Ski Pioneer Dick Durrance’s Son Talks About His Father’s Legacy

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Photo: Dick Durrance Skiing
Dick Durrance skiing in 1937.

When alpine skiing first debuted as an Olympic sport at the 1936 Winter Games in Garmisch, Germany, Dick Durrance led the U.S. team. A native of Florida who grew up in Germany and then ski raced at Dartmouth, he went on to become a major force in skiing both in Colorado and around the world. He won 17 national championships, developed new ski technology and helped put Aspen on the map as a destination ski resort.

Photo: Dick Durrance Filmmaker
Dick Durrance with a 35 mm Arriflex movie camera working on the short subject film, Ski America for Eastman Kodak in 1965.

The Olympic Alpine Skiing competition in 1936 combined the results of the downhill and the slalom. Despite being one of the world’s best ski racers at the time Durrance came in 10th overall. His son and namesake, Dick Durrance Jr. tells Colorado Matters that his father sprained his ankle on a training run before the Olympics. But, he says the real problem was that his dad "missed the wax." In those days every skier tuned his own skis in those days by waxing them appropriately for the temperature and snow conditions. The younger Durrance says, "waxing is a tricky business." Sudden changes in temperature caused by the sun popping out of the clouds or a difference from higher to lower altitude on the mountain can all have huge effects on how wax works. In this race there was a long flat part in the downhill and the elder Durrance got to it and the wax slowed him down to a crawl. Yet he still came in 11th in the downhill and 8th in the slalom. ​

The elder Durrance kept ski racing after the 1936 Olympics and began racking up other titles. His skiing prowess even got a mountain named after him in Sun Valley, Idaho. He also made the 1940 US Olympic team, but those games were canceled because of World War II. He went on to launch skiing at Alta, Utah, develop the first soft snow skis, train the skiing troops that would evolve into the legendary 10th Mountain Division during World War II and serve as the general manager of Aspen in it's early days. He was also a skilled ski photographer and filmmaker.

Photo: Ski making
Making skis in the Groswold factory in Denver in the mid 1940s. Left to right: Steve Knowlton, Thor Groswold, Barney McLean holding the ski, Gene Gillis and Gordy Wren.

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