Year Inducted: 2011
Born: July 30, 1926--New York, New York
Very few of the individuals honored by the Hall of Fame as Snowsports Builders are those whose legacy was the promotion of the sport, that is individuals who brought the sport of skiing to the public in a way that enables the sport as a whole to grow and prosper. Harry Leonard is regarded as the sport's Impresario, Visionary and Cheerleader, an irrepressible fellow who first appeared onstage in the 1950's. He was the man alpine skiing absolutely had to have in it's infancy to become a healthy, fast-growing and mature national sport. It was Harry who invented that irreplaceable kick-off of the ski season known as the ski show and developed a circuit that recruited thousands to the sport.
A printer's representative from Philadelphia and newspaper ad representative, Harry was first introduced to skiing at the age of 30 at Pine Mountain, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Hooked from that point on and finding not a single guide to ski areas in the mid-west Harry produced the first mid-west directory, a 64-page booklet called "Ski Faring". Soliciting ads for the booklet had opened a lot of doors so that the Chicago Ski Council asked him to organize its annual preseason party. Harry saw that it could be much more than that with booths and demonstrations and the result was America's first ever consumer ski show held in Chicago in the fall of 1958. Basically, it was a large cocktail party with a dozen booths that drew over 2000 people!
Harry understood immediately that this first effort had the makings for an activity that would bring what passed for the ski industry then to its most important customers, committed skiers who by the fall were desperate to get back on the slopes and would go anywhere to see the new equipment and to meet the resort representatives from their favorite mountain. He added Detroit in 1959, New York in 1960 and was coast to coast by the mid-1960's. Between shows there were smaller efforts at college campuses. His sidekick was fellow showman, Jerry Simon, the ringmaster, and American skiing had it's Promoter Extraordinaire!
Harry Leonard understood that the shows, if they were to really work, needed entertainment and skiing demonstrations. He was a pioneer in the use of ski decks. The moving carpet Ski Dek was invented in 1961 and on these top racers and later, freestylers, entertained in a way that produced a huge WOW factor. He added dancing, fashion shows, a beer garden, stage lectures and film shows, all the fun one found apres-ski at a ski resort and now brought into a city's convention center.
He also brought in the "headliners", the stars of skiing, and at Harry's shows they were the Who's Who of skiing's golden age: Stein Ericksen, Penny Pitou, Jean-Claude Killy, Roger Staub, Art Furrer, and Wayne Wong to name a few. Making the gods and goddesses of the slopes accessible was essential at this time to get the public to sign up.
Another key to his success was getting the local media involved with special newspaper section and television programming focused on the coming ski season. These media tie-ins benefited the entire ski industry signaling to millions that the ski season was coming and it was time to buy new equipment and to start planning those ski trips. This legacy continues to this day.
The best part producing the shows was meeting and making friends with a wide array of marvelous and fascinating people. Harry's own personality was an important magnetic factor that brought people together. His ski shows attracted everyone and everybody wanted to take part. It was Harry's creative genius that imparted that enthusiasm to an ever growing audience of skiers throughout America. Harry was there from the late 1950's to the 70's when the sport needed him, playing a major role in accelerating the interest of Americans in this unique sport.