Two generations of competitive skiers from Steamboat Springs entertain Tread of Pioneers audience
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs resident and world champion freestyle skier Ann Battelle Ayad told an audience attending the Tread of Pioneers Brown Bag lunch series Friday of her improbable rise to international competition.
Battelle Ayad returned to Steamboat from Louisville, Colorado, with her husband and two daughters in the summer of 2014. She said that, although she had spent a lot of time hanging around a ski lodge in Vermont as a little girl, it wasn’t until she was about to graduate from college that she took a sudden interest in the freestyle discipline of mogul skiing and set the goal of reaching the Olympics — sooner rather than later.
“I skied recreationally in college, and when I was graduating in 1989, I heard that freestyle skiing would become an Olympic sport (at Albertville, France) in 1992, and decided I really wanted to become a mogul skier,” Battelle Ayad said.
Remarkably, she managed to qualify for her first World Cup in Breckenridge on Jan. 18, 1992, placing 16th. By early February, she had placed seventh at a World Cup in Oberjoch, Germany, and was named to the U.S. Olympic team.
“My second international start was at the Albertville (Olympic) Games, and I fell on my butt the fifth turn out of the start,” she said wryly.
But Battelle Ayad was destined to stand on many international podiums. She was among three speakers at Friday’s Brown Bag event at United Methodist Church who bridged two eras. Steamboat natives Sanse (Neish) Berry and Nancy (Barrows) Gray talked about growing up Alpine ski racing at Howelsen Hill, a generation ahead of Battelle Ayad and at a time the sport didn’t come with the level of stress it sometimes does today.
“I was there for the fun,” Berry said. “There was no discussion about, you’re going to be an Olympian. You’ve got to train harder. We all took care of each other. We ate our peanut butter sandwiches together. It was really great. There’s so much pressure on these kids now to get better (at ski racing) at such a young age.”
Gray and Berry were teammates at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club among a group of young women who dominated competition in the Rocky Mountain Division.
“I was part of a group of girls that was winning within our division on a weekly basis,” Gray said. “Sanse was the top skier in the division. She was pretty and had long hair down to her bum. She was the perfect package. We all wanted to be just like Sanse and watched her so maybe we could ski that fast.”
Berry was a member of the U.S. Ski Team from 1964-66 and skied for the University of Colorado from 1967-69. Like Berry, Gray skied for C.U.
Gray observed that, just as she was exiting her competitive skiing career, Battelle Ayad’s sport, freestyle skiing, was just beginning to achieve notoriety.
Fast track to the Olympics
Growing up in New England, Battelle Ayad thought skiing was too cold to be enjoyable. But her parents, who did not ski, packed her off to to a nearby hill on weekends anyway. It was an acquaintance of her father who pushed her to be more aggressive on the slopes.
“My father’s friend got right behind me and said, ‘You better go. I’ll run over you!’” she recalled. “I became very proficient at slamming into the moguls to slow down.”
With her sudden interest in going to the Olympics to compete in moguls, Battelle Ayad looked west for the ski season of 1989/1990. She had learned of the reputation of legendary freestyle coach Park Smalley in Steamboat Springs, and she sought him out.
At 21, Battelle Ayad was relatively old to take up the sport, let alone qualify for the Olympics, but Smalley took her on. And she figured three seasons was ample time to learn the sport.
She went on to spend 11 years competing all over the world. The International Ski Federation reports that, in her career, she started 108 World Cup competitions and stood on 21 podiums, including five wins. She won the World Championship in 1999 in Meiringen-Hasliberg, Switzerland.
Battelle Ayad said after returning to Steamboat with her family last year, she realized how much she missed living in a community with a strong affinity for snow sports.
“For me, being around people that love this whole snow and winter culture — I love it,” she said. “The whole community supports it.”
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