20-04-03 dick dorworth and pete patterson.jpg

Dick Dorworth (left) greets Sun Valley’s Pete Patterson during Patterson’s Sun Valley Ski Hall of Fame induction ceremony marking his memorable U.S. Ski Team career, in Feb. 2012.

For many years, Dick Dorworth wrote well-read columns in the Idaho Mountain Express that centered on his skiing and mountain exploits, and in general his views of life.

Here, in excerpts from his Nov. 26, 2010 Express column, Dorworth wrote about his record-setting Diamond Sun run, along with the genesis of his speed skiing quest, and how it unfolded over several years.

“In the (Northern Hemisphere) summer of 1955, some of America’s best ski racers were training on the (southern hemisphere) winter snows of Portillo, Chile, when their training regimen veered off into the arcane world of speed skiing.

“This esoteric activity is to competitive skiing something like Bonneville is to automobile racing. One of the racers, Dartmouth’s Ralph Miller, set an unofficial world speed skiing record of nearly 109 mph, unofficial because his speed was timed by hand watches over 50 meters rather than by more precise timing instrumentation over 100 meters.

“Among the participants in these speed runs were two racers with close Sun Valley ties, Marvin Melville and Ron Funk. Melville (a two-time Olympian) owns a second home in Sun Valley and still skis regularly (and well) on Bald Mountain.

“Funk set an unofficial record of his own by falling at more than 90 mph while attached to his skis with bear trap/long thong bindings that do not release. He was seriously injured and gained a certain notoriety for the highest-speed fall in skiing history.

“Ron was not enamored of either the reputation or the leg that never again was quite the same, and he worked very hard to overcome the limitations of both. Though he has never been accorded the recognition he deserves for it, Funk was instrumental in changing the future of speed skiing and giving it a public face it never had before.

“In Jan. 1963, Funk, who lived for many years in Sun Valley and is well known here, convinced me to join him and a few others in running what turned out to be the last Diamond Sun race on Bald Mountain.

“This rarely-held event was likely the fastest standard race (starting gate and finish gate and nothing in between) ever run anywhere in the world. It is the fastest I know of.

“Tammy Dix and I set new records (2:21 for me and 2:35 for Tammy) from the top of Baldy by the east end of the ski patrol hut to about where the bear resides in front of River Run Lodge, and Ron, despite a major mistake, broke the old record in 2:31.

“I had never before gone that fast on a pair of skis (estimated at 80 mph coming out of Canyon), and the experience helped give me the confidence or at least the bravado to allow Funk to talk me into joining him in returning to Portillo with the goal of setting a new speed skiing record.

“Retiring from speed skiing on a fall and a broken leg just didn’t sit right with Ron and he wanted to set it right. I had my own reasons for wanting a world record, and among the consequences of that desire was that within a couple of years, I better understood my friend’s feeling of not wanting to quit speed skiing with a fall and a broken leg.

“Ron and I went to Chile that summer, teamed up with American ski racer C.B. Vaughan, who was working on the Portillo Ski Patrol, and spent more than three months of effort, excitement and exhaustion seeking the record.

“During that time the official record of 101 mph was bumped up to 104 mph by an Austrian named Alfred Plangger in Cervinia, Italy, making our endeavor 3 mph more difficult.

“With Ron as organizer, public relations master (not Ron’s strongest skill), counselor and mentor, we had the full cooperation of the Chilean Ski Federation, which had the only electronic timing apparatus and qualified people to operate it in Chile to make our runs official.

“Ron had slain his demons of the fall of ‘55 by making some runs above 90 mph before he broke his leg again in a giant slalom race. His speed skiing days were over but he dedicated himself to organizing our efforts, and on the last day that Portillo was open that season, C.B. and I set a new official world record of just under 107 mph.

Good stuff. Fine memories. Our record helped raise awareness of speed skiing in the American ski world.”

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