Ski Racing Community Mourns the Loss of Downhiller Eric Keck
The ski racing community mourns the loss of one of its members, Eric Keck, a U.S. Ski Team downhiller in the 80s and 90s who died suddenly on Wednesday, July 9 at the age of 52.
Eric went to Burke Mountain Academy and Gren Mountain Valley School (GMVS) in Vermont, prior to making it to the U.S. Ski Team. His career on the FIS Ski World Cup was short, but it was sweet—at 245 pounds, Eric opted to leave the Team in 1991 to attend college and instead play football. Eric was the "biggest" downhiller in the history of the World Cup.
Eric skied alongside downhill legends AJ Kitt and Tommy Moe, among many other legends. Former teammates speak fondly of the legacy Eric left as a fearless adventurer with a big heart. As AJ said, "Nothing intimidated Eric. Everything was possible in his mind. He was an adventurer at heart and loved helping people more than anything." AJ reminisced on Facebook, posting an image of he and Eric as his profile photo, with the caption, "Me and my man Eric Keck reunited in 2015."
Eric, AJ, Todd Schneider, and Steve Porino made it to the U.S. Ski Team after one year on a private team, remembers AJ. "It was a pretty special time," he added.
In a New York Times feature written by Jack Kavanagh in 1995 entitled "COLLEGE FOOTBALL; Man of Mountains Scales a New One," Jack says of the World Cup skier turned Division 1 football player,
At 245 pounds, Keck was not only the heaviest member of the United States team in the late 1980's and early 90's but also the heaviest in the history of World Cup racing. Indeed, Keck was a skier in a football lineman's body, swift and agile but not fast enough to keep up with the skiing world's elite.
How does a former world-class skier from Montpelier, Vt., wind up playing football at a junior college in California? "A coach on the national ski team, Bill Egan, had been an assistant football coach at Saddleback and knew I was interested in going to college," said Keck, who had to sit out a year after transferring to Columbia in 1993. "And when I decided to go to college, Bill helped get me into Saddleback."
Following his World Cup career, Eric went on to attend college at Saddleback Junior College in Mission Viejo, Calif. before transferring to Columbia University in New York City, N.Y. to play defensive tackle as co-captain for the Lions.
In a SKI Magazine feature written in 2004 and updated in 2016, entitled "Pain and Glory: Bill Hudson and Eric Keck," Jackson Hogen recounts Eric's wild ride down the famed Hahnenkamm in Kitzbühel, Austria in all of its glory,
It's Day One of training, and in this low-snow year, the fearsome Hahnenkamm is a sinister strip of vertical white ice on an otherwise snowless mountain. So does Eric Keck, making his first World Cup start, take it easy on his first trip down the world's most dangerous course? Nope. Downhillers are a different breed. The massive Vermonter lets go a throaty war whoop, charges out of the gate and launches huge air off the Mausfalle. But his line is off-way off-and he lands with sickening violence outside the safety fence. A frantic teammate rushes to his aid, fearing the worst. But mighty Keck, dangling blood-soaked gauze from each nostril, rises to his feet, brandishing a twisted ski, and lets go another rebel yell. Miracle? In 50 years of racing, no one has ever cleared that fence. But less than an hour later, another American achieves the same feat, landing well beyond Keck's crater. Bill Hudson is less lucky: punctured lung, lacerated kidney, multiple fractures, three months of double vision. He spends the week in Kitzbühel's hospital, where the choppers deliver fresh roommates daily, courtesy of the Hahnenkamm. Hudson returns for another year on the circuit, but now admits, "I'm not sure I ever fully recovered from that one.
Though his size made him a formidable competitor both on the mountain as well as the football field, Eric's teammates speak of his kind, protective nature. Former U.S. Ski Team teammate Heidi Voelker says of Eric, "Keck's humor, laugh, and smile was like no other. When you were around Keck, you felt protected."
And former teammate and downhiller Steve Porino, ever the wordsmith, reflected on Eric's dynamic personality and positive—and, at times, negative (but ultimately still in a positive way)—influence on Steve,
At a time when the U.S. Team was going unnoticed, he was noticed. Everyone, whether they knew his name, knew who he was. He was the largest thing they’d ever seen skis. Not a gentle giant, but rather a fun loving, live out loud Titan. That guy we were all so proud to call our teammate, and he was such a great teammate. "One-of-a-kind" has never been more true than with Kecker. There was nothing he would not try, a total renaissance man. Built hot rods, captained Columbia to its first winning football season having hardly played the game. He built hot rods, he became a minister, police officer, school principle, and on and on. He was simply fearless in all aspects of life, and he loved to coerce people to be the same. Man he got me to do things I’d never have done...and I hope the road crew outside Lausanne will one day forgive me. This is a void felt everywhere.
According to Ski Racing Media, Eric would go on to become a school principal for the Southwick School in Northfield, New Hampshire. He is survived by his wife, Beth, his three daughters, Phoebe, Zion, and Zachari, and his son Thunder, and his two grandchildren.