Athletics & Recreation / DU Alumni / Magazine Feature / People

DU alum to be inducted into skiing hall of fame

Three-year-old Otto Tschudi (BSBA ’75) had been skiing well over a year when the 1952 Winter Olympics arrived outside his door in Norefjell, Norway. His parents owned a hotel on the edge of the slope where Stein Eriksen — young Otto’s idol — won his first giant slalom gold medal.

“Right after he won, he sat in my dad’s office, bounced me on his knee and said you’re going to be a skier,” Tschudi remembers. “That was the start of the whole thing.”

Growing up on a mountain, with town and school in the valley below, didn’t hurt either. He skied everywhere. By 7, he was ski racing. When he was 14, the Norwegian National Ski Team made an exception to their age requirement so he could join; the next youngest competitor was 20. At 19, he competed in his first Olympics in 1968.

But it was a World Cup race the following year in Kitzbuhl, Austria, that would change his life.

Following his best time ever, a man approached him in the finish area and asked in German if he’d ever thought about going to college. The man was Willy Schaeffler — the legendary University of Denver ski coach who would lead the Pioneers to 13 NCAA ski championships.  Tschudi hadn’t thought about going to school, but after 15 minutes, he called his parents to tell them he was moving to the states with a full scholarship — and he could continue to compete on the World Cup.

“Skiing had always been a way of getting ahead in life,” he says. “This sounded like a heck of a deal.”

As it turned out, the University of Denver and the Colorado ski industry were in for a heck of a deal, too. Forty years later, Tschudi will be inducted into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame in Vail, Colo., on Nov. 7. He’s being recognized both as an athlete and a sport builder — a snow sports visionary who has made significant contributions to the sport in Colorado.

A Colorado Skiing Legend

Tschudi took a boat to the United States and then took a 48-hour bus ride to Colorado. When he finally arrived, it was cloudy and he couldn’t see a mountain. “I thought this was a joke,” he says. “I remember I started crying, fell asleep and woke up the next morning and the clouds had cleared and the Rockies were right there.”

Over the next few years, he won five NCAA championships for DU in downhill, giant slalom and slalom; continued to ski for Norway on the World Cup circuit, and competed in the 1972 Olympics, all while attending classes toward his degree in hotel and restaurant management.

Soon after the Olympics, Tschudi decided to turn pro and started skiing for Bob Beattie’s World Pro Skiing Tour.

“I, together with a couple of guys, talked Rossignol into forming a professional ski team,” he says. “Rossignol was the biggest ski company in the world. We were a multinational team, and we killed them.”

He made Winter Park his base for training in 1977 and became the resort’s director of skiing. He started their multinational World Pro Ski Team, along with a racing school, tennis tournament, summer concerts and celebrity events. Knowing how to promote, he got himself on TV, co-hosting a weekly ski program with sports commentator Larry Zimmer on NBC in Denver.

Jerry Groswold (JD ’54, MBA ’55), president and CEO of Winter Park at the time and a fellow Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Famer, says Tschudi’s enthusiasm is incredible.

“When he commits to something, he is totally committed,” Groswold says. “He was great in terms of taking on projects and seeing them to a successful conclusion.”

Scott Bradley, a major Winter Park land owner, says Winter Park was considered a local resort before Tschudi came on board.

“He recognized that in order to be competitive, Winter Park would have to attract the destination skier, which would include skiers outside the Front Range and international skiers,” he says.

Fluent in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, French and German, Otto was the perfect ambassador.

In addition to the resort, he promoted racing at all different levels — professional, amateur, collegiate, recreational, and disabled. Willy Schaeffler had actually organized the first amputee ski program at Arapahoe Basin and later moved it to Winter Park, where it evolved into the National Sports Center for the Disabled. Tschudi not only raised funds and recognition for the center, but he helped start its competitive racing program.

