The Balls have evolved. And we’re not talking about daredevilishness, talent nor chops. The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Foundation’s fundraising Balls have come a long way from their simple cocktail party roots. For us, circa sometime 1990-something, the New England Ski and Snowboard Ball involved wine, cheese and a welcoming speech from the soon-to-be Olympic Champion, U.S. Freestyle Ski Team aerialist Nikki Stone. And the Salt Lake City Ball, which is now no more, was a fancy yet simple dinner where us athletes were told to, “Go easy on the sauce.”
But like the evolution and seriousness of the various sports (snowboarding hadn’t even yet premiered as an Olympic discipline), everything has come a long, long way.
It all started in the Big Apple, with the New York Ski Ball. It was always a gala affair—fancy and elegant, where select U.S. Ski Team athletes would appear to schmooze, mingle with patrons and sign autographs. A New York Times story unearthed by U.S. Ski Team VP of Communications Tom Kelly advertised the early event. The year? 1967. The athletes? Billy Kidd, Jimmie Huega, Spider Sabich and even Suzie Chapstick Chaffee—legends all.
Also in attendance were several VIP members of the government, including Senator and Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy. The fundraising dinner was held at the pristine Tavern on the Green in Central Park, and was to raise money to help send athletes to the 10th Olympic Winter Games in France. The fundraising event also had another goal to be met: “It is hoped the event will provide a format that will be followed by other ski enthusiasts across the United States as a way of raising funds needed by America’s Olympic Team,” according to the ’67 New York Times article.
As displayed by the successful slew of events and Balls recently held by the USSA Foundation, including last Thursday’s New York gala affair, those early ‘New York Committee’ organizers met their goal and beyond. Now there is music and entertainment (by U.S. Freestyle Ski Team (along with Olympic trampoline) athletes as part of a trampoline group: The Flying Ace All Stars, named for co-founder aerialist Trace ‘the Ace’ Worthington). Some events, like the Bay Area Fundraiser featured interactive games for kids, while others were supported by celebrities (hello Pam Anderson!).
And of course, the food is still sublime, the wine still flows (for guests—the athletes are supposed to now refrain ‘from the sauce,’) and the major goals are met: Namely, support for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team athletes. These days legends in attendance include Bode Miller, Seth Wescott and LIndsey Vonn, along with several other Olympic medalists, World Champions and phenoms-in-the-making. The 1967 folks would have been proud.