Long Queue for U.S. Hall of Fame

Next winter, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame will induct up to eight new honored members, selected from a ballot of 15 nominees. But the ballot of 15 was chosen from a list of 71 skiers nominated by their friends and family. It took two rounds of voting, by a selection committee of 25 chaired by Jeff Leich of the New England Ski Museum, to break ties. Fewer than 11 percent of those nominated will be chosen by the electorate, numbering about 365 ski-sport veterans. The odds are long, and not likely to improve.

The field wasn’t always this crowded. Long-time ski-show promoter and Hall of Famer Bernie Weichsel recalls that when he was elected chairman in 2009, “We had to beg people to submit nominations. The Hall simply wasn’t very well known.”

Between 1985 and 2008, there were 14 years when the Hall found four or fewer inductees. At that point the selection committee instituted new criteria, and nominations began to grow after 2011, when the Hall partnered with ISHA for a gala event in Sun Valley. By organizing a reunion of professional freestyle skiers, Weichsel boosted attendance at the Hall’s induction banquet to about 600, and drew national attention. Weichsel also promoted the Hall at trade shows and ski resorts. One result: Baby boomers in the ski business began nominating their friends.

During his tenure on the selection committee (beginning around 2005), U.S. Ski Team communications chief Tom Kelly made sure that champion athletes got nominated. That’s a rich source: With the addition of freestyle and snowboarding to the FIS schedule, and new events in alpine and nordic competition, the number of medalists and World Cups has tripled. For instance, at the 1984 Olympics, American skiers won five medals of 87 available (5.7 percent). In 2018, Americans took home 14 medals of 255 awarded (5.4 percent). That’s triple the number of medalists who will eventually find their way into the Hall of Fame. Pro freestylers and prominent snowboarders also build the count of Hall nominees.
According to newly elected Hall chairman David Ingemie, the board of directors wants to limit nominations to people with national, as opposed to regional, influence. Another challenge is that people who are well known for leading large organizations—corporate executives, for instance—tend to pull more votes than innovators, regardless of their universal influence, who worked behind the scenes. For them, the odds are long indeed.

—Seth Masia

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