Three Parkites named to ski hall of fame
September 18, 2015
Park City residents will be in the spotlight Sept. 24 when four new members are inducted into the Intermountain Ski Hall of Fame.
Parkites Meeche White, co-founder of the National Ability Center; David Hanscom, a popular author, teacher and Nordic race organizer; and Karen Huntoon Miller, a five-time moguls world champion, will be among an eclectic group to be inducted in a Thursday evening ceremony at the Utah Olympic Park.
The fourth inductee will be former Salt Lake City resident Mel Dalebout, inventor of the innovative alpine DaleBoot. Dalebout died in 2014; his daughter Lyn will accept the award on his behalf.
According to John Durham, chair of the Utah Ski Archives Hall of Fame Selection Committee, honorees will receive glass, framed plaques bearing their likenesses and synopses of their accomplishments and contributions. Duplicate plaques will be displayed in the Will and Jean Pickett Intermountain Ski Hall of Fame at the Alf Engen Ski Museum.
Meeche White tells the story of how, as a young college student studying therapeutic recreation in Florida, she heard about an internship at an adaptive-skiing program in Winter Park, Colo.
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"I loved skiing and I thought, ‘What a good way to get college credit but to go skiing for the winter," she said with a laugh. "Hey, I got a BS in leisure (studies), wouldn’t you know."
After teaching in Colorado, White and then-husband Peter Badewitz started looking for place with a need and a large-enough population base to support their own adaptive-skiing program. They settled on Salt Lake City.
"And then, from there, we looked at which ski areas had the best beginner teaching terrain, and folks directed us to Park City. And this was back in ’84 and we drove into town and I looked at the town and I said, ‘I’m sure that Park City has the best teaching terrain,’ which, in fact, they did."
That first winter White and Badewitz operated out of their living room with an electric typewriter and little else. With funding from the Disabled American Veterans, they taught about 50 ski lessons. Two years later, they moved into a 300-square foot space at Park City Mountain Resort.
When the International Special Olympics used Park City for its Winter Games alpine venue in 1985, White was asked to serve as chief of race. That helped launch another facet of her career — as an international ambassador for adaptive sports.
"Korea was the first place we went to do adaptive skiing instruction. And then Spain," she said. Since then she has helped establish programs in a number of other countries including Chile, El Salvador, Italy, Mexico and Thailand.
In 1988 the Park City Rotary Club honored White with its Citizen of the Year award.
In the following two decades the program exploded, both in scope and in enrollment. 2008 the number of National Ability Center programs had grown to 22 including cross-country skiing, snowboarding, sled hockey, bobsled, swimming, cycling, waterskiing, horseback riding and rafting. The number of annual lessons had reached about 19,000. And the organization had found a permanent home on a 26-acre site at Quinn’s Junction, complete with a new indoor riding arena, climbing wall, ropes course and lodge.
White stepped aside as CEO of the National Ability Center in 2008 but continues to represent the organization overseas. She still has a house in Park City but spends part of each year in Mahahual, Mexico, on the southern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Looking back to 1984, White admitted that she was a bit naïve in moving to a new town and trying to start a nonprofit organization from scratch.
"I just want to say that it was the Park City community — and the people in the community who were so supportive of what we were doing — and they made everything possible, and they always had my back. And so, as I think about accepting this award, it’s in honor of all the people in the Park City community who gave so much to the Ability Center."
You may know David Hanscom as the co-author of Wasatch Tours, a guide to Nordic skiing in the Wasatch Mountains that has sold between 15,000 and 20,000 copies since the first edition appeared in 1975.
Or you may know Hanscom as the organizer of the Wasatch Citizens Series, an annual cross-country race circuit that attracts more than 300 contestants each winter.
Or you may know him from his byline in The Park Record, to which he faithfully submits stories on every race.
"By blending his passion for cross-country skiing with a deep appreciation of the Wasatch Mountains’ backcountry, Dave Hanscom played a pivotal role in putting Nordic skiing in Utah on world-class footing," says the plaque that will hang in the hall of fame.
A native of Portland, Me., Hanscom grew up in the paper-mill town of Rumford, on the Androscoggin River in western Maine. In high school he competed in four skiing disciplines downhill, slalom, cross-country and jumping and, during his senior year, finished in the top 10 in Maine in all four events. That year he also finished seventh in Nordic combined at the junior nationals in Yakima, Wash.
After high school he enrolled at Middlebury College in Vermont.
"I went to Middlebury with delusions of grandeur thinking I’d ski four events," he said, "but my coach said, ‘Naw, Hanscom, you’re a Nordic ape.’" As a junior at Middlebury, he won the eastern title in cross-country and nordic combined.
"(After) Middlebury, I had a big decision to make," he said. "Do I become a skier or a scholar? And I decided I’d go to grad school and not try out for the Olympics, which were the next year, in ’64."
