Gary Battistella on the Overwaitea Hill ski jump.

Gary Battistella on the Overwaitea Hill ski jump.

Heart of a champion

Kimberley's greatest male skier, Gary Battistella was adept at cross country, slalom, jumping and downhill

ANTHONY DRANSFELD

 

When we moved to Kimberley in 1964, the first skier I heard about was Gary Battistella. Gary was not at the Downhill Camp that Christmas, he was in Europe preparing for the Winter Olympic Games  (Innsbruck). Long before Batman the TV show, and the movies, Gary Battistella was called  ‘Batman’  by his fellow Canadian  National Ski Team Members.

Young Gary began  skiing up at North Star Mountain when he was 7 years old.  (He once took the main hill straight, and was going so fast, he shot by the parking lot  and all the way down to the old garbage dump, where his run ended rather abruptly, hence the nickname Batman.)

The legend  of  Gary Battistella “bombing”  the Main Run and ending up unceremoniously in the dump, was the talk of the ski hill that winter of 1964.  Harrold Leinweber told me about it while we were going  up the old T-Bar, as he had actually seen Gary do it.  Mr Leinweber was a ski instructor par exellence, and taught his kids, Lonnie and Judi, how to ski the proper way. Seeing Judi and   her pal Antoinette Sevensma  skiing the moguls  at Tower 4  was  magic,  one of my fondest ski memories.

When the Canadian National Team embarked on a European Tour in 1962, Gary Battistella took a very young and a very nervous Nancy Greene under his wing. Batistella said to her “ look , you are from the Kootenays, and  are as good  as any of these Eastern girls”. With her confidence buoyed by Batty, Nancy Greene forged a place on our National Ski Team, and became Number 1 in the world  a few years later. Would she have accomplished this without the mentoring of Gary Battistella that first winter in Europe? Probably  not. Battistella would always introduce himself (especially in Europe) with a firm handshake, steady gaze, and the words ‘I am Gary Battistella from Kimberley B.C. , nice to meet you’.

The Hannankamm Downhill in Kitzbuhl Austria is the worlds most treacherous Downhill Ski Race, more than a few skiers have died on this course throughout the years. Mr. Battistella took a horrific fall on the Hahnenkamm Downhill, and was never the same  after it and retired shortly thereafter.

Back in the day, downhill skis were 220 cms long, and the ski edges were sectional  and  not at all like they are now. The bindings were held together by a five-foot  long rawhide leather (usually red)  about half an inch wide. Falling at 75 miles per hour had serious repercussions.

Gary Batistella started ski jumping as a young lad on the hill behind Overwaitea Store in Lower Blarchmont. Being very adept at Cross Country, Slalom, Jumping and Downhill, earned Battistella a full Ski Scholarship at Montana State, after he graduated from Selkirk High School. Batty competed in the American N.C.A.A. in all four disciplines, which at the time was unheard of.

‘Batman’ once gave me a ski waxing seminar in the little wax room  in the basement  of the  old  Lodge. The 30 minutes I spent with Gary and Nancy Greene learning about waxing was priceless. I was able to pass on that valuable information to the younger ski racers, Roy Moe Jr, Sandy Moe, (the very talented Michael Martin,)  Gail McDonald  (daughter of  Lois and Doug) and Cranbrook racers Clayton McKay and George McDonald.

Gary Battistella became a Ski Coach at Schweitzer Basin in Idaho, after he retired from Racing, and also worked with a new company called  Lange Boots. He married Sandra, raising their children  Tye, Tricia, Andrew, Mason, and Roman in the Denver Colorado area.

Gary ‘Batman’ Battistella passed away  on December 12, 2007. His ashes are up at Columbia Lake with those of his late sister Gaye and their parents, Evelyn and Orlando. They originally resided  in Chapman Camp.

Kimberley’s greatest male skier? that would be Gary Battistella, with strong consideration going to the late Johnny Jenkins, who was to skis, what Jimmy Hendrix was to  the  guitar, complete mastery.

If you google Gary Battistella, there is a terrific little video of his skiing life, which his family put together. It is   well worth a watch.