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Editors Exchange Fire over Hall of Fame

Wherever there’s a sports hall of fame, controversy inevitably arises about who is elected and how. The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall ofFame (USSHoF) is no exception. The first criticism of the nomination and election process appeared in SKI Magazine only a dozen years after the Ski Hall of Fame was created in 1956. The Hall came under fire again in the 1990s for honoring developers rather than U.S. Ski Team athletes.

Its latest critic is John Stifter, the editor of Powder Magazine, who believes the opposite: that the highly organized, well-funded U.S. Ski Team dominates selection.  Stifter posted on his magazine’s Website a critique of the USSHoF after he attended its annual induction event in Seattle in April 2012. In his commentary, he noted the high number of deceased skiers on the Honor Roll, challenged its location in Ishpeming, Michigan, and questioned, from his research, the apparent priority of former U.S. Ski Team members over thehigh-profile skiers who are the heroes for today’s skiers and snowboarders. He noted the existence of a proposed new ActionSports Hall of Fame, encouraging it to honor skiers and snowboarders whom he believes are ignored or neglected by USSHoF.

Here’s a digest of what Stifter wrote:

While in Seattle in April 2012 to honor K2 Skis’ 50th anniversary and the induction of new honored members into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, I was, ironically, embarrassed by the sport of skiing. Blue hairs—-some humble and insightful, most not so much—-glad-handed one another as if they were at a political party fundraiser.

I sat in the cold, dark parking garage that was supposed to serve asa banquet hall for the 2012 induction ceremony, musing to myself what a joke it all was. It seemed as if inductees were either a former U.S. Ski Teamer or someone too old toeven accept their induction. What sport were we supposedly honoring? Because it sure as hell didn’t reflect the one I revere.

Aside from reading about Glen Plake’s induction in 2010, I had hardly heard of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, save for a failed attempt to visit the Hall in Ishpeming, Michigan. Yes, rather than Little Cottonwood Canyon or Jackson Hole or even Colorado’s Summit County, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame exists on the skiing hotbed of the Upper Peninsula (eh!). Fuming that this hall of fame “represents” our sport, I did some research and discovered these sad facts. Of the 385 members, seven out of ten are deceased. Shane Mc-Conkey and Glen Plake are the only non-U.S. Ski Team members inducted for their ski accomplishments from the last 25 years. Sorry, Daron Rahlves, you don’t count in this case. Non-U.S. Ski Teamers like Monty Atwater, Stein Eriksen, Dick Barrymore, and Warren Miller are members, but not Wayne Wong, Schmidt, Stump, Hattrup, Fisher, Morrison, Kreitler or Pollard. Excluded is a majority of the most nfluential skiers to ever buckle their boots and, arguably, kept the sport relevant and cool.

Despite it being the Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, only two snowboarders—Jake and Donna Burton Carpenter—have been elected. A U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame official told me that Craig Kelly is being considered. [Editor’s note: In early November 2012, the USSHoF announced its Class of 2012, which includes Wayne Wong and Craig Kelly; see page 11 of the Nov-Dec issue of Skiing Heritage. The selection process was well underway when Stifter contacted the Hall last summer, and was not influenced by his commentary.]

Fortunately, a more contemporary hall of fame is about to launch. The Action Sports Hall of Fame opened online on May 1, 2012. At Xhall.org you can view, nominate, and vote for surfers, skaters, snowboarders, moto and bike riders, and, of course, skiers. Its emphasis is on what’s happened the last 25 years. Action Sports Hall of Fame has the public nominate and then vote for athletes. On the first few pages alone, skiers can vote for Andrew McLean, Anselme Baud, Arne Backstrom, Bill Briggs, Bode Miller, Brad Holmes, and Candide Thovex—quite the age, ski discipline, and nationality range.

If the new Hall continues on its path toward legitimacy, it will require a physical space. Its founder Matt Savage has been in talks with San Diego’s Hall of Champions located in the storied Balboa Park. Plans call for interactive exhibits, like a device that would allow skiers to feel the thrill of tossing a cork 720. —John Stifter (Editor, Powder Magazine)

Heroes of all stripes

A response from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall Of Fame

Contrary to Mr. Stifter’s comments, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame (USSHoF) does recognize a broad spectrum of ski sports, including snowboarding. Hisvstatement that USSHoF has elected only two non-U.S. Ski Team members in the past 25 years is false. All kinds of inventors, resort pioneers, ski mountaineers and others have been elected who were never members of the Ski Team.

The USSHoF is located in Ishpeming, Michigan, the center of skiing in the late 19th century when ski jumping was king. It was here that the National Ski Association of America was founded in 1905. It is organized skiing’s birthplace, a fact noted in the print program he received at the induction in Seattle. Analogically, you might want to ask yourself why football’s hall of fame is in Canton, Ohio, and baseball’s hall is in the upstate New York backwater of Cooperstown. The reasons are historical, as they are with skiing.

