Bob Beattie’s pro skiing tour thrived in late ’70s, ’80s and boosted Steamboat locals’ careers
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Lonny Vanatta, one of the most successful ski racers in the history of Steamboat Springs, said Monday, that the late skiing coach and impresario Bob Beattie, who died April 1, gave him the opportunity to resurrect his career.
“When I was not re-named to the U.S. Ski Team in 1978, I was close to quitting ski racing,” Vanatta said. “If it wasn’t for Bob, I wouldn’t be where I am today. He gave me a chance to make money, to get started in my life.”
Beattie famously coached Olympic medal winners Billy Kidd and Jimmie Heuga at the 1964 Winter Olympics. But in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he was also a very independent-minded advocate for change in the traditional Alpine racing format.
Beattie rounded up television advertisers and sponsors, and founded the World Pro Skiing tour, which featured side-by-side slalom and giant slalom racing in an elimination format, over a course interrupted by drop-off ledges.
“I was so grateful and thankful I had a second chance in ski racing, and I can thank Bob,” Vanatta said. “World Pro Skiing was such a great part of my life. And I did excel on the pro tour — it was great for me that I was my own boss. I think Bob has said it before — it was a bit of a renegade type of tour.”
The shortened World Pro Skiing race course allowed for a dual elimination format that was TV friendly and attracted many elite European skiers.
“In the mid 1970s to early 1980s, pro skiing was as big as, if not bigger than the World Cup,” Vanatta said. “Bob had what it took to go out and find sponsors and prize money.”
Vanatta recalled April 2 how his style of skiing immediately clicked with Beattie’s race format.
“I thought I’d try pro racing, so I jumped on the Coors (satellite) Tour and won two of three races. I jumped over to the World Pro races in Winter Park in January 1978 and made the afternoon (heats) both days.”
It wasn’t long before the relatively unheralded Vanatta found himself standing on podiums and winning races in a field of elite international racers. In 1977-78 Vanatta placed second at the nationally televised John Denver celebrity race in Aspen, and picked up another second place in the slalom at Paskapoo, Canada.
His first win came in January 1979, defeating World Champion Andre Arnold of Austria.
His big season was 1980-81, when Vanatta won six professional races, the World Pro slalom title and finished as the top American in third overall.
And the prize money was pretty good. Vanattta said a win was typically good for about $6,500 per race, but depending upon each racer’s scholarship deals, that number could be tripled.
“There was nothing like it for me,” Vanatta said. “I got to see the world on somebody else’s dime. I’m so grateful that I had a second chance at ski racing, and I can thank Bob.”
Another Steamboat ski racer, Hank Kashiwa, an Olympian and World Champion was also winning World Pro Skiing races at the same time Vanatta was and claimed the championships in 1975. Jim “Moose” Barrows skied on the pro tour 1971-1976.
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