Signs are posted at the bottom of every lift at Steamboat Springs, Colo. offering all comers the chance to ski with a world champion—completely free of charge. SKI WITH BILLY KIDD, UPPER GONDOLA TERMINAL, AT 1 O'CLOCK the signs read and, sure enough, folks getting off at the top find Billy Kidd waiting, cowboy hat cocked over his eyes, prancing horses emblazoned on his sweater, an ex-racer who has chosen this way to repay the sport for some of the advantages it has given him.
"On the way down the mountain, no matter how big the crowd, Billy finds time to talk to every person," says Photographer Neil Leifer, whose pictures of Kidd in action start on page 33. "If one skier wants a few free tips on how to turn, Billy provides them. If someone just wants to chat about the hill or the weather or philosophy, Billy obliges. Even if one of the skiers wants to give Kidd some instructions, Billy listens politely, smiling and nodding. The thing is, he is the complete public-relations man for an entire sport; the afternoon run doesn't take much time and it makes a lot of skiers happy."
Since his retirement from racing not long after winning a gold medal in the 1970 world championship, Kidd has stayed close to the sport as a ski-area and equipment-manufacturers' representative, television personality and now the author of a how-to book. Austria's Karl Schranz, once Kidd's fiercest rival and also retired, recently produced a book promising to teach the reader "how to ski in just six days." The rivalry goes on: Billy's book claims the reader will learn "how to ski in just five days."
For all his activities, Billy sets aside part of each ski day for a run down a mountainside full of moguls, those bumps that inspire emotions ranging from love to fear and loathing. Kidd does it strictly for kicks. Indeed, in talking about moguls, Kidd is so evangelistic that, after one long dinner with his SI friends, it seemed that nobody would get any rest until we assured him that we would do a piece on the how and why of skiing the lumps.
The assignment brought Leifer back into action. Neil first photographed Kidd for a cover in March 1965, showing up at Aspen in galoshes and topcoat, never having seen a live skier or even a real mountain. Kidd was as patient then as he is now and apparently as evangelistic. Leifer has been skiing ever since, this season reaching a stage he insists is Wide Stance Lower Intermediate. And it was Kidd and Leifer who accidentally provided unimpeachable proof that our instructional works.
"I shoot most ski pictures where I can get on and off a really steep hill by cat track or a long traverse," Leifer says. "I try never to ski expert trails. But I got so caught up in shooting Billy on the bumps that I sort of forgot where I was and we stayed until dusk. And then I realized that I was trapped—stuck on this expert run with no escape."
Never fear. Kidd came up with an on-the-spot preview of his text in this week's issue, showed Leifer the secrets and got him through the moguls beautifully. Well, at least he got him down. That was our first endorsement. This thing really works.