By AMANDA RICKER and KARIN RONNOW Bozeman Chronicle Staff Writers
The late, legendary Doug Coombs, a former Montana State University ski racer, is being inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.
Outdoors Magazine once called Coombs “the best skier in the world.” A master of steep skiing, he helped pioneer the sport of adventure skiing.
He won the first two World Extreme Skiing Championships, won the national Powder 8s three times and was a stuntman in Hollywood movies, even skiing a frozen waterfall for the film “Aspen Extreme.”
He died in April 2006 at age 48 while trying to rescue a friend during a skiing accident in France.
“The life of Doug Coombs reads like the resume of five people, but he lived his life simply and with deep joy and great energy,” according to a biographical sketch posted on the Marmot Web site. “He lived to be in the mountains and … once said in an interview, ‘The mountains are my religion.’ He went to this church often and taught those around him to be respectful and humble in the mountains.”
Coombs was on the MSU ski team in the late 1970s and earned a reputation for making the most difficult terrain look easy. He was “incredibly precise and sure-footed,” Tom Jungst, who hiked the Ridge at Bridger Bowl with Coombs in those days, told the Chronicle when Coombs died.
Bozeman Photographer Lonnie Ball shot Coombs skiing several times and later recalled an extreme-skiing contest at Bridger where Coombs jumped a cliff, smacked into a tree and “slithered down.”
“He kept skiing and won the event,” Ball told the Chronicle in 2006.
Coombs also had a reputation for being a bit of a cheapskate. He often slept in the back of his Volkswagen van. At one point, he refused to pay $35 a month for a room in a downtown apartment building where other members of the MSU ski team were living. Instead, he found a Bozeman homeowner to rent him a screened-in porch for about half the price, simply bundling up on cold winter nights.
“There are just so many stories,” Jungst said.
The man called the “Clark Kent of skiing” also listened to the Grateful Dead and had a reputation as a friendly, approachable guy.
“Doug always had a boyish enthusiasm that drew you to him like a magnet,” Rusty Squire of Bozeman, Coombs’ former MSU teammate and friend, told the Chronicle in 2006.
After four years racing on the Montana State University ski team, Coombs graduated with a geology degree and moved to Jackson, Wyo., where he worked as a geologist in the summer and a ski technician in the winters, Coombs wrote in an autobiographical piece posted on the Doug Coombs Steep Skiing Camps Web site.
He and his wife, Emily, later moved to Valdez, Alaska, where they started the first heli-skiing operation in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains.
“He pioneered more heli lines in Alaska than anyone in history,” Squire said.
Coombs went on to ski in Kyrgystan and Antarctica and held steep-skiing camps in Switzerland, France and Greenland, eventually falling in love with the Alps and moving to France.
“Although his skills far surpassed those of most of the people he guided, he had a capacity to make every skier who came into contact with him believe they could try bigger challenges,” the Hall of Fame, based in Michigan, said in announcing his induction.
Coombs is one of eight skiers in the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame’s 2009 class of inductees. The induction will take place during a ceremony in Colorado in April. Reprinted with permission from the Bozeman Chronicle.
Here’s an interview with Doug Coombs from the movie Steep…
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