Gary Black Jr., the longtime publisher and CEO of Ski Racing International, died on a bluebird February day at his home in Sun Valley, Idaho, in the heart of the 2016-17 ski season. “GB”, as we called him, was the guiding force behind all the work we do at SkiRacing.com, and he was certain to instill in his staff some critical principles for success prior to his passing – principles we plan to uphold as we now carry the torch of keeping the world informed on the sport.
The most important key to successful journalistic endeavors for GB was establishing relationships. In this age of social media and text messages, he was insistent that his staff pound the pavement, get out to World Cups but also local junior races, in order to hear from everyone involved in the sport. If face-to-face contact wasn’t possible, he believed a phone call was the next best thing, often with no particular agenda in mind. Whether it was an appointment with FIS President Gian Franco Kasper or a random conversation with a gate keeper at a Vermont Cup, GB always encouraged his employees to value the opinions of those in the arena in order to better our sport.
His mission was to create a first-rate media organization to give the sport of ski racing the recognition it truly deserves. He instilled the professional qualities he acquired from his time at the Baltimore Sun in all of us. That septuagenarian really kept us on our toes to his very last days, always asking the tough questions to initiate discussion because he always wanted to make sure we were thinking things through to produce our very best work. It’s no surprise, then, that he was honored by the International Skiing History Association (ISHA) with a lifetime achievement award on April 6, 2017.
We’ll all fondly recall and do our best to embrace his work hard-play hard philosophy, though we could rarely keep up. It is tough to beat our work environment, and that’s what kept him engaged and will keep us going, motivated by the spectacular natural playground in which we cover the sport.
But enough about us. Industry leaders and key players also reached out to reflect on the impact of Gary Black Jr.’s life and now share those thoughts with the publication into which he put so much of his time and soul.
Tim Etchells, former editor at Ski Racing
Gary and I first met not long after he’d brought Ski Racing to the Mad River Valley in Vermont. He was looking for an editor. We had both started our careers as “cops and courts” reporters –newspaper guys – so we bonded pretty quickly.
I had been a skier since I was a kid, and had two young ski racers in the family at the time, so I thought I knew something about the sport. But I was soon, and would remain, in awe of Gary’s knowledge of and passion for ski competition, from how to make a turn, to tuning skis, to the lore of the sport, to the extremely complicated, multi-lingual, intercontinental politics. I learned a lot.
With 20 print issues a year – weekly during ski season – we kept busy. And our many talented writers and photographers captured some amazing moments, at World Cup races, World Championships and Olympic Games. And then there was our annual trek to Las Vegas for the Ski Industries America (SIA) trade show. Where we put out a newspaper. In Las Vegas. Every day for a week. Inside a mobile home. Which was inside a convention center. Did I say it was in Las Vegas?
Gary aspired to be on what you have to call the bleeding edge of technology, and Ski Racing was an early adopter of digital publishing tools and electronic communication via e-mail and the Web. I can remember our shared excitement when I signed us up for the domain name skiracing.com and built out SRI’s first website. I can also remember my horror, a few months later, when I realized we’d created an insatiable, copy-devouring monster, and we all now had second jobs.
Gary had an infectious enthusiasm for our mission at Ski Racing. He enjoyed nothing more than being at a big event. I often stayed home to keep the issues coming out, but recall being part of the team at the 1989 Vail World Championships, and the magical Winter Games in Lillehammer in 1994, where Tommy Moe, Diann Roffe and Picabo Street became Olympic legends on the slopes at Kvitfjell.
My last trip with Gary was to the World Cup Finals in Bormio, Italy, in 2008. The U.S. Ski Team was wrapping up a pretty great year, with Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn both winning overall titles, and Ted Ligety taking the giant slalom globe. One night in Bormio, Gary and I had dinner with Lindsey and her then-husband and coach, Thomas Vonn. I’d like to tell you I remember what we talked about and every course we ate. Gary would, but I’m afraid I don’t.
What I do remember is that Gary selected the perfect wine, as always. And I especially recall his evident delight at sharing a glass and a meal and a lot of laughs, and talking about the sport he loved with folks who might have loved it almost as much as he did. And there was more conversation as we walked back to our hotel on a cold starry night in a beautiful mountain town. We wound past ancient stone buildings, our footsteps and our voices echoing in the narrow, nearly empty cobblestone streets.
