CURATOR’S NOTE- How do you describe Alan’s position in the sport/s? The mind boggles. Alan has held (or fathered someone who has held) every position imaginable- skiing, coaching, administrative or competition/event (men’s or women’s) at the club, regional, national (USA & CAN), FIS, or Olympic levels- in ski jumping and Nordic combined. Period.
Park City, UT
My Buddy Chuck
I am a fortunate person. For whatever reason, I have been lucky enough to devote the majority of my life and energy to my passion – Nordic skiing. Reflecting back, I can only think of a handful of people who were able to pull this off, ‘follow your passion and make a living.’ Chuck was one.
I first met Chuck in the fall of 1980. Arriving in Winter Park for my first actual coaching ‘gig’, I was met with some initial apprehension. Why would Winter Park, one of the most successful ski jumping and Nordic combined programs in the country change their formula for success and hire a paid coach knowing the program would now transition from a free to ‘pay to play?’ Good question.
The Winter Park Jump School was formed in 1958 by Pop Sorenson. The volunteer staff was packed with a passionate and dedicated staff with far more experience than me, (Frank Penny, Dale Thompson, Crosby Perry-Smith, Mike Berman, Art Bookstrom, and Chuck Heckert) all under the watchful eye of Thor Groswold and Steve Gaskill).
Initially, I sensed I was under some justified scrutiny to prove myself. That said, one guy emerged on ‘day one’ with his arms open. He was on board and totally supportive of the new unknown guy at a time I really needed it. That’s how I met my buddy Chuck and began four exciting and challenging years together. Besides the normal RMD meets we hosted, Chuck helped with a number of fund-raising and community events. He was instrumental in establishing the ‘Land Tuna Cup’, assisting in the installation of our ski jump paddle lift. Whatever cockamamie idea I came up with, Chuck was always there to pitch in. He was the consummate ‘team player.’
I left Winter Park and Chuck in 1984 to start a Nordic program at NYSEF in Lake Placid. Little did I know at the time that our paths would continue down similar roads for another 40 years. We coached different divisions for the next 4 years. I moved on to the US Nordic Combined Team from 88’- 92’. We maintained our relationship throughout this period and were together during USSA meetings, National Championships (sr. & jr.) FIS seminars, etc…
Then in 1992-3 we found ourselves together again in Park City. From 1993 to 2020 we were both based out of Park City. While both of our specific jobs changed over the years, we were employed working in the Nordic ski world (coaching, administration, management, events, officiating). While we organized many World Cup, Continental Cup, FIS Cup, and National Championships together, I think our Olympic experience together was the highlight. Chuck’s role during the Games proved to be what I believe was the key or cornerstone to our success.
Over the years, I figure we worked well over 200 events together, attended 20 FIS seminars together, 35 plus USSA conventions (Chuck served for years as the USSA Ski Jumping Committee Chairman), and an endless number of Organizing Committee meetings. We did a lot together, but I would have to say our ‘happy place,’ though often stressful, was in the tower during a competition.
When it came to running a safe and fair competition, we were both a bit obsessive, often to the dismay of freezing coaches on the coach’s stand. It was a routine we did not have to plan or discuss. It just happened. We would arrive 30-45 minutes early and begin watching the wind and the trends to establish what we were going to be dealing with. Once we knew that, we would make our plan and establish the ‘wind corridors,’ which we both knew could and likely would need to be changed mid-event. Chuck worked the start light and watched the wind sensor data on the computer. I watched the wind vanes and also the computer screen with my hand on Chuck’s shoulder. When I was comfortable with the conditions, I would lift my hand off his shoulder. Then when Chuck was comfortable, he would push the button. It was almost like we were one entity in this process. Working with Chuck was both a privilege and a joy.
When I started to write this little piece, I had some serious recall issues that needed clarification. I literally picked up the phone to make the call for clarification on the details I had forgotten.
That was the moment it really hit home. That was when I realized how much I am going to miss my buddy, Chuck.