After earning a masters and a doctorate in computer-related fields from Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, Dave and his wife, Mary, headed west in 1970, looking for work. A friend suggested that he visit Salt Lake City.
"And I said, ‘Well, why would I want to do that? I want to be where I can ski.’
"He said, ‘What do you mean? There’s great skiing.’
"I said, ‘Aw, c’mon, Salt Lake’s in the desert.’
"And he said, ‘No. no, no. Haven’t you ever heard of Alta?
"And I said, ‘Well, yeah, kind of, not really.’"
Hanscom soon found out. He visited Salt Lake City, took a job with Sperry Univac, then one of eight major American computer companies, and joined the Wasatch Mountain Club. He was soon traipsing all over the backcountry on his Middlebury College racing skis.
Then, in February 1972, he was skiing with a group in the Wasatch when there was an avalanche. One man was caught in the slide and almost buried but survived.
"That kind of rang a bell: This is a little more dangerous than I was counting on," he said. "So I started thinking about putting together a book on how to cross-country ski and how to stay safe."
Two years later he was introduced to another would-be author who had a similar idea. He and Alexis Kelner collaborated on "Wasatch Tours," which was published in 1976. He and Kelner also started teaching safety classes for the Wasatch Mountain Club.
Today, several editions later, "Wasatch Tours" is being printed in three volumes: the first one focuses on beginner tours in the Wasatch plus avalanche safety, first aid, etc. The second discusses more advanced tours in the northern Wasatch and the third dwells on tours in the Wasatch south of Mt. Timpanogos.
Hanscom also kept his hand in cross-country track races, both as a competitor and as a race official and event organizer. In 2002 he was in charge of the cross-country volunteers at Soldier Hollow for the Olympic Winter Games and was chief of timing for the Paralympics.
In the mid-1990s he was offered a chance to take over the Wasatch Citizens Series.
"I said, ‘Well, I’ll try it for a couple of years.’ And here I am 20 years later, which is great now because, being retired, I’ve got plenty of time. I can put a lot of effort into getting sponsors, setting up schedules, getting the race crew up to speed and all that. It’s worked out well."
Twenty years ago, he said, a typical race attracted about 30 or 40 competitors. Now that number fluctuates between 250 and 330 racers.
Meanwhile, Hanscom’s career took him from Sperry Univac to the University of Utah, where he was hired to run the undergraduate computer science and computer engineering programs. He retired in 2007 after 24 years at the University.
"It was a good run," he said. "I really enjoyed what I was doing."
Karen Huntoon Miller
Freestyle skiing in the 1970s was a bit like snowboarding in the 1990s — a sport hanging around the fringes of respectability without the blessing of the International Olympic Committee, or just about any other organization, for that matter.
"Oh, it was crazy," said Karen Huntoon Miller, thinking back to that era. "But it was fun. I mean, I traveled all over Europe. I traveled all over the United States. I met a great group of people. Really, really fun people. We partied a lot. You know, it was the ’70s. Everybody partied a lot in the ’70s. And it was just fun. I mean, you went around and you went skiing and someone paid you."
The daughter of a Vermont ski instructor, Karen Huntoon (she added Miller to her name when she married Tim Miller in 1983) started skiing at age two on a tiny hill called High Pond near her home in Rutland, Vt. Then, two years later, her father landed a weekend job teaching skiing at a new resort, Killington, about 20 miles away.
Huntoon honed her skills at Killington and started to compete in local races. She learned all the angles in downhill and slalom but not geometry.
"I don’t even know if I can say this, but I was kicked off the high school team because I flunked geometry. The coach was my geometry teacher, and it was one of those classes where you teach yourself with a book and the teacher just sits up there in the front of the room and watches you. And I couldn’t figure it out, so they threw me off the ski team."
After many years as an alpine racer, she was introduced to a new discipline, if that’s the right word, by her brother.
"When I was about 23, my brother said, ‘Hey, there’s this new sport out there called freestyle. All you have to do is learn a couple of tricks — ballet tricks — you already know how to ski moguls, and do a spread eagle off a jump, and you can be a freestyler.’"
To compete in freestyle, she said, you had to be proficient in ballet, aerials and moguls.
"So he taught me seven ballet tricks I had to learn to get in. … Then he taught me how to do a spread eagle off a jump, and then I skied the moguls," she said.
"So in the moguls you could jump in the air but you could not go upside down. They wanted you to jump but it wasn’t mandatory. Then the ballet was the ballet seven tricks at least. And then (in) the aerials there would be people doing back flips and front flips, but the majority of it, I think, was just stand-up jumps. There were a few people that went upside down."
Although skiers were expected to compete in all three disciplines, they could win individual titles in each. And Huntoon relied on her blazing speed in the moguls to dominate that event in the 1970s. Beginning at Heavenly Valley in 1974 she won five professional world championships in seven years.
