Editor's Note: It's Hall of Fame week here at CUBuffs.com, and we will feature all of this year's CU Athletic Hall of Fame inductees throughout the week. Today, we look at the CU's first national championship -- the 1959 Ski team. This year’s Hall of Fame festivities begin Thursday, October 12, with the induction ceremonies at the Omni Interlocken Hotel & Resort (6:00 p.m. reception, with induction ceremony at 7 p.m.). The honorees will be introduced publicly at halftime of Saturday's game against Texas Tech.
Nearly 47 years ago, seven skiers, lead by head coach Bob Beattie, made their way into the University of Colorado history books when they beat the field, including rival University of Denver, for the NCAA Skiing Championship.
The 1959 CU Ski team gave the Buffs their first national title, and now, years later they will receive Hall of Fame honors, as all seven skiers along with coach Beattie and assistant coach, Helge Gagnum are inducted on Thursday, Oct. 12. For the members of this legendary team the induction comes as an exciting surprise. Appropriately, they are the first "team" to be inducted into the CU Athletic Hall of Fame.
For Norris Durham, being inducted into his alma mater’s Hall of Fame is “awesome and unbelievable” that after all these years they would still be honored. He said that it is just another example of “an athletic department that doesn’t forget,” comparing it to the day a few years ago when he received a letter from the department asking his ring size so that he and his teammates wouldn’t be excluded from the modern material representation of their accomplishments. Gary Gisle said that the induction is “a fantastic honor that makes all the years of hard work better.”
The years of hard work seemed to have been validated in 1959 when the seven “All-American Boys” beat their internationally infused DU rivals.
“Back then scholarships weren’t the driving force behind college athletics, you were there because you wanted to be," said Harold Shaeffer. "All the guys on our team were at CU because we wanted to be. Denver had a lot of international skiers on their team, because they had the money to bring them over here. It was a big deal for our guys to beat such an international team,”
Like many of his other teammates, Shaeffer felt that was the peak of their skiing careers, a way to go out on the top while providing the important lessons, proving the success of hard work, and the triumph of friendship.
After their victory in Winter Park the boys went on to become men. They graduated and took what they learned together, the dedication and sweetness of victory with them into their next challenges. Challenges to come for Bob Gray, who after leaving CU spent 14 years with the U.S. Ski Team, including two Olympic Teams, and four World Championship Teams before spending some time teaching and eventually farming vegtables and strawberries in Vermont.
For others skiing took a back seat to different opportunities. Durham moved into the corporate world, working in investment real estate. Shaeffer graduated from CU and took his diligence to graduate school at the American University of Foreign Trade where he trained to work in foreign economies. He became a CPA and spent 15 years working in South America, before returning state side, and eventually making his way back to his family’s 2,200-acre farm outside of Riffle, Colo.
It was the understanding that you have to dedicate time to what you want to achieve, a lesson that balancing skiing and academics while at CU furnished. The understanding that success requires hard work didn’t escape any of the seven teammates, including Gisle who graduated from CU and went on to spend 26 years working for IBM’s marketing department before moving back to Boulder where heworked for a software company and as an independent consultant before retiring a few years ago. The things that these men found in their time skiing for Colorado gave them the basis for the lives they all went on to lead.
A lot has changed since 1959, now the Colorado ski team’s championships come at the hands of both men and women. Eighteen-year old kids can compete at the highest of levels and a love for the sport is easy to lose in the face of large expense accounts.
But some things will never change, teams will always come together attempt greatness and 47 years ago these athletes succeeded. So now, this “tight knit group” who learned that hard work pays off, and who gave CU its first national title are preparing to reunite and live in infamy within the CU Athletic Hall of Fame.