This year, more than 85 youngsters from 6-14 tuned up their alpine racing skills. Rule No. 1 is be safe. Rule No. 2 is have fun! In the spirit of fun, these kids are all wearing grins as wide as their goggles as they leave parents and coaches in clouds of powder spray. That would put a smile on the face of Buddy Werner himself.
The namesake of the ski racing program was born and raised in Steamboat Springs. Buddy Werner’s breakneck style of skiing helped him become America’s first star racer. He made the U.S. Olympic teams in 1956, 1960 and 1964. Buddy was also the first American to win the famous Hahnenkamm downhill race in Kitzbuhel, Austria. Tragically, Buddy was killed in an avalanche in Switzerland on April 12, 1964. He was only 28 years old.
Fortunately, Buddy’s skiing legacy lives on. It spawned the Buddy Werner Race League, which is a recreational race program at ski areas throughout the United States. Locally, the Sunlight Winter Sports Club was founded in 1972, and the Buddy Werner program has been a staple for almost as long. The Buddy Werner league is not ski school. It’s a true introduction to alpine ski racing.
Buddy Werner participants ski with volunteer coaches in small groups of kids of similar age and ability. The program runs on Saturdays, from early January through early March. At Sunlight Mountain, kids are on the lifts with coaches by 9 a.m. They learn the basics of ski racing with an emphasis on slalom and giant slalom. They compete in three timed races each season, and awards are presented at the end of the day.
Youths that excel in the Buddy Werner program often move up to Buddy Werner Plus or the Sunlight Ski Team in successive years. But Buddy Werner is more than just competition. It’s about making friends and having fun on skis. At the end of most days, there’s time to free-ski and whoop it up with coaches and teammates. Kids get caught up in the excitement and camaraderie, and tackle challenging terrain without a second thought.
The Buddy Werner Race League at Sunlight Mountain Resort is as great as it sounds. Young racers have an awesome time and parents are often amazed by the rapid development in kids’ skiing ability. That’s part of the plan for the Sunlight Winter Sports Club. They strive to develop young men and women who, with confidence and discipline learned from ski racing, represent themselves and their communities well.
Learn more about the Buddy Werner league at http://www.sunlightwintersportsclub.com/. Also check out this season’s video at https://vimeo.com/88818590 and make plans to sign up in the fall. As organizer Bob Lockard would say, “Ski ya next year!”