The struggle centered on Killy, Sabich and Stuefer all year long. Stuefer is 6'3", with a shaggy tangle of light-brown hair and a sickle for a nose. He won three giant slaloms, one slalom and $45,575 this year, and fellow Europeans watching Stuefer's progress in the States must assume that the pro tour is an easy plum to pick. In his six years on the Austrian national team, Stuefer never rose above mediocrity. He finally had to give up even his best event, the downhill, because a slight malformation of the hip sockets made it impossible for him to hold a tuck position. Two years ago Hugo Nindl, a fellow Austrian who had been sweeping up most of the crumbs that Sabich had left for the others, persuaded Stuefer to come on over and try the Grand Prix, where there is no downhill to tuck for.
"This has been tough," says Stuefer. "I guess two more years will be about enough. When you win, it means eight or 10 fast races in a single afternoon. You get tired and it is hard to concentrate. That's why a lot of good amateurs can't do it. They are used to making only one or two long runs."
Stuefer thinks that the unusual man-to-man, side-by-side pro format might even wean Europeans away from the lone man-against-the-mountain theme upon which the amateur circuit rests. "The Europeans would love this," he claims. "I bet it could be done."
In fact McCormack made just such a bet. Last year he sent Ian Todd to Europe to put together a pro team competition called the Eight Nations Cup. "We spent a tremendous amount of time and money on the project and the FIS [ International Ski Federation] approved it," says Todd. "Then Austria and France said no and shot it down."
Now Todd and McCormack are sending up another trial balloon. "It's still in the talking stage, but we are thinking about purely professional downhill races that would take place during the break in the schedule here and would not conflict with this tour at all," says Todd. "We wouldn't have to depend on any of the U.S. pros because none of them are competitive in the downhill. We'd have Killy, of course, and Karl Schranz, maybe some of the other top Europeans. The trouble is that when anyone starts to do something with professional racing in Europe he's going to get into a real dogfight with the FIS."
Pro tour promoter Bob Beattie is skeptical because it might involve a dogfight with his own Grand Prix. "What gap in the schedule is he talking about?" Beattie asked. "We're not going to have any gap in the schedule."
Europe, too, is skeptical. Most skiing observers abroad believe it would be too costly to lure the well-paid top amateurs into the pro ranks. Besides, the average European ski racing fan, many claim, rates pro skiing right up there with a carnival freak show.
All of which prompts a knowing smile from Schranz, who last year was declared to be a paid performer by Avery Brundage and his Olympic committee—but who returned home from Sapporo to a tumultuous welcome usually reserved for national heroes. Schranz thinks pro racing in Europe would not only be a brilliant success but is a desperate necessity as well. One evening last week Schranz, whose future also is managed by McCormack, leaned against a nightclub bar and sipped a Jack Daniel's on the rocks (only, he claimed, to get a preliminary taste of what life in America might be like). He had just finished a lively dinner with Killy and had apparently been convinced that riches were to be earned in pro racing just by stepping onto his skis. He was in an affable and instructive mood, even to the point of allowing casual acquaintances to thump his rock-hard midsection.
"A pro tour could work well in Europe once Europeans are educated to the fact that the pros are really good," said Schranz. "I'll be meeting with Marc Hodler of the FIS later this month and will try to convince him that this is something the FIS must support. Besides, it's essential in order to keep skiing alive."
What Schranz saw in Aspen last weekend was exciting enough to send him off to Hodler in a persuasive frame of mind. Killy's lead over Sabich for the title had been 30 points, quite an edge since only 25 points are awarded to the winner of each race, 20 to the runner-up, 15 for third, 10 for fourth and on down to five for the eight losers in the opening round. Thus, in the unlikely instance that Sabich might win both final races, Killy needed only to average two fourth-place finishes to clinch at least a tie for his title and that $40,000 check.