HISTORIC HIGHS: Loyal Champs

By on April 4, 2017

Olympians Pepi Stiegler and Billy Kidd reunite in the name of MS.

Billy Kidd and Pepi Stiegler (Photo: Dave Sollitt)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – On a sunny March day in Teton Village, Pepi Stiegler sat down with friend and former rival William “Billy” Kidd. The last time the two skiing icons had been together was for a Multiple Sclerosis fundraiser for fellow ski racer Jimmy Huega. Huega won the bronze Olympic medal in alpine skiing the same year Kidd took silver and Stiegler took gold. He died from complications of the disease in 2010.

Kidd reunited with Stiegler, who was diagnosed with MS in 1993, as part of an ongoing fundraising effort to help Stiegler with medical expenses and contribute to MS research. It was also a moment to relive skiing history.

Turns of the past

The year was 1964 when Kidd became the first American ski racer to win an Olympic medal in alpine skiing—but Stiegler, an Austrian native, would win the gold medal.

“I remember Innsbruck well,” Stiegler said, reminiscing the 1964 winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. “I remember you trying to beat me. After the first run I looked pretty good, but then on the second run I was getting into icy spots trying to get to the finish line.”

“But my one-second advance from the first run still kept me in first place,” Stiegler continued. “You probably didn’t like that.”

“I didn’t mind,” Kidd replied. “I thought, if you’re a nice guy like Pepi Stiegler, I don’t mind if you win the gold because we’re in Austria. Austria had to win, the Austrians know the timers.”

Conversation between Stiegler, 80, and Kidd, 74, fluctuated between friendly nostalgia and playful competition. Stiegler joked that he “let” Kidd win silver, which was “good enough.”

Kidd recalled the precise margin by which Stiegler took the gold. “Fourteen hundredths of a second,” Kidd said. “Literally the blink of an eye. I spent the next six years trying to make up 14 hundredths of a second.”

Anyone who has skied in Jackson before has likely heard Stiegler’s name. The Olympic medalist is the namesake for the restaurant on the West Bank and two ski shops that sat at the base of Teton Village until this season (the shops are still there, but they no longer bear Stiegler’s name; even local legends get priced out). Stiegler was instrumental in the early construction of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort back in the 60s. And, perhaps most notably, Stiegler founded the ski school at JHMR.

“Pepi taught me how to ski,” said local ski legend Benny Wilson. “My birthday present [as a kid] was always a free lesson.”

Community muscle

The Pepi Stiegler Foundation was born last year, in the wake of an MS-related accident that left Stiegler in critical condition for months.

“A year ago, I heard you had a … slight miscalculation,” Kidd said of the accident. “The kind you used to do in downhill racing, but didn’t bother you.”

After Stiegler’s accident, members of the community came together to help alleviate medical expenses with the support of High Country Outfitters, who owned Pepi Stiegler’s Sports at the time.

Back home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Kidd made some calls to see how he could help. In the end, he was not only a donor to the fundraising campaign, Kidd also filmed a video advertising a day of “Olympic training with Billy Kidd.”

Jim and Cindy Thorburn were the highest bidders, and spent all day last Wednesday learning ski tips from an Olympic medalist.

Jim Thorburn remembers watching Kidd become the first American to win a medal. “It was the most phenomenal experience,” he said. “To get a chance to actually meet and ski with him was priceless.”

Cindy Thorburn agreed. “It was the most special day I’ve ever had on skis,” she said.

Stiegler’s daughter Resi, an Olympic ski racer herself, joined Kidd and the Thorburns on the mountain.

“It was just like skiing with her dad,” Kidd said. “‘Resi, wait for me!’ It’s the same old thing in the Stiegler family. They don’t wait for anybody.”

For their part, Kidd playfully praised the Thorburns for their Olympic potential. “They’re future Olympic skiers,” he said. (Kidd’s criterion for a “future Olympic skier” was that they “don’t fall down.”)

As they said their goodbyes, Kidd imparted the Thorburns with one last piece of sage advice. Imagine, he said, competing in the Olympics, crossing the finish line, and hearing “Congratulations, you’ve won the gold medal!”
“What do you say?” Kidd asked his students. “First, thank your family and your sponsors. Then last, and most importantly: ‘I owe this all to Billy Kidd’s coaching.’” PJH

Fundraising efforts for Stiegler’s medical expenses and MS research are ongoing. Donations can be made at PepiStieglerFund.org, or directly through Rocky Mountain Bank in Jackson.

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