The United States Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame understandably evokes images of the sport’s legendary competitors. You’re likely to think of accomplished racers, like the great Olympians such as Phil and Steve Mahre, Bill Johnson, Billy Kidd, Diann Roffe, Tamara McKinney and Donna Weinbrecht. With the incomparable Lindsey Vonn recently announcing her retirement after 82 World Cup wins, you certainly can add her to the list.
But the U.S. Ski Hall is an inclusive body, celebrating a sport that goes well beyond the competitive arena. It recognizes the pioneers of the sport, from resort visionaries such as Killington founder Preston Leete Smith and freestyle legends like Wayne Wong to groundbreaking filmmakers like Warren Miller (not to mention a number of the “extreme skiers” that took star turns in Miller’s movies, like John and Dan Egan).
For Bernie Weichsel of Wayland, Mass., induction into the Ski Hall of Fame in 2017 was tantamount to a lifetime achievement award.
“I view being inducted into the Hall of Fame as a great honor — and a gift from the sport and lifestyle that I love and has bestowed on me many great experiences and, more importantly, many friends,” said the 70-year-old Weichsel.
It has been a dizzying ride for the New York City native, the son of German immigrants who became a legend in ski marketing circles and a tireless advocate for the sport. Under the umbrella of Waltham-based BEWI Productions, Weichsel is president of Ski Show Expos. He also has a long résumé of achievement in marketing the sport on a global basis, and even reviving the moribund Hall of Fame.
“I’m sure I can’t say I planned, or studied, to be a ski entrepreneur,” said the affable Weichsel. “My father had skied in Germany — he was raised in an area of small mountains, a lot like the Catskills — before he came to this country in 1927 as an immigrant looking for opportunity. He had planned to go back to Germany, but once the Nazis came to power he couldn’t so he stayed and became a citizen.”
Weichel’s mother immigrated in 1937 “as a refugee fleeing the Nazis. Sadly, she was the only survivor of her family,” he said. At the age of 4, Weichsel started skiing in 1952 at Belleayre, a state-owned ski area in the Catskills.
“As best I can recall, I liked skiing pretty much immediately,” he said. “I have vivid memories of learning on Belleayre’s rope tow and T-bars and of using very basic skis, with no edges and beartrap bindings, and, at best, wool pants.”
Weichsel formed the first ski club at Brooklyn Technical High School and became involved with the Trailside Ski Lodge and Camp at Killington.
“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 as seven annual ski shows around the country each fall — was a close second.”
While matriculating at City College of New York — where he again formed the school’s first ski club — Weichsel began an apprenticeship with Leonard.
“I took on the duty to help Trailside with its exhibit at Harry’s New York Ski Show, and that included doing some ‘marketing’ for the show,” he said. “So one night I organized a bunch of friends from the ski club to spray paint on city sidewalks ‘Go go, Ski Show!’ Harry loved it. The police didn’t.”
Soon, Weichsel was working with Leonard, first as a volunteer, and eventually as a paid employee. He’d work ski shows in the fall, and then took a variety of odd jobs — ranging from being a clerk at a Vail drug store to tour guide in Innsbruck — to feed his skiing habit. In 1979, he formed BEWI Productions, and in 1982 bought Leonard’s ski show business.
Weichsel’s BEWI Productions still operates Ski and Snowboard Expos in Boston and Denver, but over the course of his career it has put on shows in 11 different cities. Also in 1979, Weichsel launched the Ski USA International Marketing Program to give United States resorts a greater global footprint. He ran Ski USA until 1996, when he donated it to the National Ski Areas Association.
“The satisfaction and enjoyment I got from running this program came not only from the success this program had — even to this day about 10 percent of the business seen at U.S. resorts nationwide comes from visitors from outside our country — but, on a personal level, the friends I made worldwide,” he said.
But there was more to the entrepreneur. Since 1969, he has served on the board of Youth Enrichment Services to help introduce inner-city youth to skiing. These days, when you see a terrain park at a ski area, you see Weichsel’s influence. He played a major role in the growth of “hot dog” skiing, running the International Freestyle Skiers Association tour from 1974-76.
“Bernie was one of the key players in getting freestyle skiing as popular as it was,” said David Ingemi, former president of the Washington, D.C.-based Ski Industries Association. “It sure was a major element in helping to grow skiing participation in the ’70s and ’80s.”
Weichsel also is a longtime supporter and board member of the Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, serving as chairman from 2009 to 2014.
“Bernie is personally responsible for saving the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame,” said Mike Bisner, who once ran the Ski Market chain throughout New England. “With a beautiful museum located in Ishpeming, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula, it was a well-kept secret to the evolving fastpaced ski world. Bernie brought the organization out of the shadows of obscurity, and took the induction ceremony on the road to be hosted by world-class U.S. ski resorts.”
In 2017, for Weichsel’s induction, that road show was held at Stowe, Vermont. In the past, it has been hosted by resorts such Vail and Aspen in Colorado, Sun Valley in Idaho, and Park City in Utah.
“This has been a complete game-changer for the Ski Hall of Fame and increased exposure not only for the hall, but (also) for the athletes and sport builders being inducted,” said Bisner.
Finally, Weichsel, with his focus clearly on the health of skiing, doesn’t shy away from the daunting challenges facing the sport, and the industry that supports it.
“The biggest challenge, of course, is growth, and getting more people involved with the sport, especially as the group that is still the core of participants — Baby Boomers — are starting to slow down and ski less,” he said.
The flip side is that children today not only have abundant alternatives, but also other sports are so organized that those schedules make a ski weekend, or week, 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 in the end and keep people out skiing and snowboarding as long as we have snow.”
On the environmental front, Weichsel doesn’t mince words regarding his concerns.
“Climate change is the greatest challenge to the future of the sport,” he said. “As far as dealing with this challenge, you have to keep in mind that snowsports occupy a very small position in our world.
“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 snowsports community can do on its own,” said Weichsel. “My solution is to elect leaders who support and implement the Paris Climate Accords, and will work to reduce, and eliminate, the carbon gas we spew into the atmosphere.”
Such weighty sentiments, though, are rare for Weichsel. Within the industry, he’s known for his unfailingly upbeat attitude.
“A big part of skiing is the après-ski gathering at the end of the day with a cold beer or beverage,” said Bisner. “Bernie might be the only person who doesn’t drink in the entire ski industry, and will order a cold glass of milk to toast with other skiing friends.
“We all love him for his passion for the sport, and the time we get to spend with him sharing his insights and opinions on a chairlift.”