Otto Tschudi has quite the alpine resume. Back in the 1960s, at the age of 14, Tschudi received his first national team nod, joining the Norwegian ski team and going on to compete for his home nation in two Olympic games. Tschudi eventually found his way to American soil through a meeting with Willy Scheffler at his Kitzbuehl debut, where he finished 10th at the age of 19. Scheffler, an icon in U.S. Skiing, then head of the University of Denver Ski Team recruited him to join the ski team in 1969. After accepting the offer, Tschudi won the Norwegian national championship right out of high school and left for the U.S. He went on to win five NCAA titles in the downhill, the slalom, and the combined.
After wrapping his collegiate career and adding a NorAm slalom title to his list of accolades, Tschudi joined the World Pro Ski Tour in 1972, where he continued to compete for another 10 years. After his retirement in 1982, Tschudi continued his involvement in sport by utilizing his business finesse to promote growth and development of alpine in both the United States and Europe.
It’s fair to say Tschudi has experienced and competed on almost every circuit that alpine ski racing has to offer. Much has changed in the sport since Tschudi first cut his teeth in the Kitzbuehel slalom in 1968, but one thing is for certain, Tschudi says. The conflict between skiing institutions in North America, the kind that points blame and takes sides, will take the sport nowhere.
“At this point in the game, it reminds me a little bit of politics,” says Tschudi. “The conversation has gotten very polarized, and that’s not what we need. We need to be more all-encompassing, all of us together. I know it’s easy to say because there’s always a lot of personalities and opinions, but if you really want to change things, that’s the way it has to go.”
Ski racing, he says, is an incredibly nuanced sport, and Tschudi recognizes that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all program for every North American athlete. All facets of the sport, from the regional level to the national level, can and should be doing more to improve culture and develop better athletes. But, in order to move in that direction, he believes the shift must happen from the top of all participating institutions, including the U.S. Ski Team, Alpine Canada, the NCAA, regional feeders (such as clubs and academies), and the World Pro Ski Tour. The burden of change does not fall on any one organization’s shoulders.
“This direction comes from the top. The top has to want it,” explained Tschudi. “They have to see the picture and put it all together. Canada is an interesting example. If you go into Alpine Canada’s website, the NextGen Team, their development team, has 12 people, and out of those 12, seven were racing (NCAA) D1. It’s very clear that they want to change things in Canada, where the school system is actually working more with the ski team, but obviously that’s not going to happen overnight.”
Tschudi views alpine ski racing much like he does business. In order for a culture shift to happen, everyone within the company needs to be on the same page, but movement in the “right” direction starts with leadership from the top. If leadership can project a more “united we stand, divided we fall” outlook, the door opens, and necessary collaborative conversations can take place.
For example, when it comes to the NCAA debate, Tschudi recognizes that the NCAA circuit is not for everyone, but D1 racing has brought out world class athletes who contribute to the sport. In his eyes, why not look at all of the material available to build and develop strong nations of racers and, in turn, potentially help the overall culture of the sport?
“I’m convinced there are many kids, that quit because there isn’t the right ambiance or atmosphere,” said Tschudi. “I’m sad because there was loss of talent. Look at what’s happened to America relative to other places in the world. This is the land of opportunity and it still is, even though there is a lot of stuff in society right now that makes it not look like that. It’s the same (in skiing), we have the opportunity to make skiing in North America much better if we all start working and walking in the same direction. Don’t look back, look forward.”
Tschudi is asking questions like: How can we make the NorAms in the U.S. stronger and better? And, how can we make the sport more fun and exciting for athletes and spectators? Rather than asking, what can the NCAA do better or what can the national teams do better? He wants to know what the collective ‘we’ can do to create an overall better system and in turn, uncover talent that otherwise might be lost
His ideas range from committing to long-term goal-setting in all areas of the sport — not just development but in exposure, marketing, and partnerships — to creating a committee with top leaders from all institutions that can build out a cohesive race schedule encompassing all North American entities that considers timing and as well as geographical proximity. Finding long-term sponsors paired with long-term contracts for ski areas hosting races, freeing up energy to make the quality of the events better.
If he’s learned anything through his ski racing and business experience, there are two things to look at when solving a problem: First, he says, is finding the issues and loopholes in an idea when it’s brought to the table. Second, identify the elements that might propel it forward. Identify inhabitants and accelerators, he says, then proceed to plan.
As the ski racing community faces increasing unknowns, and the landscape of sport and international competition changes drastically in the face of new and uncertain obstacles surrounding travel and the coronavirus pandemic, what may be a problem for some may not be a problem for others. But the most important thing, Tschudi says, is finding a route to solutions together. He believes it is vital that North American entities come together to realize the opportunity they have to build stronger, more stable programs.
“People need to sit down in a room and agree strong enough to get the results, pushing differences and egos aside in order to make it better,” said Tschudi. “If you’re going to build something, agree on an end goal and make a plan behind it to get there. Very often, you don’t know things that might be great before they are here.”