The Sawtooth Mountains that surround charming old Sun Valley look like huge chocolate muffins with gobs of white icing oozing down the sides, but there was no sweetness on them last week. There was, instead, the grim and bitter American International Team races, the last big Alpine ski meet of the winter, and you had to wonder for a while if the French and Austrians would not have preferred to settle the affair with a few karate whacks. The powerful French finally settled it by skiing the best, just as they had done at Stowe (SI, March 28), while the Austrians boasted and complained, just as they usually do when they lose. And in the midst of it all, the crippled U.S., searching for mere glimmers of hope, discovered a couple of its brightest prospects in many a snowfall.
Ski races most often are friendly events with a lot of fancy stretch clothes around, the necessary dozens of beautiful people, thermoses full of spiked coffee, picnics under way along parts of the courses and heaps of international goodwill at the finish gate. Sun Valley had most of this, but it primarily had a furious competition for the Werner Cup between the French and Austrians, for that trophy would be recognized as official proof of team supremacy until the world championships at Portillo, Chile, next August. Thus, on the last day, when France had to come from behind to win, the slopes of Baldy Mountain came alive with as much drama as you would find in the fourth quarter of a close football game.
Led by its top racers, Jean-Claude Killy and Marielle Goitschel, the French carved out a lead in the slalom on Thursday. But the Austrians' mighty downhill strength overwhelmed everyone on Friday, as Heini Messner, Karl Schranz and Egon Zimmermann bumped down the 2.1-mile course and finished one, two, three. At this point all the spectators around the finish who had been amused by the loud boasting of Schranz for two days might have been tempted to take him more seriously.
"I am the greatest skier in the world," Schranz had been saying to anyone within earshot. "It is not Killy—it is me." He said it so often and so threateningly, both on the slopes and in the hotel lobby, that he earned himself the underground nickname of Cassius Muhammad Schranz.
The Austrians were very unhappy with everything. They didn't like their hotel rooms at Stowe or Sun Valley, rooms that were better than most of the Tennessee Williams-type accommodations that ski racers usually put up with in the Alps. They were tired, they said, not at their best, because they had been racing so much. The French had raced as much, but there were no Austrian comments on that.
"You are stupid, stupid, stupid!" was the way Schranz put it to one astounded journalist in the lobby of the Challenger Inn before about 20 spectators. The man fought back by folding his arms and giggling.
"I am the great ski racer for 10 years," Schranz bellowed. "I may never come back here. I am not liked."
He was pretty close to correct, of course, on both counts. Few men, if any, have won more than Karl over so many years, and he was magnificent at Sun Valley—the best combined skier. He was second in the slalom on Thursday, second in the downhill on Friday, and when he captured the giant slalom on Saturday morning, upsetting Killy by .28 second, it looked as if Schranz singlehandedly had skied Austria into a team lead that could not be erased. But as Schranz boasted, the French girls were preparing for their event. And up the hill climbed the French men—Killy, L�o Lacroix, Guy P�rillat, Georges Maudit and Jules Melquiond—to station themselves at the tough turns so they could shout encouragement and warnings to their girls. If Marielle Goitschel could win and if Annie Famose could place at least third, and if Florence Steurer and Isabelle Mir—two 16-year-olds—could also land in the top 10, France would beat Austria for the Cup.
"Allez, France!" they hollered as Marielle tore down the course.
"Allez, Marielle, mon tr�sor!" roared Lacroix.