You would have thought the Common Market was at stake, or perhaps a magnum of Dom P�rignon, the way the French skied last week in the U.S. Alpine Championships at Stowe. They skied so fast it was as difficult to find an Austrian with a medal as it was an American. That was because the French—you know the ones, Jean-Claude Killy (SI, Feb. 21), Guy P�rillat, Marielle Goitschel, all those names that are as familiar to Alpine racing as Arnold Palmer is to smoking—didn't leave anything of much value lying around on the now hot and now cold slopes of Vermont.
The French were so complete about it that they flew off to Sun Valley with six of the eight prizes that were offered, their men and women capturing four races and two combined titles. Or, to put it another way, they collected everything available after the first day when a couple of unknown Swiss splashed to victory in what may have been the dampest downhill this side of Snoqualmie.
If the events at Stowe were an indication of what is to be expected this week in the American International Team races—the Werner Cup—at Sun Valley, then the Austrians, Americans, Swiss and Canadians may simply decide to spend their time looking for Norma Shearer and Ann Sothern down at the Boiler Room in the Sun Valley Lodge. It appears the imposing French will win the team championship by the length of Jean-Claude Killy's name. They were devastating in Vermont, denying the favored and always confident Austrians a single victory in a major Alpine competition for the first time since the invention of stretch pants.
Guy P�rillat, a quiet, trim veteran of world racing, led the assault. He won the slalom by a single snowflake over Killy, with L�o Lacroix third, Hugo Nindl fourth and America's Jimmy Heuga fifth, and he took the combined championship as well—again narrowly over Killy. But the dashing Jean-Claude won the giant slalom, satisfying his growing list of admirers, and Marielle Goitschel took the slalom. The French even had the audacity to run in a new heroine, Florence Steurer. This 16-year-old merely won the giant slalom and the women's combined. The French did not just settle for winning four races, they were one, two, three in both the men's slalom and giant slalom, and they were one and two in both the women's slalom and giant slalom. Look at it this way: the Austrians were so thoroughly rattled that Karl Schranz fell in the slalom race on Sunday, and Schranz normally wouldn't fall if he were hit by a Sno-Cat. A lot of Americans fell, too, mind you, but then they always do. The Austrian men, on the other hand, almost never do, yet two of them crashed in the downhill, one of them tumbled in the giant slalom, and two more went down in the slalom.
The French were so good, the Austrians so mysteriously disappointing, that the struggling Americans came off exceptionally well despite the fact that Billy Kidd, the best U.S. racer, was too seriously injured—the ankle again—to be a threat, and Jean Saubert, our top girl, was sadly off form. Jimmy Heuga and Wendy Allen took over as patriotically as if they were carrying American flags down Mt. Mansfield and a lot of prestige was salvaged when Heuga placed third in the men's combined and Wendy grabbed second in the ladies' combined.
Not only that, but Heuga and Wendy Allen got some help from a whole lift line of young American boys and girls who provided some happy promise for the program of Coach Bob Beattie and created hope for the FIS World Championships in Portillo, Chile next August.
"Over all, I think we ought to be delighted with the results," said Beattie. "Here we were practically helpless without Billy Kidd, but our girls really came through and Heuga was as tough as you could expect, considering he was practically on the hill by himself."
Early this winter in Europe Kidd and Killy ruled the slopes, but then Billy took a fall in Austria that put him on crutches for two weeks. He tried to get in shape to race at Stowe, his home town, because he knew there would be 5,000 spectators lining the courses, most of whom he would know by their first names. He reinjured the ankle just a few days prior to the Stowe races in a minor race in Steamboat Springs, Colo., however, and when he showed up in Vermont with a limp it looked as if the meet was over for America before it started. Kidd was so determined to make an appearance, at least, that he put a ton of tape—well, seven pounds, someone said—on his weak left ankle. He ran the downhill and got a lot of cheers, but he placed 18th. He tried again in the giant slalom but knew after the first gate that it was useless, and a short way down the hill he sat down in the snow like a beginner. At the slalom he was just another spectator.
"I wouldn't be any help to the team in Sun Valley," said Billy, "and I hated to put Bob in a spot by making him let me race here. I'm off the hill now. I'm going to db nothing but try to get my ankle strong. Fortunately, the world championships are a long way off and maybe I can."
That may or may not matter to the French. As P�rillat said, "I'm skiing better than I have in years, because our team as a whole is stronger and we have fantastic spirit. Our girls may be the best that skiing has ever seen."