Michel Arpin, 80, was a mythic figure in France, where he was coach and mentor to Jean-Claude Killy for several decades.
Born Dec. 29, 1935, in Ste-Foy Tarentaise, 10 miles downstream from Val d’Isère to a family of hotelkeepers, Michel Arpin joined the French national ski team in 1956. Injuries and bad luck cost him a slalom world championship, and his best-remembered result was fourth place in the 1964 Olympic slalom, 1.4 second behind bronze medalist Jimmie Heuga.
In 1955 he met and began to mentor 12-year-old Jean-Claude Killy. Killy idolized Arpin, and from time to time Arpin helped Killy train. In 1960, Arpin went to work for Dynamic, where Charles Bozon had recently designed the fiberglass VR-7 slalom ski. Together, Arpin and Bozon developed the VR-17, and in 1963 Arpin began building skis for Killy. In 1966 he dropped off the ski team to work full time on skis for Killy and a few more top French skiers. He tested every pair on snow and chose those he knew Killy would like.
The skis Arpin built and tuned helped Killy win the world championship in 1966, the first World Cup season in 1967, three Olympic gold medals in 1968 and the world pro championship in 1973.
“Without him I would have won one gold, possibly two, never three,” Killy said. “My career would have been a nice one but not a great one. He left school, like me, at age 15, but he was the best engineer I knew in the business.”