Killy's interest in automobile racing goes back almost as far as his interest in skiing. His uncle, Cyril de Ridder, has for years been chief of security for the Le Mans race, and Killy cannot remember when he hasn't attended the race as a spectator. "Driving and skiing have much in common," Jean-Claude says, meaning speed and crashing, one assumes.
Killy has discovered bullfighting, too. Last summer he was invited by a television station to spend a week in N�mes, in the south of France, loitering with many of Spain's best matadors, watching them practice and, in general, just being around the sport. Killy developed an immediate liking for it, and was in the middle of the bull ring with a red cape fighting cows before he went back to the Alps.
"Ah, oui," he says in a slow, rather deep and velvety voice. "I fought not the big ones, but not the little ones, either. I fought middle-size ones, but they had horns—big ones, yes—and once I got gored. My left arm, right here. Ah, what a sport! It is dangerous, yes, but for a skier it was good for the nerves. Or very bad, yes?"
It is difficult to find many sports or hobbies that Killy does not like, or has not participated in, under the pretense of helping his skiing. He practices yoga, among other things, in the solitude of his rooms, believing that it helps keep him limber and his muscles relaxed. In summer he likes to take a bicycle to the top of a mountain in Val d'Is�re and speed downward as fast as possible. "It gets you accustomed to the high speeds of downhill skiing, I think," says he. And he enjoys water skiing, soccer, tennis, hiking and romping through woods, which, he says, help him develop balance. "Dodging the trees and rocks, you see," he says.
However, it is difficult to understand how Killy finds time to do any of these things, since in Val d'Is�re you can ski about 10 months out of the year and Killy is rarely off his skis. All of which points out the big difference between a racer raised among the peaks of the Alps and the kind the U.S. tries to manufacture in colleges.
"There was always only one thing in my life as a boy," Jean-Claude says. "That was skiing. I wish I could have continued school and skiing, the way the Americans do, but I believe that each one suffers. I quit school at 15. The biggest grief in my life is that I have not had more education. That is why I try to read books often. To fill in, yes? But always I remember that when my teacher would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, I replied, 'Ski champion.' From the age of 15 I have devoted everything to that."
At the Bergerie, the hotel owned by Killy's father at Val d'Is�re, about a four-hour drive from Geneva—perhaps only two and a half hours for Jean-Claude in a sports car—there are mementos of Jean-Claude's travels and achievements. He lives in the basement of the Bergerie with his books and skis and hi-fi and his boomerang from Australia, his record albums from the U.S., his beads from Tahiti, a lot of funny hats and caps and maps, trophies, pins and patches, souvenirs not only from skiing but from having done 18 months in the French army in Algeria (where he caught jaundice) and from having been a frontier customs guard in Chamonix (where he caught tourists).
Val d'Is�re is one of the better ski resorts in the Alps, and it has produced not only Killy but those wonderfully rowdy sisters, Marielle and Christine Goitschel. Since they both won gold medals in the last Olympics, Marielle has become the foremost girl skier in the world, practically unbeatable. At times she is as big a clown as Killy, and once, at Innsbruck, she shocked the press by announcing as a private joke that she and Jean-Claude were engaged.
"We have known each other since children," Killy says. "Often we ski together. She is a great competitor, and, ah, sometimes she acts crazy, no?"
The Bergerie, in the middle of Val d'Is�re, is built of pine, stone and cement. It rises three floors, with a front balcony, and has 17 rooms, a French flag draped below a steep, slate roof and trout swimming in an aquarium in the dining room. It is a popular place, and just the kind Jean-Claude's father had wanted to own since the time he left Saint-Cloud, a Paris suburb, after World War II. Jean-Claude was born in Saint-Cloud in 1943 while his father was a combat pilot for the Allies. The family moved to Val d'Is�re in 1946 and struggled along for 15 years while Robert Killy operated first a sporting goods store, then a small restaurant, and spent his spare time wondering where Jean-Claude was. He was skiing "far too much," says the father. "I once had to demand that the lift operators not let Toutoune [a nickname Jean-Claude cannot shed] go up more than two or three times in a day. From the age of 3, he would disappear on his skis for hours. I always thought he would become a great skier. He was a natural. Usually a boy wins his chamois medal at the age of 13 or 14. Toutoune won his at 9. Even then he was skiing slalom only one second behind the instructors."