A Steamboat celebrity, Billy Kidd is often cited as America’s first world-class male Alpine skier. He was the first American man to win an Olympic medal. He took the silver during the 1964 Olympics. Born in Vermont, he moved to Steamboat Springs in 1970 and has been giving free ski clinics here for 35 years. If the sign at the top of the gondola says, "Billy Kidd Is Skiing Today," meet him there for the 1 o’clock run. We caught up with Billy by phone, and he gave us the skinny on the town and shared a few good ski tips.
SL: What’s special about Steamboat?
BK: In Steamboat, we’re known for having lots of light, fluffy, powder snow. It’s some of the best powder in the world--so light and fluffy we call it champagne powder. You can sink up to your chest…or your Stetson.
SL: What if it’s over your Stetson?
BK: Bring a snorkel.
SL: If you’ve never skiied in powder, what should you know?
BK: To ski in powder, there are three simple rules. First, make round turns. Beginners make sharp turns and skid. Experts make round turns and carve. Second, keep your weight equally distributed on both skis. Third, link your turns. Never go in a straight line in powder. Always go from one turn to the next.
SL: What’s your best beginner’s skiing tip?
BK: You don’t have to be skiing to improve your skiing. I can usually tell beginners from advanced skiers if I see them in the lift line. The way you stand affects the way you ski. Stand with your feet apart, knees bent to absorb the bumps, your shins resting up against the tongues of your boots, and hands out like a tightrope walker to keep balance.
SL: What do you do in Steamboat when you’re not skiing?
BK: Après-skiing. One of the main things I like to do is soak in the hot springs. That’s how Steamboat got its name. It was a magical place for the Ute indians for hundreds of years, and it will be popular with you when you come.
SL: Where did the "Steamboat" part come in?
BK: It was in the early 1800s, I think, when some trappers got lost. They heard the chug-chug and the whistle of some hot springs here in the valley, and they thought, "Hey, there’s a steamboat. We’re not lost anymore!"
SL: Who’s the most interesting person you’ve ever skied with?
BK: President Gerald R. Ford. When he was President, he had the Western White House in Vail. I skied with him there. He was surprisingly good. Everyone was wondering if they needed to close off a trail for the President’s safety. But they found that he was so good that a lot of people couldn’t keep up with him. The Secret Service guys had to be very solid, quick skiers.
SL: What’s a little-known fact about Billy Kidd?
BK: My involvement with Special Olympics is one of the best things I’ve done in my life. We recently hosted Special Athletes from Alabama who had never seen snow. They looked up in the sky, and they opened their mouths and let the snowflakes fall on their tongues and tickle their noses. Pure joy. And within a few hours, they were sliding down the snow. They were skiing, doing something many people think is impossible for them. Sharing the sport, that’s my favorite thing.