The pro tour is a great way for the sport to return to its roots
On Jan. 18, with periodic high winds scouring the course at Eldora Mountain Resort west of Boulder, four members of the University of Colorado Boulder ski team—Max Bervy, Jack Schibli, Teddy Takki and Joey Young—advanced to the second round of the Colorado Pro Open, a racing event hosted by the World Pro Ski Tour.
Two Buff skiers beat some pretty lofty competition to get there, as Bervy edged out two-time Olympic gold medalist and five-time world champion Ted Ligety and Takki defeated 2019 World Pro Ski Tour champion Phil Brown. The format of the tour pits two skiers at a time side-by-side on a slalom course, with the victor moving on to the next round, until a winner emerges.
But the current Buff skiers were far from the only CU Boulder connection to the tour, which was resurrected in 2016 after going on hiatus in the 1990s following three decades that helped put skiing onto the U.S. sports entertainment map.
Jeff Mehan (Econ’78) is a tour shareholder; former Olympic silver medalist and current director of skiing at Steamboat Ski Resort, Billy Kidd (Econ’69), is a vocal supporter, as is current CU ski coach Richard Rokos; the tour was first created by the late Bob Beattie, a former CU and Olympic ski team coach, and the Bob Beattie Foundation is a supporter of the new tour; and John Jacobs, son of Tom Jacobs, the school’s first full-time ski coach and a 2007 inductee into the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, is chief of course for the tour, providing racing gates and other hardware through the company started by his father and mother Marilyn, Reliable Racing Supply. Additionally, Briar Schreiber, (PolSci, Bus’03) is director of marketing for the tour.
Skiing has always been the sexiest sport on the planet. Modern ski racing is intricate and specialized,"
“Spider, Bob and Billy really put the original tour on the map,” says Mehan, president of TFS Derivatives, a financial services company, in New York.
Mehan got involved with the resurrected tour in 2017.
“One of the reasons I was excited to get involved was that there was no pro skiing tour, no way for someone who wants to race to earn a living,” he says. “The idea is to try to provide a career path. Anybody can sign up, there’s no BS, no politics. With U.S. Ski (& Snowboard) and FIS (International Ski Federation), there are barriers to entry. The only barrier to our race is putting up the entry fee.”
Beattie is credited with launching dual-format, single-elimination professional racing, forming the International Ski Racer Association in 1969 when he was coach of the U.S. Ski Team, and the World Pro Ski Tour the next year, after he stepped down.
During the 1970s, many of the world’s top alpine skiers joined the tour, including Kidd—who won both an FIS world championship and World Pro Ski Tour championship in 1970—former CU ski team member and pro racer Spider Sabich and three-time Olympic gold medalist Jean-Claude Killy, who won the pro tour in 1973. In the 1980s, Olympic medalists Phil and Steve Mahre and top international skiers joined the tour, whose races regularly reached millions of viewers through ESPN and NBC Sports Networks.
The 21st-century incarnation of the tour arose out of discussions between ski promoter Ed Rogers, John Jacobs and Kevin Clarke.
“The conversation about ‘putting the band back together’ started in 2011,” Jacobs says. “But Ed definitely gets the lion’s share of credit, since he largely financed the new company.”
Over the next several years, Rogers developed relationships with sponsors and in 2016, the inaugural race was held at Maine’s Sunday River ski resort.
In 2019, Dan Leever of Vail, Colorado-based Leever Partners boosted the tour with new sponsors, investors and media coverage. The tour recently launched a six-part reality miniseries about the new tour, In Between the Gates, which reaches some 75,000,000 homes via Outside TV, NBC Sports Networks, AT&T Sports Networks and a variety of digital delivery options.
“We finally have enough working capital to build a runway so we can get the airplane off the ground,” says John Jacobs. “We’re still looking for a title sponsor, but we’ve got some great support now.”
In the meantime, the tour continues March 14-15 at Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, the tour finals are on April 4-5 at Sunday River and the World Championships at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico, and April 10-12, which features a $100,000 purse. Previous races are airing periodically on CBS Sports Network.
“Skiing has always been the sexiest sport on the planet. Modern ski racing is intricate and specialized,” Kidd says. “The pro tour is a great way for the sport to return to its roots.”