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Durrance won 17 national titles

6/14/2004

ASPEN, Colo. -- Dick Durrance, one of the first great
American skiers with so many national titles that the medal was
later recast in his image, died Sunday. He was 89.

Durrance died of natural causes in Carbondale, north of Aspen,
family members said.

Durrance, the first general manager of the Aspen Skiing Co. and
a key developer of the resort at Alta, Utah, won 17 national
championships and three Harriman Cups, North America's largest ski
race in the late 1930s.

He placed eighth in the slalom and 11th in the downhill at the
1936 Winter Olympics -- not bad for a native of Tarpon Springs, Fla.

"His real significance to American skiing was that he bridged
the gap between (the U.S.) and Europe, where the technique was far
more advanced," said John Fry, a former editor of Ski Magazine and
the former media president of the International Skiing History
Association. "What Dick brought was a racing turn that was ahead
of his time."

Durrance grew up in Florida but his family moved to Garmisch,
Germany, when he was 13. Five years later, in 1932, he won the
German Junior Alpine Championship.

The family returned to Florida, but Durrance entered Dartmouth
College in 1934 and kept on skiing. In 1936, Durrance won at
Sestrier, Italy, becoming the first American to dominate a major
European ski race.

"Watching him race was like watching a Ping-Pong ball change
directions," Steve Bradley, a fellow Dartmouth ski team member,
recalled in 1995. "You could set up a metronome and see the rhythm
this guy had. It was flawless."

Durrance later worked with Averill Harriman to expand Sun
Valley, Idaho, and moved on to do the same thing at Alta, where
ski-borne troops of the 10th Mountain Division were first trained
by Durrance and others.

His first films, "Sun Valley Ski Chase" and "Sun Valley
Holiday," were released in 1940.

"He was a little guy, and he was a giant," legendary ski
filmmaker Warren Miller said Sunday. "He was really at the
forefront of film making -- he changed a lot of lives without much
recognition."

In 1945, he and his wife, Miggs, and their two sons moved to
Denver to manufacture skis. He was offered a job two years later
managing the Aspen Ski Corp., the home of Ajax -- a mountain with
only three runs and an unfinished T-bar lift.

Durrance figured the quickest way for Aspen to achieve
credibility would be to host the 1950 FIS World Championships. He
contracted for new lifts, cut new trails and designed a race
course. The championships put Aspen on the map.

"At that time, there was almost nothing in Aspen," said Morten
Lund, founding editor of Skiing Heritage Journal. "I don't think
he could have done anything more for skiing than he did."

Dave Durrance said his father made an effort to turn Aspen into
a ski town for everyone.

"He was a real advocate of getting the town involved with
skiing, he created affordable season passes for people who lived
and worked in Aspen -- he wanted to make sure everyone had the
opportunity to learn how to ski," the younger Durrance said.

Durrance, whose biography is titled "The Man on the Medal,"
was preceded in death by his wife. He is survived by sons Dave and
Dick Jr.