With a title these days, in this case ambassador of skiing, goes certain responsibilities. Skiing is one of them. Enjoying skiing isn't.
To Heidi Voelker's good fortune, she skis well and enjoys it. Which, as might be expected, translates directly from her smile to the snow perfect turns, right speed, right runs, right answers, right place.
All of which has led to a perfect union. Deer Valley is a people-oriented resort, and Heidi Voelker is the perfect people person.
Hers is a job that is glamorous, not always easy, never dull and always challenging. "Every day's a new experience, a new group and, for me, a chance to do what I truly love to do ski."
Voelker, a three-time Olympian, is one of the few athletes who has been able to make the parallel move from skiing competitively to skiing occupationally.
"A lot of those I raced with haven't been so lucky. They don't have any affiliation with a resort, so skiing for them comes on weekends. I'm still doing what I love to do. My office is the slopes."
Voelker was for 12 years a member of the U.S. Ski Team and for 11 of those years raced on the brutal World Cup circuit.
She was not, as she said with a smile, one of the most decorated skiers, but she was certainly not without her share of success, which included six top-10 World Cup finishes. She was good, she was competitive and she was recognized.
She also, as most competitive skiers do, put her life on hold while competing. She traveled, she trained, she competed, and pretty much all she had was packed in a couple of suitcases. And, she remembered, she often wondered, as do all competitors, what her life would be like after racing.
She first came to Park City in 1990 to be with her then-boyfriend, now-husband. On one of her stops it was suggested she approach Deer Valley about having its name embroidered on her headband. To her great surprise, the answer was a quick and resounding "yes."
In 1997, when she could tell the gates weren't whizzing past as fast as they once did, she cautiously approached resort president Bob Wheaton about becoming a backup to her male counterpart, Stein Eriksen, director of skiing. Again she was surprised to find they were interested.
But then why not? She is among the best skiers in the world, she is attractive (stunningly so when she smiles), she is personable and she is a woman and a perfect complement to Eriksen.
That was eight years ago, she said leaning forward with both arms on a solid wood table in the Snow Park Lodge at Deer Valley, "and I can honestly say I've loved every day. I look forward to meeting different people, to showing them Deer Valley. Certainly, this is something where if you didn't enjoy it, it would show."
Her job, simply put, is to be an ambassador for the resort to visiting groups, individuals, members of the media and celebrities.
Reasons for skiing with Voelker are simple to get a personal tour of the resort, ski new runs and areas, get a first-person look at the Olympics and racing during lift rides, and to be wowed by her skiing ability. In most cases talk typically focuses on her Olympic experiences and her feelings as she walked as an American into the opening ceremonies.
"Some of my old coaches have watched me race on TV in some of the celebrity races and tell me that I could jump right back into World Cup and be competitive. I'm not so sure. Technically, I don't think I've lost much."
Voelker is the pacesetter for the resort's Medalist Challenge, a citizen's race for all comers. She has, she said with a somewhat cautious smile, "Never been beaten . . . Not yet, anyway."
"I actually think I'm a better skier now than when I was on the ski team. With the ski team you train on one designated slope, and you train to get accustomed to gates. Now I ski under all conditions, on very different terrain and at all different levels. I almost never kick it into racing gear when I'm skiing with groups or individuals, though."
It is not uncommon, however, for some of the competitive male skiers to challenge this woman of obviously smaller stature and certainly more fragile skiing abilities.
"And they lose horribly," said one observer. "It's hard to really realize just how good and how fast she is. No, she's not someone you want to challenge and not be destroyed."
Among her designated duties is working camps designed specifically for women.
What she's found, she said, is that women really don't ski all that much differently than men, "it's more of an attitude thing.
"People tell me these all-women clinics are a bunch of baloney. Well, they're not. When women ski with other women they're much more relaxed. They'll try things they wouldn't if men were around. They'll ski runs they wouldn't if they were with their boyfriend or husband. They're not as intimidated. If they're nervous I tell them to take their time. The mountain isn't going anywhere. They trust me. They know I wouldn't take them to something they couldn't ski, where that's not always that same feeling they get from a husband or boyfriend," she explained.
Looking back over the past eight years and the thousands of people she skied with, she recalled one of her most memorable runs coming while off duty.
"It was a corporate thing and the group decided to quit early. There was myself, Franz Klammer, the Mahre brothers, Steve and Phil, and Tamara McKinney. We made one run and I was in the back, watching some of the best skiers in the world, skiers I admired while growing up and now I was skiing with them. They still had the same technique they had during their best years. That was one of my biggest thrills to see those people skiing in front of me," she recalled.
E-mail: [email protected]