Worthington is worth his weight in gold | ParkRecord.com

Worthington is worth his weight in gold

PAUL ROBBINS, Special to the Record

Parkite Trace Worthington was a high-flyer during nearly a decade on the U.S. Ski Team, and now he’s in the highest perch (well, the highest here on Earth) in the land of snowsports: the U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.

Worthington, joined by former Olympic moguls king Jonny Moseley and former Worlds alpine medalist (and three-time winner) Julie Parisien, was inducted this week into the Hall of Fame at the mega-trade show put on annually by Snowsport Industries America.

It was the 34th induction of honored members, but the first time the Hall has staged the ceremony outside of its home in Ishpeming, Mich. The weather was a lot nicer in Vegas…but on a day like induction day, everything was emotionally warm, anyway.

Moseley started it off and then came Parisien, who’s perhaps three months from delivering her fourth child (four kids under the age of 6 – think about it when you’re having problems buckling your boots). And "Trace the Ace" was the cleanup hitter.

Decked out in a spiffy new Tommy Hilfiger suit ("It’s nice to have sponsors," he smirked), and looking like he had a job interview after breakfast, Worthington, 37, did a brief trip down Memory Lane, recalling his start in freestyle after moving from Minnesota to Winter Park, Colo., assaulting a trampoline with Chris Seemann, existing almost solely on "nine or 10 Pepsis" daily ("We thought we were rehydrating ourselves," he said with a grin)…and then wanting to be like aerialist Kris Feddersen, who became his teammatre on the World Cup and at the Olympic and – after their retirement – his partner in the highly popular splash pool shows at Utah Olympic Park.

Worthington thanked the Hall of Fame, which has just added snowboarding to its realm, for helping preserve the competition side of skiing as well as the recreational and resort management side.

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"I always looked back. I wanted to see who started my sport," he said. "I hope some day I can be an inspiration to the kids looking to get into my sport."

Look up to Worthington? Why not? Everyone had to look up to him – higher than 50 feet – when he was doing his flips and twists until some bizarre malady unhinged his nonpareil style and competitive fire. The first American to complete a jump with four twists and three flips, he remains the lone skier to have won two gold medals at any freestyle World Championships.

He and Wayne Hilterbrand moved to Park City in the early 90s – Hilterbrand as U.S. freestyle head coach, Worthington as young hotshot looking to improve his training opportunities, which would help him improve his world standing. As he said in an interview with Park City Magazine, "After I tested the jumps at UOP, I started looking for a house and ended up buying in Silver Springs in ’93. I paid $160,000," Worthington said, adding with a laugh, "and today that might get me a storage shed."

Worthington credits Hilterbrand with being the best coach he ever had.

Worthington was at the top of his game as the 1995 season ended, having pocketed the aerials and combined titles at the World Championships in LaClusaz, France, as well as the World Cup combined and aerials titles. By the start of the next season, everything was coming unglued: something was laying siege to his internal gyro. His unflagging confidence and inner fire, which spurred him – particularly with Austrian star Christian Rijavec – to push higher and farther, and spin faster, was under assault. In the end, he retired on the eve of the ’97 season, preferring to let U.S. coaches spend more time with others on the Ski Team than with trying to help him solve whatever demon was tap-dancing inside of him.

Worthington’s report card: 37 World Cup wins (10 aerials, 27 combined), six World Cup titles (three in combined, two overall and that ’95 aerials crown), three World Championships (two gold, one bronze), 1986 World Junior Championships aerials gold, 11 U.S. titles. Welcome to the Hall of Fame, Mr. Worthington.

He learned of his selection by a nationwide panel in a phone call from Bill Marolt, president and CEO of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. "You know when the top guy calls, it’s important," Worthington laughed in an interview apart from the sold-out induction breakfast. "When Bill calls, it gets my attention in a hurry…

"I was wondering, ‘Uh oh, did something go wrong? Did I forget something? What’s this about?’ You just never know…and then Bill told me what it was and I let out a deep breath."

He hadn’t thought about the Hall of Fame because he didn’t know a lot about it although Nikki Stone, another longtime Park City resident – and the women’s aerials champion at those ’95 Worlds and for the World Cup season, who added the 1998 Olympic gold medal among her other honor – was elected in 2002.

"You know the Ski Hall exists," he said, "but I never thought about it. Maybe you wonder if you could make it if your career was good enough, but I really never thought that much because I didn’t know how people got selected…and, really, I closed the books on my career 10 years ago. Now, though, this has made me think back over a lot of things, reminiscing about my career.

"But, Bill wasn’t here when I was competing [Marolt was athletics director for the University of Colorado, 1984-96], so he really caught me. But it’s great, a huge honor for me and I’m proud of what I achieved. It’s definitely cool."

Definitely cool. Just like Trace the Ace. Welcome to the Hall, Mr. Worthington.