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E. John B. Allen - From Skisport to Skiing
This scholarly book analyzes how and why skiing became a modern sport. As a basis for his analysis, the author relies on Allen Guttmann's From Ritual to Record: The Nature of Modern Sports. Guttmann posits seven distinguishing characteristics of modern sport: "secularism [i.e. no moral connotations], equality of opportunity to compete and in the conditions of competition, specialization of roles, rationalization, bureaucratic organization, quantification, and the quest for records."

The time period 1840-1940 extends from the earliest skiing in the Midwest to the beginning of World War II, which interrupted the sport's evolution. As the author explains (p. 4), "all the component parts of skiing that we recognize as modern" had emerged by 1940.

Part 1, The Skisport, 1840-1920

Chapter 1: The Skisport: An Introduction

p. 8: The author notes that there was no word "ski" in the English language. "The word snowshoe was used for ski throughout the mountain West. [...] Norwegians themselves, however, used two words for a long time because it was customary to have unequal lengths of skis. The 'Ski' was for gliding and the 'Andor', shorter and pelt-covered, was for pushing."

p. 9: "Two other terms [besides 'skier'] described those who skied. 'Skidor' and the much longer lasting 'ski runner'. Skidor is the Swedish term for skier. [...] Ski runner [...] describes both a person and a style of skiing associated with cross-country skiing. [...] The Ski Club of Great Britain [...] officially abolished 'ski runner' on 13 July 1933 and replaced it with 'skier'."

p. 10: "Arnold Lunn [...] first tried his slalom--small boughs were stuck into the snow to simulate trees--to provide practice for ski mountaineers for their descent on skis through the woods to their inn on the valley floor."

p. 11: "Skisport" was an all-encompassing term for skiing as recreation, sport and business. It was a crude translation of the Norwegian word "Idraet," for which there was no corresponding word in English. The Norwegian concept of Idraet was of "outdoor exercise that could develop the physical and moral strength of nations." A note referenced here says that an article by Milana Jank in 1932 defined Idraet as "Back to Nature."

Chapter 2: California Gold Rush Snow-Shoeing

The author argues that California skiing in the mid to late 1800s was not the foundation for American skiing. Despite the emphasis on competition in the mining camps, California skiing "was not modern; it was a period piece" (p. 13). "Even when skiing had its heyday in the Sierra, the rest of the United States hardly knew that there was such a winter activity" (p. 14).

p. 14: The author describes utilitarian skiing in California during this period. "In some communities skis were 'so common that the ladies do nearly all their shopping and visiting on them.'"

p. 16: This section describes mail service performed on skis by John A. "Snowshoe" Thompson and others. Beginning in the 1850s, mailmen on skis regularly crossed the Sierra, a distance of up to ninety miles, to deliver mail to and from the mining districts.

p. 20: The author briefly describes recreational skiing, including a quote from John Muir in 1878.

p. 21: This section describes races between snow-shoe clubs from different mining camps. They were speed races, using 10-1/2 to 14 foot skis, over prepared tracks usually one to two thousand feet in length and down a hill of 15 to 25 degrees in pitch. After entering and losing one of these races in 1869, "Snowshoe" Thompson dismissed them as "nothing but dope [wax] racing."

p. 28: "In nearly every respect California 'snow-shoeing' differed from what Norwegian immigrants believed about skiing. [...] California skiing did not have a muscular Christian quality about it, a concern for health in God's great outdoors, which made up the Idraet ideal that was apparent in the Northwest [today's mid-west]."

Chapter 3: Utilitarian Skiing and Ludic Enthusiasms

p. 29: Scandinavian immigrants introduced skiing to America. Immigration from Norway, Sweden and Finland reached a peak in 1882 when over 100,000 arrived. "This chapter details the utilitarian and recreational use of skis in the immigrants' normal winter life, before any club organization."

