
After 46 years, Billy Kidd still loves skiing every day in Steamboat
Ski with Billy
Billy Kidd, 1964 Olympic silver medalist and director of skiing at Steamboat Ski Area, gives a free daily ski lesson from the top of the gondola on Thunderhead Peak at 1 p.m.
A large sign at the location marks the meeting spot and indicates whether Kidd will be skiing that day or not. He said he hopes to be there Monday through Saturday this week.
Steamboat Springs — The most iconic man in Steamboat Springs is talking about coconuts, and because Billy Kidd is the kind of cowboy hat-wearing, Olympic-medal winning skier who’s got a story for every possible situation, the tale he’s telling about coconuts on the island of Bora Bora actually makes some sense.
“Do you know how to open a coconut?” he asks. “You can drive a dump truck over one and not break it, but this kid showed me how to do it. Take a sharp rock or machete, then hit on the equator. Turn it, hit it and hit it again. Do that all the way around and get to the end, and it falls apart.”
The question was about whether he — at 73 years old and an astonishing 46 years guiding a mostly daily ski clinic at Steamboat Ski Area — plans to retire any time soon.
The answer: No, as delivered through a story about a trip through the South Pacific. He was nearing the end of his competitive skiing career, and he ended up in Australia. He sold his ski gear, then island hopped his way to Bora Bora, where a young boy living on the island explained how best to open a coconut.
Billy Kidd’s been to the beach.
He doesn’t want to live there.
“I love Bora Bora,” he said. “Except, when I was there, I found as much as I love sailing and love the ocean and love Bora Bora, it didn’t have any skiing, so I thought, I’m doing it right. I like living in Steamboat. I can visit Bora Bora.”
It’s never more apparent to him than when he’s at his busiest, doing his daily 1 p.m. clinics during the busiest time of the year, between Christmas and New Years.
“I just like Steamboat better,” he said. “When it’s busy, it just reminds me how lucky I am when all these people come here.”
His life surrounds him in the office, from a blown-up copy of the March 3, 1965, Sports Illustrated in which he was featured on the cover to snapshots with Buddy Werner to a movie poster for “Downhill Racer,” a 1969 Robert Redford movie for which Kidd’s life served as inspiration.
There’s a dusty skiing medal on one shelf and, in another corner, a big shipping box from a cowboy hat company addressed to, “the one and only Billy Kidd.”
One and only, indeed, though even Kidd acknowledges the experience of his 1 p.m. clinic may be redundant.
He started his daily ski clinic at the top of Thunderhead Peak in Steamboat Springs in 1970, and he said it hasn’t changed much through the years. He long ago got used to parents who “skied with Billy” when they were young bringing their children along for the experience.
“Now, they’re bringing their grandkids,” he said with a chuckle.
The lessons he tries to instill in those skiers is the part that repeat visitors may find familiar.
Kidd, director of skiing at Steamboat Ski Area, doesn’t go every day. He helped coach a race clinic for young skiers last week and took a few days off afterward.
“My old knees are getting a little sore,” he said.
But when he does, he still draws a crowd, especially between Christmas and New Years.
Much of America takes the week off and travels to see family. Not Kidd, of course.
“I tell my family we can get together in July,” he said.
He plans to take Christmas Day off, but hopes to be on the slopes at 1 p.m. every day the rest of the week.
There, he serves as the most unabashed ambassador for Ski Town USA and its Olympic heritage.
He greets every skier with a, “Hello, I’m Billy,” perhaps more important now than it was when he started, but still not exactly necessary, as he’s standing in front of a large sign featuring his name and likeness.
“Where are you from” follows and almost always turns into a discussion about the local ski hill — he’s familiar with them all — and any well-known skiers from the area.
Every skier he meets can also expect to be goaded into chasing an Olympic dream.
That starts, as Kidd always says, with the stance. Beginners stand with their arms at their side, or maybe slouched over in their ski boots. Olympians, like U.S. gold medalists Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin, meanwhile, stand with their legs apart, knees slightly bent, arms out and poles planted in the snow.
Those names have changed. He referenced champions like Bode Miller and Lindsay Vonn more often five years ago, and different skiers entirely when he started in 1970.
The message hasn’t, however. Standing with proper posture begets skiing with proper posture which, in Kidd’s world, begets making it to the Olympics.
After 46 years, Kidd and the passion he brings to the job hasn’t changed much, either.
He’s already eyeing his 50-year mark. That day, he’ll surely greet a crowd with a, “Hello! I’m Billy!” He’ll quiz any nearby young skiers about their Olympic prospects, and he’ll tell them all about an Olympian’s posture.
Maybe he’ll be more ready to retire then. It’s a lot more likely, however, when asked, he’ll still tell a story about coconuts.
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