10th Mountain’s Taylor honored at Copper
COPPER MOUNTAIN – Clif Taylor, the original disciple of short skis and a 10th Mountain Division combat veteran, was honored Friday with the dedication of a mini-museum in the lobby of a building named for him at the resort.
National Ski Hall of Fame board member John Lindstrom said more artifacts would be placed in the lobby of Taylor’s Crossing to go along with three displays of Taylor’s role in skiing history.
This is the first time the Hall of Fame, based in Ishpeming, Mich., has dedicated an exhibit at the home resort of a member, Lindstrom said, adding the Hall wants to acquaint the skiing public with the sport’s history.
“So many ski pioneers are forgotten,” said Lindstrom, a Copper homeowner. “It is a real tribute to be able to do this for Clif.”
In the skiing industry, Taylor’s claim to fame is his lifelong fight for short skis as the easier way to learn the sport and the Graduated Length Method (GLM) of ski instruction that put beginners on short skis and moved them up as they progressed.
Central to GLM instruction was teaching beginners to parallel from day one. According to Taylor, snowplowing was only taught later so skiers could navigate lift lines.
Taylor, now 80 years old, has enjoyed a few years of vindication that he was right about short skis (now that they are industry standard) and a celebration by his peers and friends at Copper Mountain. Last December, the resort threw an 80th birthday bash and unveiled a video full of film clips from World War II and Taylor’s journey through skiing history.
Taylor’s next stop is the Vermont Ski Hall of Fame in November where the native son will be inducted and honored for his work on short skis and ski instruction. It was in Vermont, starting at Mad River Glen, that Taylor started perfecting his methods.
In 1999, the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame inducted Taylor into its ranks.
“I never thought I would see this kind of celebration. It is hard to express my thanks,” Taylor said Friday. “People could have been skiing on shorter skis 40 years ago. To see these kinds of results is unbelievable.”
His reference is to the growing popularity of shorter skis, even for professional ski racers, and his lament is for all the time the industry lost embracing long, unwieldy skis.
In an interview Taylor gave in 2001, he said when he sees how short skis now dominate the mountain, he feels like the ghost of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell looking at everybody on a cell phone.
“The public forced it,” he said at the time.
But it wasn’t like Taylor didn’t try to force it, too.
For 25 years, Taylor barnstormed the world, through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, touting GLM teaching and short skis. GLM caught on, but fell out of favor as the skiing establishment could not shake its love of long skis, snow plows, stem christies and abysmal ski school success rates. The latter still grates on Taylor, because what should have been easy was made so hard.
Going into combat
Not to be forgotten is Taylor’s history with the famed 10th Mountain Division of World War II that trained in nearby Camp Hale and went on to glory in the Italian campaign in 1945.
Like Taylor, many 10th Mountain veterans returned to the West and forged the Colorado ski industry.
Taylor joined the 10th Mountain Division in 1943 and was one of the few hundred much-sought-after ski instructors teaching 10,000 flatlanders how to ski.
When the division deployed to Italy, Taylor served in an intelligence unit.
The 10th’s big mission was to open up a path through the Apennines Mountains where German mountain troops were solidly fortified. The U.S. 5th Army had three times been forced to fall back in the face of resistance.
The 10th was assigned to capture the now famous Riva Ridge, which had to be taken first, before the Germans could be dislodged from Mount Belvedere. German artillery on Riva Ridge could sweep away any attack on Mount Belvedere.
Five companies of infantry, 1,200 men in all, were ordered to make a nighttime climb of a 2,000-foot face to get on top of Riva Ridge by dawn – or face certain death in the daylight.
Taylor was part of the assault.
The Germans were caught completely by surprise, Taylor recalled.
After taking Riva Ridge, Taylor helped man an observation post to direct artillery and air strikes as the general assault continued on Belvedere. A shell from the infamous German 88 howitzers wounded him. The same shell killed a soldier an arm’s length from Taylor. After a trip to a field hospital, he returned to his post.
In the battle, Taylor also captured important field maps from a German officer. The maps outlined enemy positions, and the intelligence helped the 5th Army to advance.
Taylor had a second brush with death.
While later training along the Italian-Yugoslav border, he slid down a snowfield toward a 3,000-foot drop. Lucky for Taylor, his army-issue belt buckle snagged him. Taylor called the event a “clif-hanger.”
Returning to Colorado
After the war, Taylor attended Western State College in Gunnison where he raced. Shortly thereafter, he joined many of his 10th Mountain buddies and taught skiing at Aspen.
One of his friends was Klaus Obermeyer, founder and still owner of the Obermeyer line of skiwear.
During that time in the late 1940s, Taylor’s mission became finding easier ways to teach skiing while Obermeyer struck out to find ways to dress skiers more comfortably – and to keep them warm.
Obermeyer is featured in Taylor’s birthday video.
“(Clif’s) great contribution to skiing is the short skis and his willingness to listen to students and be nice to them and make it easy for them,” Obermeyer said. “He taught them to dance down the mountain, not fight down the mountain.”
As for short skis, “time proved him right,” Obermeyer said.
Like many World War II veterans, Taylor always has been short on talk about the war – many did not know he was a Purple Heart recipient until his 80th birthday.
But when it came to talking about skiing, Taylor could go long into the night.
His passion for the sport was noted Friday.
C.J. Julin, a Copper Mountain friend of Taylor’s who has known him from their time of selling and promoting the New Village, said the same.
“Clif was always swimming upstream against the teaching professionals and the skiing industry,” said Julin, now head of the Village Company that promotes Copper’s new base village. “He was a visionary, a pioneer, and he took a ton of arrows.
“Many people did not believe what Clif had to say about the sport, but they also did not have the same passion Clif had for the sport.”
Jim Spenst, Copper Mountain’s vice president of operations, said Taylor’s passion for the sport is unequalled.
“To this day, I am blown away by his passion for skiing,” Spenst said. “Clif wants to see people have fun. He has been a center of the passion for skiing since coming out of the 10th Mountain Division.”
Taylor, who “retired” to Copper about 15 years ago, just this year moved to lower elevation in nearby Evergreen, where he can be close to his daughter.
He is still involved at Copper, marketing real estate for the Playground, a division of Intrawest Corp.
Jim Pokrandt can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 227, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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