The author describes the use of skis for hunting (p. 30) and documents regional variations in skiing in New England (p. 32), the Northwest (Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, p. 33), the Rocky Mountains (p. 34), and Washington and Oregon (p. 36).

p. 36a: The author writes: "There are so few references to skiing in [Washington and Oregon] that it seems likely that skis were used only occasionally. [...] It is not clear why skis were not used; Scandinavians were among the settlers and miners often migrated from one 'rush' to another. Oregon skiing was featured and even pictured in Harper's, so it seems likely that there was more skiing than the record shows." I hope this project will help fill in that record.

p. 36b: The author describes the use of skis by mail carriers in Colorado and Idaho in the late 1800s.

p. 39: The U.S. Army used skis in Yellowstone Park beginning in 1886-87 to patrol against poachers.

p. 40: This section describes what can be learned about skis from the artifacts themselves. Unfortunately, most of the early skis that have been preserved in America have little documentation for them. The author notes that most of the skis in museums in the U.S. are carefully crafted. Few of the crude utilitarian skis that were more representative of the early era have been preserved.

p. 41: In Scandinavia, anthropologists have studied and documented skis dating from 2500 B.C. to the present.

p. 44a: "The single pole is a vestige of Norse hunting, where it doubled as a weapon."

p. 44b: The author describes unorganized recreational skiing by individuals. He writes, "The one area where no reports of recreational skiing have surfaced is in the Washington and Oregon mountains where there was only a slight interest in the use of skis anyway." The earliest report he mentions in the Pacific Northwest was a jumping carnival reported in the Spokane Falls Review in 1913. For early reports found by this project, see the chronologies.

Chapter 4: Foundation of the Skisport

p. 48a: "Skiing in the Alpine regions of Europe only started in the 1880s."

p. 48b: A quote from Fridtjof Nansen captures the essence of Idraet: "I know of no form of sport which so evenly develops the muscles, which renders the body so strong and elastic, which teaches so well the qualities of dexterity and resource, which in an equal degree calls for decision and resolution, and which gives the same vigour and exhilaration to mind and body alike. [...] There is something in the whole which develops soul and not body alone, and the sport is perhaps of far greater national importance than is generally supposed."

p. 49: Nansen's ski crossing of Greenland in 1888 and his description of skiing fitted the American ideal of rugged individualism. His use of the word Idraet took in the notion of "a healthy mind in a healthy body." Early American ski clubs were dominated by Norwegian groups and their Idraet traditions.

p. 51a: Theodore Roosevelt was the first American president to ski.

p. 51b: The National Ski Association (NSA) was founded in 1905 at Ishpeming, Michigan based on the Idraet traditions of the local Ishpeming club.

p. 54: The Idraet ideal of the all-round skier ran into problems in America because few people were interested in cross-country racing.

p. 55: The influence of Idraet in ski jumping competition was evidenced by the fact that style was of equal or greater importance than distance.

p. 61: Communities gained pride and money from their skiing champions and this led to increasing professionalism. The author writes: "The mounting cash prizes, the strenuous efforts to lure 'name' jumpers to town, and the increasing attention paid to winnings rather than winners roused the National Ski Association to try to protect the Idraet ideal by abolishing all cash prizes. The result was that the jumpers decided to boycott the meet." Traditionalists were thus unable to stop the decline of cross-country racing and the growth of jumping as a spectacle in which prize money played a major role.

Chapter 5: Controlling the Skisport

This chapter describes forces acting for and against standardization in the first decades of the 1900s. It describes the influence of organizing bodies and equipment manufacturers.

p. 65: Around 1900, the NSA tried to standardize ski jumping by specifying the construction of jumps, but the effort was unsuccessful. Towns continued to build ever-higher jumps to claim distance records.

p. 68a: Between 1910 and 1924, Norwegians gradually turned their rules into international rules. The Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS), founded in 1924, was Norwegian dominated. Americans resisted standardization throughout the 1920s. Meanwhile, Europeans were critical of the American preoccupation with record setting.

