Nordic Combined champ, ski resort consultant

Passing Date: 
Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ted Farwell -- NCAA and National champion, Olympian and ski resort consultant -- died on Sunday, January 25, after a short battle with mesothelioma, the severe form of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. 

Ted's mother grew up skiing in Brattleboro, Vt. She put him on skis at age two, and at 15 he won the Brattleboro Outing Club Skimeister championship, competing in slalom, downhill, jumping and cross country. He continued racing while attending Turners Falls High School, in Montague, Mass., then spent two years studying forestry at Syracuse University. He had a part-time job cleaning turbines at a General Electric plant, and believes that may be where he inhaled asbestos dust.

In college, Ted quickly became, arguably, the best American ski jumper of the postwar era. Then, in 1950, he won the National Class B Cross Country championship -- and fourth place in the National Nordic Combined championship. Ted dropped out of college and travelled to Steamboat Springs, Colo., to train for the Olympic trials. On January 1, 1951 -- his 19th birthday -- he drove east to complete the racing season. He won at the Connecticut and New Hampshire state meets, and at both the Eastern and National championships. At the Olympic nordic tryouts in Rumford, Maine, he took second in cross country and first in jumping. Then he went to Sun Valley for the alpine tryouts, where he sprained an ankle in the first run of slalom. When his draft board advised him to report for a physical, Ted joined the Air Force. The Air Force gave him the winter off to train for the 1952 Oslo Olympics.

In Oslo, Ted finished in 11th place -- the best showing ever for an American. It would stand as the best American Olympic finish in Nordic Combined for 50 years -- until 2002, when Todd Lodwick ran seventh in Salt Lake. Ted rounded out the winter with a sixth-place finish at the Swedish International in Falun and 11th at the Finnish International in Lahti.

Back in the States, Ted began flight training in 1953. After qualifying in jets, he went to helicopters, starting with the H-13 (the familiar Bell 47 or "MASH" helicopter) and working up to the H-21 "flying banana," the two-rotor transport that could carry a 22-man section. While stationed at Sampson Air Force Base, on the shore of Lake Seneca in New York, Ted met Sigrid Olafson, a ballerina studying English at Cornell. Learning that she was a skier, he quickly told her he'd been to the Olympics. They were married, in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1954. The following year, the Air Force took them to Goose Bay, Labrador, where Ted flew helicopters in support of construction of the Distant Early Warning radar system.

For the 1956 Olympics, Lieutenant Farwell got six months off to train -- first at Camp Hale, then in the Blue Mountains of Oregon. After the Cortina games, Ted jumped at St. Moritz, Immenstadt, Holmenkollen, Lahti -- and on the ski-flying hill at Kulm, Austria. Sigrid bore their first child, Karen Sue (now Megan) in November, 1956. There would be two more kids: Peter, born in 1960, and Eric, in 1962.

Discharged from the Air Force in 1957, Ted enrolled at Denver University to ski for Willy Schaeffler. At 29, he was one of the old guys on the squad. Ted took the NCAA championship in 1959, finishing third in both jumping and cross country, and was named All-American. At the pre-Olympic test at Squaw Valley, he beat all the North Americans, placing second behind a Russian. He won the Olympic try-outs in Steamboat, then graduated DU with a degree in business. 

After the Squaw Valley Olympics, the couple spent the next two years at Stanford, where Ted earned his MBA. Sel Hannah invited him to join Sno-engineering in Franconia, N.H., the pioneer consulting firm specializing in ski area planning and design. His first task there was an economic feasibility study for the Crotched Mountain resort, in Bennington, N.H. He began flying for the New Hampshire Air National Guard. Sigrid opened a dance studio and taught ballet.

It was a busy time at Sno-engineering, with dozens of ski areas in the planning stage across North America. Ted considered that his most important professional accomplishment was the first National Economic Analysis of Ski Areas, completed in 1967 for the National Ski Areas Association. For the study, he created metrics still in use today. Updated in the 1970s, the project was eventually handed over to Chuck Goeldner at the University of Colorado, though Ted continued to consult on updates. It's still updated regularly by NSAA.

By 1968, Sno-engineering badly needed a full-time presence in the Rocky Mountain West, so Ted and Sigrid built a house in Evergreen, Colo. Sigrid began teaching English in public schools, and eventually had an administrative job covering nine school districts.

When the 1976 Winter Games were awarded to Denver in May of 1970, Ted became technical director for Games. Colorado's voters killed the whole project in a referendum in November, 1972, and Ted launched his own consultancy, Farwell & Associates, to compete with Sno-engineering. His first big job was planning for the Lake Catamount project near Steamboat Springs. But with the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, investment in ski resort construction fell off a cliff. Ted found a new niche in ski area appraisal, and the family moved from Steamboat to Boulder. Over the next 36 years he stayed busy, conducting 143 appraisals that helped to determine fair value and selling prices for 94 ski resorts across North America and as far away as Australia. He consulted on development plans for Thredbo in Australia, Nasan Resort in Korea, Toluca in Mexico, Grand Targhee in Wyoming, and Powder Mountain in Utah. He became a Member of the Appraisal Institute (MAI) in 1983.

In 1992, Ted's dual roles as athlete and sport builder were recognized when he was inducted into both the Colorado and National Ski Halls of Fame.

Ted suffered a minor stroke, and retired, in 2012. He continued alpine skiing, in the Colorado Front Range. He made his last run in the spring of 2014. --Seth Masia

A longer version of this biography appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of Skiing History.

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