Bob Salerno is no stranger when it comes to exhilarating thrills. He’s carved his way down myriad mountains, soared off ramps to perform aerial acrobatics and won world titles with his skiing skills.
But even those excitements couldn’t compare to the way he felt when he heard that he would be inducted with this year’s class into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.
“I was quite elated,” said Salerno, a Santa Monica-based businessman who trains skiers of all levels on virtual simulators at his local facility. “It’s exciting. It’s a huge award, so I’m really quite excited. It’s hard to put it in words.”
Salerno will be honored during an induction ceremony April 9 in Aspen, Colo., and he will be formally enshrined in September at the hall’s home in Ishpeming, Mich.
Joining him in the 2015 class are fellow freestyle skiing world champion Genia Fuller; longtime industry leader David Ingemie; magazine publisher Henry Kaiser; Olympic snowboarding medalist Chris Klug; adaptive skiing innovator Jim Martinson; and late resort developer Edgar Stern.
Originally from Ogden, Utah, Salerno grew up water-skiing and eventually transitioned to the snow. He took gold in aerials at the world championships in 1974, and in 1998 he won another title at the Wayne Wong World Championships.
“I was a monster in those days,” he said.
Salerno, 62, has also served as an ambassador for his sport by being featured in Warren Miller and Willy Bogner films.
Because he competed in multiple disciplines, Salerno came to Southern California to train on the equipment at Phil Gerard’s Ski World. But an elite performer, he didn’t immediately warm to the idea of practicing his skills on a machine.
“I thought it was dumb the first time I looked at it,” he said. “But once you get on it and do it, it’s really cool.”
The success he had as a result of his off-mountain training ultimately convinced him to launch Virtual Snow, the flagship of which is located on Pico Boulevard near 31st Street.
Virtual Snow also runs a school in Mountain High, but Salerno believes the local store gives prospective skiers a chance to experience the sport before heading out for a trip.
“There are a lot of people on the Westside who go skiing, and we want to help make a better experience for them when we go to the mountain,” said Salerno, who still skies about 40 days per year. “Skiing and snowboarding are extreme sports for most people, and a lot of people quit because it’s expensive. It costs a lot of money to get your butt kicked. But my [clients] don’t quit. You have the muscle memory so when you go to the mountain, you understand the skills and words.”
At Virtual Snow, Salerno’s customers practice on special equipment that works like a conveyor belt. It’s his way of passing the baton to future skiing enthusiasts.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “What if you didn’t know how to walk? This is like putting them on a treadmill and showing them how to walk.”