Regarding Stifter’s criticism of the high percentage of deceased individuals on the Honor Roll, the Ski Hall of Fame was established in 1956 and has been nationally recognizing the sport’s heroes for more than 50 years. It should hardly be surprising that many honorees have passed on. The same could be said for anysports hall of fame that has operated for such a length of time. And like most sports halls of fame, USSHoF typically waits until a skier or snowboarder has completed most of his or her career before being honored.

One of those deceased skiers is one we mutually admire, the late Shane McConkey. Glen Plake was concerned when he learned of his election to the Ski Hall of Fame, initially believing that we thought his career was over. He changed his mind after being told that the rock band Metallica had recentlybeen elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Plake is one of the most enthusiastic inductees of the Class of 2010.

Regarding the Action Sports Hall of Fame, do you honestly think our top athletes will get more and better recognition in a museum that celebrates high-profile athletes, like the stars of NASCAR? In doing his research, Stifter should have taken the time to examine the rules for nominating and selecting people to the Hall of Fame, posted at our Website, www.skihall.com. There he would see that the door is wide open for the skiers whom he reveres. USSHoF has recognized extreme skiers Bill Briggs and Doug Coombs. Dahren Rahlves is in the Hall of Fame, contrary to what Stifter writes. The nomination process is open to anyone, and I would encourage Stifter and his readers to take the time to participate, instead of sitting back and complaining about who hnot been recognized. —Tom West (President, U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame)

The National Hall of Fame is not tied to a building

BY JOHN FRY

Mr. Stifter is either conflating or confusing two matters: a hall of fame and the qualities defined for admission to it; and the operation of a museum with challenges of building cost, physical location and attracting visitors. In this conflation or confusion, Stifter is not alone. Many people see the Hall of Fame as inseparable from the building in Ishpeming on Michigan’s northern peninsula, where the pictures and biographies of 382 Hall of Famers are displayed. Their choice and election, however, is separable.

The main process of choosing and electing new Hall of Famers happens independently. The process would exist even if there were no national ski museum. Each year, new honored members are on display at a fundraising dinner attended by more than 400 people—next year at Vail, this year in Seattle, the previous year at Sun Valley.

Meanwhile, I do not know Stifter, but he seems, by his own description, a shy sort—the kind of guy who prefers to stay in a dark corner at a boisterous cocktail party. Too bad for him. In Seattle he could have talked with Olympic gold medalist Phil Mahre; or met one of America’s greatest jumpers, Gus Raaum; or questioned freestyle pioneers Doug Pfeiffer and John Clendenin, making him a better-informed editor of his magazine.

There’s still a lot that could improve the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. When I was inducted in 1995, I annoyed the ski establishment by speaking and writing about history-makers who’d been ignored in the Ski Hall’s selection process. I cited, for example, plastic boot inventor Bob Lange and adventure skier Ned Gillette, neither of whom had yet been honored. But as an editor I wasn’t on the same track as Stifter, who seems to want a hall of fame of instant celebrity, primarily honoring people who recently jumped off cliffs and performed stunning feats while riding avalanches in the backcountry. Stifter is correct in noting that USSHoF has done little to honorsnowboarders. The sport was barely 25 years old at the time, and personally, I didn’t favor in 2007 the Ski Hall’s change of name to include snowboarding. The sport famously has its own culture, starting with its original, vehement opposition to coming under the governance of the International Ski Federation (FIS). That the Burton Carpenters, husband and wife, were the sport’s first inductees suggested to me an idea originating with and imposed by the honorees, not one inspired by the Ski Hall.

In Stifter’s hall of fame, 70 percent of its members—like Andrea Mead Lawrence and Howard Head—would be de-listed because they’re

dead. As for selection, by his process, if Stifter were running the Baseball Hall of Fame, active stars like Alex Rodriguez or Justin Verlander would already be in it. So would Barry Bonds, and so would Pete Rose, now barred from baseball, who would have been elected when he was an active player, and the disgrace of his wagering had not yet unfolded. Not for nothing, do I continually press for the Ski Hall of Fame, like football, basketball and hockey, not to elect people whose active careers are still in process.

As for physical ski halls of fame and museums, they are starved for money and attendance. The Canadian Ski Museum is shut down. The Beekley International Collection of Art and Literature is currently warehoused. When Powder Magazine founding editor Jake Moe recently visited the Norwegian Ski Museum at Morgedal, he was one of only 12 visitors in a week. Stifter’s putative hall-of-famers would  be celebrated in a part of southern California where snow doesn’t exist. —John Fry