At the same time, Tschudi managed to leave a lasting mark on ski racing gear. He co-developed the Raichle Flexon ski boot, a design still made today. In 1976, he created with his wife, Yvonne, the first closed-cell protective-padded one-piece racing suit and started Otto Racing, Inc. Ski race clothing manufacturers worldwide continue to use the design today.

“I can see why he was a good skier,” says Chuck Ferries, who skied at DU before Tschudi and later was a coach and executive with K2. “He has that I’m-going-to-win attitude all the time in everything he does. When he decides he wants to do something, he just goes after it.”

Coming Back to DU

One day in 1982, Tschudi woke up wanting a change.

“I wanted to learn something else,” he says. He called close friend Will Weinstein — a Wall Street legend — and asked him what he should do. Will and Thom Weisel, founding partner of Montgomery Securities, said Otto should work for their California firm, so he did. Starting in 1982, he became a partner first in Montgomery Securities, and now Thomas Weisel Partners LLC.

Tschudi was in charge of the firm’s international business, splitting time between London and California, when Denver banker and philanthropist Phil Hogue contacted him in 1992, asking him to help DU re-establish its ski team, which had been abandoned back in 1983 as part of a downsizing of the athletic program.

“I said I’ve got no time, I’m completely slammed 24/7,” Tschudi recalls. But he eventually agreed to come meet DU’s then-chancellor, Dan Ritchie. “I was so impressed with the guy,” he says. “He had everything going in his life — a successful business guy — and he decided to dedicate his life to education. It’s a very unique thing. I shook his hand and said, ‘Yeah, whatever you want me to do, I’ll do.’”

Tschudi was elected to the DU Board of Trustees that year, a post he still holds, and was instrumental in finding donors to fund the ski program and successfully recruiting top-notch coaches. DU has won five NCAA championships in the past nine years.

“His passion for excellence is contagious and I can tell you that his support, the energy that he brings to the program, and his love of both the University and the sport of skiing is what makes our program so successful,” says DU Vice Chancellor of Athletics Peg Bradley-Doppes.

A global citizen, Tschudi also has real estate interests in his home in Norway — where his heart is — and still supports his local team. He started the Norwegian Ski Scholarship, which he later renamed the Peder Pytte Ski Scholarship, to aid financially needy athletes’ education. In 1996, he was inducted into the University of Denver Athletic Hall of Fame and received the Evans Award for distinguished service to DU.

Still Going Full Speed

Tschudi still finds time to race in the Legends of Skiing in Vail, where he has consistently finished in the top four every year since the race’s 1981 inception. “I think I have to be the only one who hasn’t missed one and the oldest guy doing downhill,” he says. “I love speed.”

And he’s a dedicated husband and proud father; his daughter Solveig also is a DU alumna.

Scott Bradley says a few years ago, Tschudi’s wife, Yvonne, was in a bad ski accident in Norway and he didn’t leave her side for a month.

“He was able to give Yvonne his undivided attention and still be able to focus on work and DU and his friends,” Bradley says. “He never forgets who his friends are.”

Tschudi will have a lot of friends and family at his induction Saturday, including his 90-year-old mother and his sister, who are coming from Norway. Schaeffler wouldn’t miss it, nor would his wife and three kids. Back in 1986, when his father was dying in a nursing home, Tschudi helped Willy and Jimmy Schaeffler create the Willy Schaeffler Scholarship Fund to benefit disabled scholar athletes.

“Early on, Otto and his wife, Yvonne, were one of the first to come up with a really substantial four-figure contribution to the scholarship, which was a lot of what got it going,” Jimmy Schaeffler says.

Schaeffler’s nickname for Tschudi is “der Dachs,” which is German for badger.

“He’s a badger in that he gets in there and gets it done” Schaeffler says. “Part of what is inside him is this psyche, this passion for what he does, and he’s tireless in terms of what he does on the desk at Thomas Weisel, and he’s tireless when he’s running a downhill in a veterans’ race in Vail. When all is said and done, it’s just great working with people like that. It makes such a difference.”

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