p. 68b: The international games in Chamonix, France in 1924 were retrospectively called the first Winter Olympic Games, although many people already thought of these international competitions as the Winter Olympics.

p. 69: The Kandahar Club was founded in 1924 by the British at Murren, Switzerland, "with the express intention of securing the inclusion of downhill racing in the Olympic Games."

p. 70: The author describes the appearance of American ski manufacturers between 1885 and the 1920s. These included Martin Strand and Christian Lund in the Midwest and Theo. Johnsen in New England. Lund founded the Northland Ski Company in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1911. Strand was the most successful of the early manufacturers, producing cheap skis that sold well. The author also describes early bindings, boots and poles.

p. 74: "Although the NSA was the organizing and controlling body of American skisport, it found itself increasingly unable to enforce its view--rooted in the Norse tradition of Idraet--of the way skiing was meant to be. [...] It would be wealthy easterners who would give a new direction to American skiing as a social sport."

Chapter 6: The New Enthusiasts

This chapter describes the growth of recreational skiing in the 1910s, spearheaded by Dartmouth College and prominent outdoor clubs.

p. 75: The Dartmouth Outing Club was started at the end of 1909 by Fred H. Harris. At the Dartmouth winter carnival in 1916, Gustav Paulsen taught John Carleton the somersault jump. Other New England colleges soon started clubs of their own.

p. 79: The author notes: "In a society in which time was money, skiing for pleasure in the East became an activity for only the well-to-do."

p. 81: This section describes recreational skiing by outdoor clubs not associated with colleges. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) had the occasional skier join its expeditions as early as the 1880s. Later, members began taking winter trips to the mountains of New England, staying in the few hotels that were open. Beginning in 1904, the Lake Placid Club remained open in winter, providing recreational skiing for the well-to-do. Around 1915, the Sierra Club started to become active in skiing. Lake Tahoe was the favored destination because it was on a rail line. Between 1912 and 1920, ski clubs began forming in many parts of Colorado.

p. 85: Noting the shift away from the Idraet foundations of the sport, particularly in the Northeast, the author observes that "skiing was to change from a premodern sport exhibiting many facets of modernization, to one dominated by technology, technique, and speed."

Part 2: The Mechanization of Skiing, 1920-1940

Chapter 7: Post-World War I: Prelude to Skiing

This chapter describes the emergence of Alpine skiing in America in the late 1920s and early 1930s, represented by downhill and slalom racing and the Arlberg skiing methods.

p. 90: As the number of geographically diverse clubs grew, the NSA found in necessary to form regional associations. This began in 1922 in New England and continued until 1930 when the Pacific Northwest Ski Association was formed.

p. 91a: "By 1930 the control of organized skiing had passed from the Midwest to New England, both nationally and internationally at the Olympic Games."

p. 91b: The 1924 U.S. Olympic team was haphazardly chosen. The team presented no challenge in the cross-country events. In the jumping, Anders Haugen, though having made the longest jump, finished fourth due to his ragged style. Fifty years later, in 1974, after re-scoring proved that he had in fact finished third, Haugen was awarded the bronze medal.

p. 92: At the 1928 Olympics at St. Moritz there was much discontent with the organization. Americans did poorly in the cross-country events but respectably in the jumping. Godfrey Dewey arranged to act as manager of the U.S. team, mainly to try to secure the 1932 Games for the Lake Placid Club. He succeeded.

p. 93: The 1932 Games at Lake Placid were a disappointment. Americans faired poorly, there was a lack of snow, and the Games were ineffective in promoting the sport. The author notes: "The [1932 Games] were the end of an era. They were the last to have only Nordic events and the last in which there were no women's ski competitions. Contrary to popular belief, the Olympics did not spark the 1930s skiing boom."

p. 96a: In this section, the author discusses the influence of Hannes Scheider and Arnold Lunn in creating and promoting Alpine skiing, which challenged the dominance of Nordic skiing beginning in the 1920s.

