Kindle edition free from 10/9 to 10/13
Kindle edition free from 10/9 to 10/13
This novella was a poignant look into the private life of the reclusive literary legend, Ernest Hemingway, and his friendship with a young lad in Ketchum, Idaho. The tragically beautiful tale abounds with Hemingway's particular brand of philosophy, and as if in tribute to the great author, even the writing style of this story is reminiscent in many ways of Hemingway's own work. Drawing heavily from factual accounts and documented evidence, this is as close a glimpse into the heart and soul of Ernest Hemingway as any but he himself would have been able to give.
“It is all true or it ought to be, and more and better besides.” —Winston Churchill on the legend of King Arthur
Nineteen sixty-seven was a big year for international skiing. Le Cirque Blanc, the white circus, better known in the U.S. as the World Cup, was inaugurated that year. Its first winner, French skier Jean-Claude Killy, crowned his victories in all three disciplines, slalom, giant slalom, and downhill, by winning the last races of the season in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in late March. Killy is best remembered for winning all three disciplines in the winter Olympics in Grenoble, France, only the second time in history that feat had been accomplished. Of Jackson Hole, Killy said, “If there is a better ski mountain in the United States, I haven’t skied it.” There was no World Cup downhill at Jackson Hole that March, but Killy won the giant slalom. A young racer from San Francisco, California, who grew up skiing Squaw Valley, named Jimmy (Jimmie) Huega, came in second. Huega finished sixth overall, the highest American, in the first World Cup season. He followed such legends as Heinrich Messner, Guy Perillat, and Leo Lacroix. The great Karl Schranz finished right behind Huega. Huega had won the bronze right behind Billy Kidd in the 1964 Olympics. His racing career ended when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1970. The gold medalist in the 1964 Olympic slalom was Pepi Stiegler, who had become the first ski school director at Jackson Hole when it opened its second season on Apres Vous Mountain in 1965. In 1993, Stiegler was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The 1964 Olympic downhill winner, Egon Zimmerman, also suffers from multiple sclerosis. It’s almost a 1960s ski champion’s disease.
While this story is about following passion in spite of adversity, it is not about these world class ski racers. It is the story of a boy, a world-famous boy, but not because of his passion to ski and to race on skis, but for something else entirely. The story begins with his birth on December 11, 1951, and culminates in February of 1967, when he overcame his own physical struggle and achieved his dream of becoming an elite-A ski racer in a downhill race at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He was raised on the slopes of Sun Valley, Idaho, the son of the local doctor, and at five years old was already making news as a skier as far away as Austin, Texas. In the 1960s, selections for the U.S. Junior Olympic team were made from the ranks of the elite-A racers. Skiers joined the United States Ski Association in their home division as D racers. Good results in races allowed them to move up to C, B, and then elite-A. Elite-A racers were rare; they were the best in the nation. They were the Olympians, and becoming an elite-A was the goal of every serious young ski racer.
The boy Frederick, known in Sun Valley as Fritz, had won the B division slalom gold at Park City, Utah on February 12, 1967, a week before the Jackson Hole downhill. If he did well in the downhill, he would become an elite-A and possibly qualify to represent the United States Ski Association Intermountain Division in the Junior Olympics, known as the JOs, in March at Mt. Stowe, Vermont.
The following story is what might have happened on that cold February day. Fritz and his friend and Sun Valley teammate Jonny rode up the Rendezvous Peak tram together on an overcast Wyoming morning on Sunday, February 19, 1967. Intermittent snow flurries prevented them from seeing the scraggly pines and brown rocks as they climbed above the timber line. Fritz had recently celebrated his fifteenth birthday. Jonny was a year or so older. Both boys were nervous. The overcast conditions had rendered the packed snow of Gros Ventre slick as glass. In a few minutes, Jonny and later, Fritz, would be hurtling down the mountain at an average speed of six feet per second, a top speed of sixty miles per hour. Their parents didn’t even drive their cars that fast. The course would be icy and rutted. Their skis would chatter like freezing teeth, bouncing them to the outside of ten-G turns. Being lifelong skiers and racers, both boys’ legs were well-defined and powerful. They would need to be to survive the grueling course. Slalom and GS were tiring, but nothing like downhill. The last minute of the two-minute course would be agony, if they managed to last that long without falling. A crash at sixty miles an hour on an icy course could be life-ending or put a boy permanently in a wheelchair. It was hard to believe that their parents allowed them to do it. Fritz had an additional problem. At nine years old he had been diagnosed with a heart condition from a viral infection that had damaged his heart. Imagine the battles in his household. His parents, his father a doctor, could not have wanted him to risk his life every time he slid into starting gate. And yet, they allowed him to do it. Fritz, too, must have known that he could suffer a heart attack at any moment. Yet, he continued to race on skis and try to achieve his goal of becoming elite-A. He was so passionate about skiing and racing, especially downhill, that he was willing to risk his very life to do it weekend after weekend, winter after winter. Anyone who has ever raced downhill knows the feeling.
Fritz was scared. He was always scared at the beginning of a downhill. Not being able to see the course a hundred feet ahead because of the low-hanging clouds made it even scarier. He knew, however, that once he was on the course, the thrill of speed would overcome his fear. He knew that he would spend every second searching for more speed, pressing his chest down in his tuck to reduce wind resistance, keeping his skis as flat as possible on the ice to reduce friction, and remembering every turn and the fastest line to take, prejumping the transitions to maintain ski-snow contact and keep his line. His mind would be racing at more than a hundred miles an hour, and his heart would be pumping more than 150 beats a minute to keep his quads oxygenated. The boys didn’t talk; each was lost in his own thoughts.
Fritz may have been remembering a day when he was five years old. He was at a ski race on Dollar Mountain in Sun Valley. It must have been 1956 or ’57. His dad, George, was there to watch. George was able to be there because he had just gotten a new device from Motorola called a pager. This allowed Fritz’s mom to beep his dad if he had an emergency. He would then have to ski as quickly as possible to the phone in the Sun Valley Lodge and call home. It was exciting, because it allowed his dad to ski with him and watch his races. On this day, Dr. George had brought a friend with him, a giant of a man loved and admired by everyone in Ketchum, the small Idaho town engulfed by Sun Valley. All the kids in Ketchum called this man Mister Papa. He spent summers and some winters in the Sun Valley Lodge with his wife Mary. Mister Papa skied, but he had been wounded in the knee in a war, so he didn’t ski that much anymore, and when he did, he skied the old-fashioned way, what he called the Arlberg technique. He had skied in Austria for a long time, in a place called Shruns in the Vorarlberg. He told Fritz about it later. Most skiers by the mid-1950s were using the new parallel technique. That’s what Fritz’s coach Mister Krasovic taught. Locals said that Mister Papa used to ski a lot in Sun Valley before he got old. He used to ski with famous movie stars. He was famous himself, but not for being a movie star. Now his hair was white, and he had a white beard. He loved to hike and hunt and fish in the summer in the country around Ketchum.
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Tony Roegiers is a lifelong skier and former downhill racer. He is a teacher who has taught skiing for thirty-five years, coached ski racers, taught high school English, and now teaches writing and a course on Ernest Hemingway at Utah State University. He has also written "A Year in Cilicia," a fictionalized account of the early years of Saul of Tarsus, and "They Were Not Amused," a book of personal essays.