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A Maestro Tunes His Teen Ski Stars


When a young racer named Jack Nagel, skiing the slalom in the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, went sprawling 150 feet from the finish and a possible gold medal, his mission in life was fixed. "I vowed right then to send some kid back there and win," says Nagel. He started pursuing that dream as a ski instructor at Stevens Pass in Washington and is now continuing it with extraordinary promise of success at nearby Crystal Mountain (where he is shown below trying to coax one more spasm of effort from his pupils). Each weekend during the winter Nagel holds special classes for some 60 hand-picked junior racers, ages 8 to 18. Two of them are his daughters—Cathy, 14 (see cover), the youngest junior national champion in U.S. ski history, and Judy, an 11-year-old spitfire who is already whipping skiers almost twice her age. Nagel's school is neither free—$150 for a full winter of weekends—nor easy. In each session students get two hours of intense drills from Nagel and his instructors, and there are no less than 20 formal races against teams from other ski areas. Tough as it is, the kids seem to love the program. When Nagel moved to Crystal Mountain this winter more than 50 of his racers and all but one of his 48 instructors came along. Some of his kids travel as far as 180 miles each weekend for their lessons. None seem to love it more than Cathy and Judy; and Jack, despite stern efforts at impartiality, is unable to suppress his pride in them, especially Cathy. "You should see that girl work," he says. "She can do more leg-ups, push-ups and sit-ups than any kid you ever saw."

Nagel is everywhere on the mountain. "Feel the snow, feel the snow." he yells at a slalom skier. "You must feel every inch of the way." Nagel himself puts up the slalom poles, and when the course becomes rutted he goes over it, smoothing it out with his skis. No detail is too trivial for his attention, not even a nervous little boy's untied bootlace.

Nagel attends to a pupil's nicked ski before the start of a race. "Now there can't be any excuses," he said. "At least not about the skis." Despite Nagel's personal drive, most of the kids remain healthily unawed by the program's Olympian goals. When one instructor scolded 10-year-old Marcia Wick (right), she said, "Don't get mad at me. I'm just a little girl."

After sweeping a weekend race, Cathy allows herself a shy smile. Judy (left), though a solid eighth, broods over her poor time. But Jack's face floods with joy as he realizes his daughters may fulfill his Olympic vow.