So, thanks, Gary, for that and all the unforgettable moments. I’ll miss you terribly.
Bill McCollom, regular Ski Racing contributor
Thinking of you, Gary… In the summer of 1998, I received a call from Gary Black. The ensuing conversation ultimately changed the trajectory of my career. I’d always had an interest in writing, but I never had the confidence to imagine how this could possibly constitute a career path. Therefore, Gary’s invitation to meet in Waitsfield piqued my interest. I had previously met Gary on numerous occasions, but I can’t say that I knew him. That soon changed with an offer to join the editorial family at Ski Racing International.
Before long I was up to my waist in proofing sheets, frantically trying to make deadlines, trying to reach contacts, and at the same time bantering with Jody, Pino, Hank, BAK, Jen, Tim, and Gary, who generally left his door open, so he could interject, as Necessary, with diatribes generally directed at the FIS. Thanks to the guidance of Gary, all those pieces came together to produce a legendary product. He knew what he wanted and how to achieve it. That was primarily due to the hiring of talented staff, and then treating them as his own family.
That could not have been more evident than at our spring planning trips to Sun Valley. Mornings were spent chasing Gary down the unrelenting vertical faces of Warm Springs, and then we’d assemble for planning meetings. First class dining along with generous quantities of margaritas was next on the agenda, which generally led to late night storytelling, and a hair-raising drive back to our lodging with Pino at the wheel. We’d wake up the following morning and do it all over again.
Gary was bigger than life, as was manifested in his immensely generous spirit, boundless reserves of energy, booming laugh, and commitment to doing things right. Whether it was scheming how to assemble the winning JANSS Cup team, organizing our international ski racing junkets, or simply producing the most thorough and insightful look at the world of ski racing, life was an unending adventure. I feel blessed to have been a part of this wonderful ride. We’ll miss you, Gary.
Steve Porino, former Ski Racing employee, current NBC Sports commentator
On the 26th of February, the world of ski racing lost Gary Black Jr., and it’s fair to say our sport is left without its patron saint. Gary was scribe and CEO of Ski Racing Magazine, a small rag he bought back in 1984. He was not seeking a job, rather he had a passion to unleash. He grew that rag into the bible of our sport, treating our niche game of skiing with the attention that made so many feel major league. He breathed life into so many careers, he could have been named coach of the century.
For me, Gary Black helped me find my voice 20 years ago. Without him, I would not be sitting in this chair. Simply, my life and our sport would not be what it is today without Gary Black. And if you’re wondering, I will be mixing myself a margarita tonight the way he mixed all of ours: Two parts tequila, forget the rest.
Edie Thys Morgan, regular Ski Racing contributor
Excerpt from ‘The Gary Black Effect’ on Racer eX
I got to know Gary a bit as an athlete, when I had the honor of being regularly covered in the pages of Ski Racing. Our niche sport owed every bit of coverage between Olympic Games to Ski Racing, and to Gary Black’s insistence on chronicling the competitions and competitors with journalistic integrity, curiosity and detail. Unlike what happened with so many others in my life when I quit ski racing, Gary’s support and our friendship actually expanded.
He asked if I might want to write a piece for Ski Racing and I said, “Yes!”, then wrote a slightly bitter piece called Racer-ex. He asked if I wanted to write more and I did, with his constructive encouragement gently tempering my cathartic ramblings. When I had the choice of going to college for a proper journalism degree, or going to college while ski racing a bit more and writing and traveling for Ski Racing, I chose the latter. The work was grueling, the deadlines relentless and I soon realized that I would make next to no money writing for Ski Racing. But I also learned that the work would make me rich.
In Spain we stayed in the same hotel as the King, and in St. Anton we drank coffee at the stammtisch with Hannes Schneider’s daughter, Herta. We garnered the best position in every press room, rarely missed a good night in Casa Italia and often ended up with first tracks when downhill training got canceled. When we needed a place to stay we had the run of his house, whether he was there or not.
