The United States Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame is best known for its competitors – Olympians such as Phil and Steve Mahre, Bill Johnson, Billy Kidd, Diann Roffe, and Donna Weinbrecht.
But the US Ski Hall also recognizes the pioneers of winter sports, from resort visionaries like Killington founder Preston Leete Smith and freestylers like Wayne Wong to groundbreaking filmmakers like Warren Miller.
This month the honor goes to Wayland’s Bernie Weichsel. Under the umbrella of his Waltham-based BEWI Productions, Weichsel has spent decades bringing the sports of skiing and snowboarding to the masses. The New York City native was one of 10 people inducted this year.
“I can’t say I planned, or studied, to be a ski entrepreneur,” said Weichsel, 68, who started skiing as a 4-year-old at Belleayre, a state-owned ski area in the Catskills.
“I liked skiing pretty much immediately,” he said. “I have vivid memory of learning on Belleayre’s rope tow and T-bars and of using very basic skis, with no edges and bear-trap bindings, and, at best, wool pants.”
Weichsel formed a ski club at Brooklyn Technical High School, and became involved with the Trailside Ski Lodge and Camp in Killington, Vt.
“Through Trailside and its owner, Mike Cohen, I met Harry Leonard, a founder of ski shows,” he said. “As a kid, I had wanted to run away and join the circus. I thought what Harry did — oversee as many seven annual ski shows around the country each fall — was a close second.”
In 1979, Weichsel formed BEWI Productions, and in 1982 bought Leonard’s ski show business. The company still runs Ski and Snowboard Expos in Boston and Denver, but over the course of Weichsel’s career it has produced shows in 15 cities.
“Retirement is still in the future, but I’m thinking that I’ll start to slow down in two years, when I hit 70,” he said.
Since 1969, Weichsel has served on the board of the Boston-based Youth Enrichment Services to introduce inner city youth to skiing. He also founded the SKIUSA International Marketing Program to promote United States resorts around the globe, which he ran until 1996.
Today, Weichsel doesn’t shy from the challenges facing the ski industry.
“The biggest challenge, of course is growth, and getting more people involved with the sport, especially as the group still the core of participants – Baby Boomers – are starting to slow down and ski less,” he said.
Children today not only have alternatives, but other sports are so organized that those schedules make a ski getaway less likely, said Weichsel.
“Then there’s the cost factor,” he said. “But, being the eternal optimist, I think the plus side of skiing and snowboarding is that no sport, that I’m aware of, brings one more joy, or delivers more health benefits. And that, I believe, will win the day.”
Regarding the environment, Weichsel doesn’t mince words.
“Climate change is the greatest challenge to the future of the sport,” he said. “As long as our country elects leaders who deny the problem – and therefore won’t put into place policies that can turn around the changes in the climate that we’re seeing – I really don’t know what the snow sports community can do on its own.”
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