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Skiing : Mahres Tell Their Life Story

December 18, 1985|Bob Lochner

For the first four winters of this decade, Phil Mahre of the United States was the best ski racer in the world. His twin brother, Steve, wasn't far behind.

They retired shortly after winning gold and silver medals in the 1984 Olympic men's slalom, and now they're on the verge of becoming a conglomerate, with their own line of ski products and ski schools, among other enterprises.

This American success story, in what was originally a European monopoly, has been chronicled in a new book, "No Hill Too Fast," by the Mahres with John Fry, former editor in chief of Ski magazine.

In alternating chapters, the twins tell the inside story of their lives on the World Cup circuit and, along the way, provide the principles of "how you can ski the Mahre way."

And how does the Mahre way differ from the Austrian technique, the French technique, and so forth? In oversimplified form, this is how, on Page 50: "Skiing down a mountain, whether in a snowplow turn or in a racing turn, comes back to the same fundamental: the willingness of the skier to commit himself to a complete transfer of weight from (one) ski to (the other) ski."

Of course, seven chapters are required to amplify this theme and to cover such subjects as the technique of turning, preparing your skis, the tactics of skiing, skiing ice and bumps, and so forth. All very clear and precise.

But of at least equal interest in the book are the chapters on how the Mahres grew up in a small Washington ski resort and went on to become this nation's top skiing athletes. Among the insights are the following:

On racing against each other--"Essentially, we competed with one another, not against one another. When you compete with someone you're saying, 'If he can do it, I can do it.' On the other hand, if you compete against somebody, you're saying, 'I'm going to beat him and beat him until he goes down.' "

On the U.S. ski team--"In our early years the organization was good. Every day we had video cameras available in training. The fund-raising may not have been as strong as it is now, but what's the use of having funds if they aren't being put to the best use? In our later years we felt that the communication between coaches, athletes, and office deteriorated. It didn't affect us because we were working off the input of the previous six years, but it might have hurt the other kids. The team also had become too media oriented."

On winning--"Many of the great ski racers have been shy, introspective types. Even Jean-Claude Killy, the 1968 Olympic triple medal winner, was intensely shy when he was a top competitor. It may be that there is a correlation between shyness--being withdrawn--and winning ski races."

On World Cup groupies--"For two seasons, Phil was pursued by a girl from Zurich whom we called 'Judith Fox' because of the fur coat she wore. She hung around the hotel where we were staying, and we had to sneak in and out of the lobby to avoid her. Once she stood outside of the U.S. ski team van for an hour in the rain waiting for Phil to come out. Phil was also pursued by a girl we called 'the Rabbit Woman.' She first appeared at Park City in Utah. She had her daughter with her and she presented me with a toy rabbit. It was Easter. . . . Another day she left a loaf of banana bread. It went on like that. You never knew when she would strike."

On the rewards of amateur racing, according to Phil, who won the World Cup three times--"Combining all my contracts for skis, boots, bindings, and goggles, a single World Cup (race) win represented a $20,000 payoff. Between 1980 and 1984, I won 11 World Cup races and had so many second places I hate to think about them, each worth half as much as a first place. Every June the victory payment checks would come in. Including the base payments, I made about $250,000 in 1981. In 1982--the second time I won the World Cup--I made about $400,000. . . . In 1983 I actually topped my earnings of the previous season. . . . As things were working out, I had the chance to make as much as half a million dollars in a good competitive year."

Skiing Notes Six Southland ski areas--Gold Mine, Snow Summit, Snow Valley, Mountain High, Ski Sunrise and Mt. Waterman--were operating Tuesday with 12 to 48 inches of packed powder and hardpack on their slopes. . . . Mammoth Mountain reported 63 inches, June Mountain 48 inches, and all High Sierra resorts were in full swing for the approaching holidays. . . . The men on the World Cup circuit will compete in a slalom and giant slalom Friday and Saturday at Kranjska Gora, Yugoslavia.

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