In October of 1955 Chuck told his mother that he was going to spend the night with a friend. He gathered up $300 he had saved from a summer job with a power company, lowered his suitcase and ski poles down a rope from his bedroom window and fled on a train to Chicago. "I was afraid to take my skis. I even asked a stranger, some guy hanging around the station, to buy me a ticket." From Chicago he went to Sun Valley. No snow. He went to Alta, Utah and got a job washing dishes and pouring coffee in a lodge to pay for his room and board. And he began to ski on a real mountain.
"For two weeks I had a ball. Then I began to worry. So I called home and told my parents where I was. 'I'd sure like to stay out here,' I said. Since I was all right and had already missed so much school anyway, they decided that I might just as well stay until the next semester. Boy, was I happy. Then I broke an ankle the next week." Back home by Thanksgiving, Chuck caught up on his grades—but never really took his eyes off the Rockies.
By the fall of 1956 the Ferrieses were more or less resigned, and they let Chuck go off on his own to Aspen. He lived in a bunkhouse that belonged to the Snow Chase Ski Club of Chicago and earned his bed by getting up every two hours of the night, all winter long, to put coal in the bunkhouse stove. He also made the honor roll in the local school and learned to ski a big mountain. "I began to think seriously about the '60 Olympics," he says. "I was winning junior races by three and four seconds. When I finished fourth in the 1957 Roch Cup slalom behind the best men, Toni Sailer and Christian Pravda and Tommy Corcoran, I figured I had it made. I was only 17 and I was the hottest thing on skis. Then I really began to learn about ski racing. I cooled off and skied badly the rest of the year."
Sleep in the Red Onion
In the next four years Chuck won a few and lost a lot. Sometimes he was ready to quit, and then a race, usually a late-season race in which he did very well—he has always been a slow starter—would encourage him to keep on. He received a scholarship to the University of Denver and went there to study finance and to learn more about skiing under that controversial technician, Willy Schaeffler. He was more or less adopted by Francois de Gunzburg, an independent oil operator and promoter who was to develop ski facilities at Mt. Alyeska outside Anchorage, Alaska, where the national championships will be held early next month. When his money ran low in the winter quarter of 1958, Chuck dropped out of college temporarily and went back to Aspen, where he worked and slept in the Red Onion restaurant and skied on the Aspen Ski Patrol. And, naturally, raced.
With the best Americans in Europe for the 1958 FIS meet. Chuck won both the downhill and giant slalom in the Roch Cup, and he won the national slalom by almost six seconds. He went to Europe in '59, with De Gunzburg's help, and discovered what American skiers had been discovering for years: "I just wasn't in their class." Out of condition, he was injured in a fall at Chamonix, and only the encouragement of America's best woman racer. Penny Pitou, kept Chuck from catching the first plane home. "Buddy Werner and Max Marolt were over there, too," says Chuck, "but they would hardly speak to me. I was just a cocky kid and I had to learn for myself. Buddy is funny. When you're good and you prove it to him, he's the first to welcome you to the crowd. But until you do prove it, you're an outsider. We're the greatest of friends now, but we weren't then and we weren't for a long time afterward, either."
Back in the States at the end of the season, Chuck finished second by just .1 second to Werner in the slalom at Stowe and also ran second to Buddy in the giant slalom. This earned him a place on the '60 Olympic training squad, and although he failed to complete the first run at Squaw Valley another season finale at Stowe kept him from chucking the whole thing. He tied Guy P�rillat of France on the first slalom run there and would probably have won the race except that he straddled the last gate the second time down.
"I began to realize what I was doing wrong," he says. "All I could think about was winning. Second place was nothing. So I was trying to ski every run faster than I could ski. I was pushing too hard, driving myself beyond my ability. You just can't do that in slalom racing; you can only go as fast as you can go. Beyond that point you miss a gate or you fall, and you can't win many races by falling down."
In 1961 Chuck beat Werner for the first time, winning the Snow Cup giant slalom at Alta. "Buddy was rusty," Chuck says now. "Maybe he hadn't recovered from that broken leg. But the important thing to me was that I had beaten him." Ferries also won the Roch Cup slalom by six seconds and then skied on the Denver team that won the national collegiate championship from the University of Colorado. "That was important to me, too," Chuck says. "College skiing is much more of a team sport, and maybe I learned something about being part of a team."
Last winter Chuck moved on to another team, the young, highly promising FIS crew that Beattie took to Chamonix. Also a member of the group was Barbara Ferries, who at the age of 17 seemed about to ski right past her big brother. She had arrived with a rush the year before, sweeping almost every women's race in the U.S. Now Chuck really felt that he belonged. Barbara was there, Werner was his friend, everything was all right. The only trouble was that Chuck seemed to be the least promising skier in training. "I couldn't finish a course," he says. "I fell, I missed gates, I did everything wrong. I was trying to ski too fast again. I was so mad at myself that I was tied up in knots. Beattie was great, but I think he must have begun to wonder."