Read the full blog post here.
Sarah Lewis, International Ski Federation (FIS) Secretary General
Gary Black will be sorely missed throughout the FIS Alpine ski racing community by his many colleagues and friends all over the world. He made Ski Racing into the leading U.S. specialist publication which was widely read and followed from both within the sport as well as by its followers and fans. Whilst growing up as a ski racer, I obtained my inside knowledge about the sport from the tabloid-sized Ski Racing newspaper in those pre-internet days.
Gary was deeply committed to the sport and driving its progress, and he did not hold back from asking searching questions and giving his honest opinion if he did not think an idea was a good one. But he would always offer a well-thought through suggestion on how to deal with the matter in hand.
Our thoughts turned to Gary during the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Finals in Aspen, when he was certainly rooting for its success all the way through.
Tom Kelly, Vice President Communications at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA)
Gary Black was an adventurer, a storyteller and a passionate skier. Most of all, he was a friend whose kindness went right to his core. He grew up as a newspaper man – a journalist with ink running through his veins and newsprint on his fingertips. His father introduced him to the world by touring foreign news bureaus. His mother brought him a passion for mountains and skiing. How fortunate were we that is paths crossed ours when he acquired Ski Racing in 1984.
Gary treasured his friendships with athletes, coaches and officials. He took pride in being a voice for the sport. With an energetic team of young ski journalists over the years, he brought ski racing to millions.
Aside from World Cup press rooms across Europe, his favorite forum was the dinner table, a glass of wine in his hand, that Gary Black smile on his face and his uproarious laugh echoing through the restaurant. Every October he would hold court at the Raclette Stube in Zurich, a glass of Aigle in his hand, regaling his friends with the joys of Soelden wins that weekend by the likes of Ted, Lindsey and Mikaela.
Gary, we miss you, but we will raise a glass in your honor with every World Cup victory.
Patrick Lang, Vice President of the International Association of Ski Journalists (AIJS)
‘Junior’: our U.S. World Cup companion. When a leading athlete leaves his sport at the end of his career, the scene on which he used to perform gets somehow poorer for a while – his fans regret him bitterly and his successors can’t avoid to be compared to him for some time. His personality is often presented as an example and his achievements become points of reference for the younger generation. So in some way, he remains alive in the minds of those who remain involved in his former activity.
In alpine skiing it has been the case for over half a century for legends such as Sailer, Killy, Stenmark, Greene, the Mahres, Klammer and so many more! Not a weekend on the World Cup tour goes by without at least one of them being named by reporters writing about the actual champions when they compare them with former “All-Time Greats”.
The same is also valid for other remarkable characters who belong to an essential part of the circuit – the World Cup media. I started my career in a period when dozens of top journalists from important French, Swiss, Austrian, German or Italian newspapers met week after week in the often modest press rooms of the World Cup circuit – giving it an appearance of the Tour de France. They did a great job supporting skiing in their sports pages. It was really fun to encounter them again and again during the entire season and finally become one of their companions after a while. Unfortunately, most of them are no longer present. yet somehow they remain part of our ski legend.
Things surely have changed since the 1960s, and only a handful of reporters are now regularly covering the tour – yet that feeling of companions and camaraderie still exists for the few survivors who mostly get together at the World Cup opening at Soelden and regroup in the following weeks at the main events.
Gary Black, also called ‘GB Jr.’ or just ‘Junior’ by his ski pals, surely was one of them. A proud member of the AIJS (International Association of Ski Journalists) for years and one of its longtime delegates on the FIS World Cup Committee, Junior was a passionate representative of the U.S. media on the white circus. His pin from the Arlberg Kandahar Club that he liked to wear on his jacket always remained us that he was also aware of the importance of the tradition in ski racing.
His dedication to ski racing put him on frontline when he purchased the venerable ‘Ski Racing Magazine’ that had become a reference in U.S. and international skiing under the guidance of its founder Bill Tanler – also the initiator of the NorAm Cup in the early 1970s!
Thanks to Junior’s generous support and his vision, the publication became a modern and popular media on the Web – in fact, a few years after, I kept repeating him to make that move. His ‘Black Diamond’ columns were fun to read, or at least intriguing!
