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Dick Durrance, 89; Skier Boosted Aspen

June 16, 2004|From Associated Press

Dick Durrance, an American skiing pioneer who won 17 national championship titles and put Aspen, Colo., on the map of major ski destinations, has died. He was 89.

Durrance died Sunday of natural causes in Carbondale, Colo., north of Aspen, family members said.

Durrance, the first general manager of the Aspen Skiing Co., was a key developer of the resort at Alta, Utah. Besides his 17 national championships, he won three Harriman Cups, North America's largest ski race in the late 1930s, and placed eighth in the slalom and 11th in the downhill at the 1936 Winter Olympics. He was also chief of race for all alpine events at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif.

"His real significance to American skiing was that he bridged the gap between [the United States] and Europe, where the technique was far more advanced," said John Fry, a former editor of Ski Magazine and the former media president of the International Skiing History Assn.

"What Dick brought was a racing turn that was ahead of his time," he said.

Durrance was born in Tarpon Springs, Fla., but his family moved to Garmisch, Germany, when he was 13.

Five years later, in 1932, he won the German Junior Alpine Championship.

The family returned to Florida, but Durrance entered Dartmouth College in 1934 and kept on skiing.

In 1936, Durrance won at Sestriere, Italy, becoming the first American to dominate a major European ski race.

"Watching him race was like watching a pingpong ball change directions," Steve Bradley, a fellow Dartmouth ski team member, said in 1995. "You could set up a metronome and see the rhythm this guy had. It was flawless."

Durrance later worked to expand Sun Valley, Idaho, and moved on to do the same thing at Alta.

His first films, "Sun Valley Ski Chase" and "Sun Valley Holiday," were released in 1940.

"He was really at the forefront of filmmaking -- he changed a lot of lives without much recognition," skiing filmmaker Warren Miller said Sunday.

In 1945, Durrance and his wife, Miggs, and their two sons moved to Denver to manufacture skis.

He was offered a job two years later managing the Aspen Ski Corp., the home of Ajax -- a mountain with three runs and an unfinished T-bar lift.

Durrance decided that the quickest way for Aspen to achieve credibility would be to host the 1950 FIS World Championships.

He contracted for new lifts, cut new trails and designed a race course.

The championships put Aspen on the map.

"At that time, there was almost nothing in Aspen," said Morten Lund, founding editor of Skiing Heritage Journal. "I don't think he could have done anything more for skiing than he did."

Durrance's wife died in 2002. He is survived by sons Dave and Dick Jr.

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