Bob Salerno - Freestyle pioneer and training innovator

Passing Date

Bob Salerno, one of the freestyle movement’s first stars, a dominant competitor, innovative trainer and ski-deck pioneer, died May 26 of natural causes. He was 68.

A native of Ogden, Utah, Salerno spent his youth at Snowbasin and neighboring resorts, first as a student and later as an instructor. As a teen, in the early 1970s, he was attracted to the no-rules attitude of the nascent freestyle movement.

His career took off in 1974, when, as an unheralded entrant, he defeated competitors like Wayne Wong and John Clendenin to win the Eastern Freestyle Championships in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. That same year, he went on to become the World Aerials Champion, World Super Hot Dog Champion, U.S. Freestyle Open Champion and the overall Grand Prix Champion.

Salerno earned nearly two dozen podium finishes in the 1970s, including the combined title in the 1977 Professional Freestyle Championships and consecutive victories in the 1979 and 1980 World Ski Enduro Championships. In 1974, Skiing Magazine named Salerno Hotdogger of the Year.

Featured in ads for Bogner, McDonalds and Right Guard, along with appearances in Warren Miller and Willy Bogner films, Salerno became one of the faces of freestyle skiing in the 1970s. His flamboyant aerials helped fuel freestyle skiing’s growing popularity, attracting bigger crowds, expanded television exposure and richer corporate sponsorships.

He transitioned from athlete to innovative trainer in the late 1970s. When ski areas banned inverted aerials in 1978 due to liability concerns, Salerno led the development of the world’s largest water ramp and on-snow aerial training center at Utah’s Nordic Valley Ski Resort. The ski area, of which he was part owner, became a training hub for North America’s top freestylers and helped push the boundaries in aerial acrobatics. The world’s first triple twisting triples were landed there.

As a 19-year-old, Salerno sharpened his ski-ballet moves on an early iteration of a ski deck. He recognized the benefits, and convenience, of indoor training to introduce new skiers to the sport and in 1995 he launched Virtual Snow, an indoor video training center, in Santa Monica, California. Salerno was inducted into Utah’s Ski Hall of Fame in 2001, and the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame in 2015.