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Remembering Paul Robbins

03/11/08 5:55PM By Mary McKhann
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(HOST) Commentator Mary McKhann is a freelance writer and editor of the Snow Industry Letter. Today she remembers her friend and mentor - sports-writer Paul Robbins.

(MCKHANN) On February 23rd at around 12:30 in the afternoon, I got an e-mail from my friend Paul Robbins. Paul sent out a lot of e-mails - when he wasn’t inundated with his work as a ski writer and historian. His e-mails spanned a broad spectrum, from political commentaries to corny jokes.

Several hours later I got another e-mail that Paul had died suddenly of an apparent heart attack, working at his computer.

Immediately, a spate of stunned e-mails started circulating. Everyone in the world of competitive skiing knew Paul. He was an institution - a fast talker, a faster writer, a wit, a curmudgeon, a mentor and teacher and much more. Distinguished by his colorful plaid tam-o-shanter and wide grin, he had worked for the US Ski Team for 30 years and knew more about competitive skiing than just about anyone.

Paul lived in Perkinsville with his wife Kathe, but traveled the world covering ski competitions. He covered the last eight winter Olympic Games for a variety of print and broadcast networks. His specialty was nordic skiing, but he was nearly as knowledgeable about alpine and freestyle and even snowboarding. I never saw his office but according to one of Paul’s many friends, his work space should be designated a national monument to the history of skiing, from the results for the 1947 XC championships to every issue of Ski Racing Magazine ever printed.

His last gig had been a teleconference with World Cup downhill champion Lindsey Vonn. Paul thought that it would be a lot more interesting to also bring in the woman who preceded her as downhill champion, Picabo Street, thus providing the press with the kind of fodder that makes the sport interesting even to those who are not devotees.

When I started writing about competitive skiing more than 20 years ago, I was a total rookie. But Paul was always more than generous in sharing his vast knowledge of the sport with me and countless other novice writers. Not only that, he made you feel you were part of his inner circle.

Perhaps that was partly because he, too, started off not knowing a whole lot about the sport. He had been a writer for UPI - as anyone who tried to decipher his sometimes unintelligible e-mail shorthand found out - and was asked to cover a cross-country race when Tony Wise at Telemark Resort in Wisconsin liked something he had written about Sugarbush. He started working with the ski team in the early 80s and quickly became the go-to authority on competitive skiing.

Tom Kelly, VP of public relations for the ski team and a good friend of Paul’s, has collected a long list of on-line tributes to Paul - from writers for major news outlets to athletes - remembering his love of burned french fries, the helping hand he offered to so many, and his tremendous work ethic. Paul left a lasting and indelible impression on all who knew him.
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