The Breakdown: Discovering a bit of local skiing lore
summit daily news
Summit County, Colorado
Sometimes, things aren’t exactly as they appear at first glance.
One of the first times I ever went skiing was at Arapahoe Basin. I don’t remember much from that day, at least when it comes to the skiing part of it.
You see, the reason I bring this up is because it was the first time I saw something that changed my – and my friend’s – view of the sport.
Anyone that’s been inside the chalet at the bottom of the slopes at The Legend has undoubtedly seen the hundreds of old ski shots nailed up on the walls surrounding the eating areas. They’re all pretty interesting, and each shows something different about the beginnings of the ski area. It’s basically a pictorial history of the area: There are people on old wooden skis carving down the tree-less slopes; people lurching back up the hill seated in old chairlifts; and basically everything else you can imagine from yesteryear of the skiing industry.
But there was one photo that stuck out to me on that first day there. At first, it looks simple enough: A guy catching some air off a jump. Then you look closer, and you realize the guy’s jumping over a log cabin, dawning aviator shades and a bright-red Christmas sweater. Needless to say, it was probably the most awesome ski picture I had ever seen.
The only information the photo gave was a name and the place it was taken – Erich Windisch, Arapahoe Basin – scribbled in pen at the bottom.
From that day on, it became almost an inside joke between my friend and I. We’d pretend to jump over cabins and trees and things like that. We even had a day where we wore red sweaters and shades and made sure to be in a full tuck – with our arms straight down, of course – in the picture’s honor.
Through it all, it never really occurred to us to look up who the guy in the picture was. Finally, one day, my friend did just that.
As some of you reading this might have figured, we found out that Erich Windisch is a skiing legend.
Born in Germany in 1918, Windisch started skiing at age 3. He won his first ski race at age 7. Then in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he was a member of the German national ski-jumping team. He won nine divisional and national championships.
It was in 1949, though, that he made a huge mark on his sport. During a jumping tournament in Germany, Windisch was hampered by a dislocated shoulder. To minimize the pain, he decided to jump with arms pointing downward – the first time ever that a skier jumped that way. He wound up winning the contest.
From that point on, ski jumping was never the same, as people quickly imitated his new jumping method.
Windisch later moved to Colorado and was a ski instructor at Vail for 37 years. Before passing away in 2007, Windisch had already been inducted into the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in Vail. He also has a run named after him at Vail called Windisch Way.
So, it obviously ended up that my new ski hero was actually already just that to many other people who have taken up the sport in the area.
To this day, I still love taking a look at the picture every time I’m at the Basin. It’s part of my skiing history now, and it’s obviously a huge part of the area’s.
Sure, the first time I saw it, I would have never guessed the story behind it; I simply liked it because it looked cool. Now, though, the story is what makes the picture great, and what helps to make the sport so rich with history.
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