Gary reminded me of the past generation of ski writers when he entered a press room with his huge cowboy hat – not afraid at all to show his personality and impose respect. It was nice last October to enjoy again his presence at the popular AIJS dinner at the Hotel Central at Soelden with a few other companions including USSA’s Tom Kelly. His spirit will for sure be with us there again in a few months.
Peter Graves, sports broadcaster and journalist
I was just driving down to the Twin Cities full of joy from our shared Birkie experience when Tom Kelly called me to let me know that our dear friend Gary Black had passed away. I suppose we had expected this might be the ultimate outcome. I’m feeling shattered and lost today and my heart feels broken.
Bitter, sad tears roll out of my eyes and fall down my keyboard.
It’s truly devastating to ponder the world without Gary. Without his smile, his laugh, his eyes rolling back, his generosity, his love of sport and fun, and of course his love of his family. He was a full-on fan and hugely supportive of the sport, the USSA and USST and of Ski Racing.
Gary was a mentor to so many, myself included, and my heart weeps for his family and his Ski Racing family, all of whom loved him so much. Fresh on the heels of the passing of our dear friend Hank McKee, this seems to me so unfair. We just weren’t ready for this. And yet the sad and brutal truth is that life goes on for the living. There seems, to be sure, no other way. But it’s there where we honor his greatness and his sweetness. Forever.
Gary was a great friend to many and to me, we shared countless meals and wine on the road together at World Cups, World Championships and FIS and USSA meetings. We traveled to his Vermont home for Christmas parties right out of Currier and Ives. His smile brightened the room and his eggnog, rich and creamy, was to die for. He just lived that way.
The question it seems to me is, what are we going to do in a world that no longer has Gary Black in it? Cry, weep, be angry… that is all fair, but through my tears right now, I will do my best, through the passage of time, to remember this huge life force, not sadly, but in every toast, in every hug, in holding dear friends just a little tighter, and in every discussion that pertains to the betterment of the sport. Gary was one of the most positive people I ever was lucky enough to call friend. I would suppose I’ll find myself saying, “What would Black do?”
I will miss you more than you’ll ever fully know. Love you, Black.
David Pym, Managing Director of the Canadian Snowsports Association
The world of alpine ski racing and snowsport in general has lost a true champion of snowsports. Ski Racing – from its origins as a broadsheet newspaper – has become the true go-to place to catch up on news, rumors and critical comment for many years. Gary’s efforts to be a voice for all was enormously successful, and he had a true skill for surrounding himself with quality. Those of us involved daily in the sport truly appreciated Gary’s comments, the role of SR and the manner in which, through his team, he was able to keep pace and even lead the provision of information services in a sport that we all deeply appreciate.
I am proud to say he was a friend who on a regular basis was a great host at Elk’s Rest.
The entire CSA family extends its deepest sympathy to Heather, Lexi, Amanda and the rest of Gary’s family, and to his extended “family” of associates and friends in the snowsports world.
Lindsey Vonn, Olympic champion
Gary was a very kind person, and he did a lot for ski racing. I remember reading Ski Racing Magazine when I was a kid and that was how I kept track of my idols and competitors. This is a huge loss for many, especially those in the skiing community.
Mikaela Shiffrin, 2017 Overall World Cup champion
I still remember meeting Gary for the first time in Solden, Austria. It was my first time racing there and I was fairly overwhelmed by all of the chaos surrounding the season opening World Cup, so Gary invited my parents and me to dinner at the best restaurant in town. He proceeded to tell a million stories of his adventures through the ski racing world. He talked about the magazine, his family, how exciting ski racing is, and it became very clear how much passion he had for the sport. From then on out I started to see him as sort of a father figure for the sport of ski racing itself. He has done so much to help this sport grow and get the latest and greatest news in ski racing to fans, and he will be sorely missed.
Sasha Rearick, U.S. Ski Team Men’s Head Coach
Gary was an inspiration in many ways to me, and I hope to many others. His love and passion for the sport, and for people, coaches, athletes, fans, people of the sport of ski racing, was remarkable. He lit the fire in many people in so many ways.