Bill Koch has always been ahead of the wave. At the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, the 20-year-old Vermonter shocked the world by collecting the U.S.'s first-and last-nordic medal, a silver in the 30k. In 1981, he eschewed the international circuit, electing to train at home using a controversial new technique patterned after the marathon-skate style. The next season, Koch became the only American to win the World Cup season-long cross-country title. As a competitor, he trained on sand for strength. In 1997, Koch took his skis with him on a trip to Maui, where he discovered a surprisingly fast surface. It changed his life. He's since moved to Hawaii so he can sandski year-round, has created a web site (sandskiing.com) dedicated to the sport and dreams of searching the world to discover its fastest beaches.
The Legacy Since Koch's glory days 15 years ago, only one U.S. skier has even placed in the top 10 of a World Cup cross-country race. "I don't think I'm that special. There's plenty of talent out there. What I did is repeatable."
The Skate In marathon events, skiers would skate with one ski while leaving the other in the diagonal track. Always looking for an angle, Koch realized he could ski even faster by skating with both skis, a complex style that improved his times by 10 percent. When he brought it to the World Cup, rival nations fought it and officials tried to ban it. But Koch persevered, and in 1986 the World Cup instituted two cross-country disciplines: skating and the traditional diagonal stride. "I was the first to get on that horse."
The Sport Interest in cross-country peaked during Koch's successes, but it never took hold as a national sport. "You can't count on snow in cross-country, and we don't make it like the alpine areas do. If you could count on snow, I think cross-country would flourish. As for the core, it's very alive and well." The core includes the thousands of youngsters who compete in the Bill Koch Ski League, a national cross-country ski program for kids ages 7 to 13.
The Art Of Sandskiing "Finding the right sand is kind of elusive. Like snow, it changes every day, seasonally and according to surf conditions. This was a medium-fast day (above). It was a big surf, which brings in the wet sand. On good days, it's just like skiing on wet snow."