By today’s standards the prize money wasn’t huge. But she wasn’t complaining.
"I probably made $10,000 or $20,000 a year. But everything was paid for. Like, if I went to Europe, my sponsors would pay for my airplane ticket, and my hotels, and my food. I mean, it was better than waiting on tables."
In spite of or maybe because of its reputation, freestyle skiing had a big following. She said that competitions could attract 10,000 or 15,000 spectators. She also appeared in three editions of "ABC’s Wide World of Sports," two Warren Miller ski movies, and (as a stuntwoman) in Universal Studios’ "The Return of Maxwell Smart."
A Park City resident since 1973, Karen Huntoon Miller now lives in a quiet corner of ParkWest Village with her husband, Tim, a local heating/air conditioning contractor, and three dogs. They also spend many weekends at a house they own in Moab.
Miller said freestyle isn’t the same sport as it was 40 years ago. Ballet is no longer a sanctioned discipline. The aerials of her day were kids’ play compared to today’s. And even the moguls are different.
"Because the skis are so much shorter. I mean, when I was on the freestyle circuit, I used to ski on a 190 (centimeter ski) in the moguls. You can hardly buy a 190 anymore. So it’s just a different type of skiing that people are doing now," she said.
"It’s just evolved, is what it is. (And) they make more money. A lot more money."
In his self-published autobiography, "The Uphill Racer," Dalebout recalled how he discovered skiing on a trip to Alta with friends during Christmas break in 1947. At that time he was a member of the football team at the University of Utah. He said he dropped out of school for the winter quarter to become a lift operator but returned in the spring to finish his degree a BA in marketing on time in 1949.
By 1952, Dalebout had become an accomplished ski racer good enough to be named second alternate to the U.S. team for the 1952 Olympic Winter Games in Oslo, Norway (which were dominated by a young Norwegian, Stein Eriksen).
Dalebout was also a lifelong inventor. "I see a problem and try to invent something to fix it," he told the Salt Lake Tribune’s Mike Gorrell in 2008. His designs included a car-wash gun, a wheelchair seat pad, and a ski pole that flexed at the grip. He told Gorrell that he was working on a better aluminum bat, to be known as the DaleBat.
"It was an interesting thing," said his daughter, Lyn, in a telephone interview. "He just was driven internally by this creativity that was always there."
In the late 1950s, Lyn said, her father also "designed and built our exquisite futuristic family home in 1957 beneath Mt. Olympus in Salt Lake City, Utah, based on the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright." She said her father designed the house on two levels stepping down to the creek that ran down from Mt. Olympus.
"And that’s where he did all of his design work — sitting out on the porch, dreaming up his boots while watching the water go by."
In the late 1960s, Dalebout channeled his creativity into designing a better boot for alpine skiing. After testing several prototypes, at age 42 he quit his steady job as a sales engineer at Inland Steel to begin production of the DaleBoot, which had a magnesium outer shell and the first foam-injected inner boot. He switched to a plastic shell in 1977.
"That’s a pretty big deal — to start your own company with a strange invention when you have two kids in high school and you’re leaving your stable job," Lyn said.
Among those who embraced the DaleBoot in the 1970s were Park City freestyle skiers Bob Theobald and Karen Huntoon Miller.
"He was my boot sponsor for a long time," Miller said. "And he was just an inventive guy, always changing things. A lot of people skied on his boots, ’cause they were right in Salt Lake, so you could just — whatever was wrong you could go get fixed."
By 1977, Dalebout wrote in his autobiography, sales had reached 10,000 pairs of boots.
Over the years, Dalebout filed 14 patents on his boot designs. In 1982 he won a lawsuit against several other manufacturers for infringing on his patent for the injection-molded inner boot. In 1985 he sold another patent, on the detachable, adjustable-cant outsole (replaceable heel and toe pieces), to Salomon.
The most unusual use of his injection system, he wrote, was in a kicking shoe for NFL placekicker Charlie Gogolak. "Since the shoe hadn’t been approved by the NFL, he wouldn’t let anyone see it and carried it around with him," he wrote.
In 2007 Dalebout sold the company and retired, first moving to Jackson Hole, Wyo., and then to Sedona, Ariz.
One of his last inspirations, Lyn said, was to modify a device he was forced to use in his old age.
"When he finally had to go to a cane … he somehow created a (rubber) bottom for it that had much more flexibility so it could kind of go up and down."
Dalebout died in March 2014. DaleBoot USA continues to make boots in Salt Lake City and sell them in North America and several European countries.
The induction ceremony will be held Thursday, Sept. 24, at the Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center, Utah Olympic Park, beginning with a reception at 6 p.m. The ceremony itself will begin at 8 p.m.