p. 96b: In 1907 Schneider began ski instructing at St. Anton am Arlberg. The author describes the growth of Schnieder's influence through books, films and the popularity of his ski school. He also describes the strict, almost militaristic character of Arlberg instruction.

p. 98: Arnold Lunn's influence was due to his editorship of the British Ski Year Book between 1920 and 1974, his invention and promotion of modern downhill and slalom racing, and his administrative role on many international committees. He staged the first slalom in 1922 at Murren, Switzerland and in 1924 founded the D.H.O. (Downhill Only) Club at nearby Wengen.

p. 99: The author writes: "When Lunn proposed downhill and slalom races he was 'inspired by the naive concern,' as he wrote thirty years later, 'that downhill racing would help to develop the kind of technique suitable for ski mountaineering.'" Convinced that ski mountaineers needed to be expert at what was called tree running, Lunn "invented the modern gate slalom as a substitute for racing through trees."

p. 100a: The author writes: "The British love of 'taking it straight,' redolent of the fox hunt, and the appeal of speed (Schneider observed that 'it is speed that is the lure') combined to inspire a new form of skiing."

p. 100b: The first slalom in the U.S. was run by Dartmouth skiers in 1925.

p. 100c: The telemark turn came "from the Norwegian tradition, the Christiania from the Arlberg, in spite of its name." The capital of Norway was called Christiania until 1925 when the name was changed to Oslo.

p. 101: In 1927 Dartmouth skiers staged a downhill race on Mt Moosilauke. Some of these early races experimented with a "geschmozzel" (mass) start, which had been observed by Charley Proctor at Murren, Switzerland.

p. 102: The author mentions the earliest ski mountaineering in New England in the 1900s and 1910s. These efforts were inspired by the feats of the British in the Alps. He also describes the role of the AMC in organizing ski instruction and building trails.

Chapter 8: The Mechanization of Skiing

This chapter describes the influence of ski trains, tows and trail building during the 1930s, with a focus on New England.

p. 104: The author outlines the history of ski trains in the East. On p. 107 he writes: "As trains brought thousands to the hills, skiing as a recreation and a sport became a social occasion." Skiing attracted people "who enjoyed the Germanic 'Shuss' more than the Norwegian 'Idraet'." The author mentions ski trains in other regions only briefly. He notes that in 1935 the University Book Store in Seattle "sponsored a regular Sunday train to Stampede in the Cascades" (p. 109).

p. 109: The first rope tow for skiing was patented in Switzerland in 1931. In 1933, Alex Foster, a Canadian ski jumper, constructed a rope tow at Shawbridge, Quebec. Various contraptions had been used to haul skiers up hills in the U.S. for many years, particularly in California. However, it was the "ski way" built in 1934 at Woodstock, Vermont that initiated the rope-tow era in the U.S.

p. 111a: Of the Woodstock rope tow it was said that "one gets almost as much of a thrill going up as coming down."

p. 111b: Around 1935, a J-bar lift was constructed by Dartmouth skiers and a T-bar (originally called the "he-and-she-stick") was built at Pico, Vermont.

p. 113: The world's first charilift opened at Sun Valley in December 1936.

p. 114: After the introduction of ski trains and tows, it became apparent that there was a shortage of Alpine skiing terrain. The author discusses the cutting of ski trails in the East in the early 1930s. Much of the trail work was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Chapter 9: The Sport of Skiing

p. 119: The author discusses early instructors of the Arlberg style, including Otto Schniebs, Sig Buchmayr, Benno Rybizka and Otto Lang. "These men were part of the second wave of immigrants who changed American skiing and gave it its Alpine ambience." He describes ideosyncracies of early instruction, including the emphasis on perfecting each learning stage and the spread of German terminology. He observes: "All of this emphasis on language may appear as dilettante superficiality and it probably was. But underlying the language shift was a denigration of the Norwegian heritage."

