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Thursday, March 20, 2014
Olympic medalists Phil and Steve Mahre return to Keystone for reunion
Joe Kellie / Special to the Daily
Before there was a Bode Miller, Lindsey Vonn or Mikaela Shiffrin, there were the Mahre twins of Yakima, Wash. In the late ’70s and early ’80s they were on top of their game in the Alpine world, claiming numerous World Cup honors between them.
Phil Mahre alone claimed six consecutive World Cup overall top-three season finishes from 1978-1984 and was first overall from ’81-’83. He’s currently third on the list of Americans with the most World Cup wins with 27, behind only Miller and Vonn. Likely the pair’s biggest shared accomplishment was finishing Nos. 1 and 2 in slalom at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, then part of Yugoslavia. Phil took gold and Steve silver. Steve also took gold in GS in the ’82 Winter Games, and Phil claimed silver in 1980 in slalom.
But for the pair it was never about competition between each other, Steve said.
“We didn’t compete against one another; we competed with one another.”
He said it was always a “keep it in the family kind of thing.” They would look at a course together and give each other pointers, he said.
After the pair finished their pro careers in 1984, they decided on Keystone Resort to set up shop and start the Mahre Training Center — a mostly adult-oriented ski camp that used the Mahres’ coach’s philosophies to teach all levels of skiing.
“Keystone was young at the time. They were the first ones that reached out,” Phil said.
For 20 years from 1984-2004, Keystone hosted the camps a few times a year before the Mahres moved it to its current home in Deer Valley, Utah, in 2004.
Scheduled to be in Vail later this week for the annual Legends of Giant Slalom competition — part of the American Ski Classic — the pair came up to Keystone Tuesday and Wednesday for a two-day reunion and some skiing with close to 30 of their former program coaches.
“We thought it would be great to get back together with all the coaches,” Phil said. “It’s been 30 years and we all look exactly the same, at least I think we do.”
“It was really good to see a lot of the guys,” Steve added.
Phil said they had not seen most of the group for 10 to 15 years.
“A lot of people traveled great distances,” Phil said, “Vermont, Pittsburgh, Kentucky, all over the place. It was really neat to see them all again.
The group included longtime and some current Keystone employees, among them near-90-year-old Ina Gillis — Keystone’s longest-tenured, still-active employee who even joined the group for a few runs. The group reminisced over dinners and shared the slopes for two days of skiing. Phil and Steve said that, like family, the group had a special place in their hearts.
Longtime training center coach Russ Strickler said Phil’s and Steve’s dedication to the camp was part of what made it special.
“That was the cool thing about the camp,” he said. “They were at everyone of them.”
During a lunch break Wednesday, Phil and Steve talked about how much racing has changed since their competition days.
“It’s become more equipment driven,” Phil said. “It used to be more about finesse; now if you don’t have the best equipment on your feet, you’re at a disadvantage.”
He said the speeds are much higher now and the courses more technical. When they were racing gate placement, for example, was more arbitrary; now it’s calculated to match ski capabilities.
“The gates are strategically placed, not sporadic,” he said. “Small mistakes are huge mistakes. The sport is more precise than it used to be.”
Now 56, the two men clearly still have the competitive spirit headed into the Legends race in Vail on Thursday. Steve said he likes his chances.
“In theory, I should have the advantage on him now. I’m younger than him by 4 minutes.”
As for their camp, Phil said they plan to keep it going for at least a few more years in Deer Valley. When they turn 60, “we’ll see,” he said.