p. 123: In 1932 the NSA accepted slalom and downhill as competitive sports, but did not view them as of equal importance to jumping and cross-country. In 1933 Dartmouth sponsored the first U.S. Downhill Championship on Mt Moosilauke.

p. 126: For the 1936 Olympic team, Avery Brundage called for the selection of men of "good character and unquestioned sportsmanship." The author describes briefly the Alpine team try-outs on Mt Rainier, noting that Hannes Schroll, recently arrived from Austria, trounced the field. Don Fraser, "the best western skier," was injured and could not compete, but was chosen for the team anyway. Most of the team members were from the East, led by Dick Durrance. The women's team was thought to be "too good looking to know how to ski."

p. 129a: At the 1936 Games at Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, Dick Durrance placed 8th in the slalom and 11th in the downhill. The performance of the U.S. team was judged a failure by the American public.

p. 129b: "Until downhill skiing became prominent there were in fact very few accidents..." The author discusses growing concerns about safety in the mid-1930s, which led to the creation of the National Ski Patrol System in 1938.

p. 132: This section describes the Inferno Races in Tuckerman Ravine. The headwall was first skied in 1931 by Olympians John Carleton and Charley Proctor. Sigmund Ruud was the first to schuss the headwall in 1932. Inspired by the Inferno Race at Murren, Switzerland, the Hochgebirge Ski Club of Boston ran their own "suicide race" in April 1932. The race was run again in 1934. In 1939, Toni Matt made his legendary schuss of the headwall during the race, cutting the previous winning time nearly in half.

Chapter 10: Western Idylls

p. 135: The author describes encounters in the early 1900s between California skiers who were throwbacks to the mining era and those with a more modern Alpine background.

p. 137a: In 1926 Erling Strom and Lars Haugen made a one-hundred mile cross-country ski expedition from Estes Park to Steamboat in Colorado.

p. 137b: The main skiing attractions in California in the 1930s were the Lake Tahoe area, Mt Shasta, and especially Yosemite.

p. 139: The most favored sites in Colorado in the 1930s were Berthoud Pass, Loveland and Aspen.

p. 141: In the Pacific Northwest in the 1930s the main centers were Mt Rainier, Mt Baker and Mt Hood. The author writes: "Hans Otto Giese, who had been part of the pack in Schneider's 1923 'The Ski Chase', arrived as a law student at the University of Washington and found himself one of the very few Arlberg specialists who could be relied upon to give instruction in the rudiments of skiing." The author also mentions Washington skiing at Leavenworth, American River, and Mount St Helens.

p. 143: This section describes the founding of Sun Valley and the role of Averell Harriman, Count Felix Schaffgotsch, Steve Hannigan and Charley Proctor.

Chapter 11: The Economics of Pleasure

In this chapter, the author presents an informal economic analysis of skiing in the 1930s. His thesis is that by 1940 skiing had achieved "take-off," which is to say, sufficient economic momentum that it would not falter and decline. This required a population of consumers, an industry with a major successful product--the ski--to sell in large quanitities, an effective transportation network, and a political climate that supported and promoted skiing. The author cautions that there is not enough data to support a rigorous analysis: "Data can be organized to indicate trends but the evidence cannot be pushed beyond suggestion."

p. 146: By 1940 the number of American skiers was estimated at between two and three million.

p. 150: This section describes the availability of skis, bindings, boots and poles during the 1930s.

p. 151: Note 21 referenced on this page states: "Laminated skis were first experimented with in Norway. In 1932 there was a Canadian model on the market and this was followed by the Anderson and Thompson ski."

p. 156: The author describes ski clothing and the growing emphasis on style. On p. 158 he writes: "The equipment market provided the means to enjoy Alpine skiing; the fashion industry glamorized it."

p. 159: This section describes the transportation system that supported skiing, including snow clearing of the roads, snow trains, rope tows and trams, and the emergence of ski centers. On p. 145 he notes: "In the 1930s most who built rope tows did not really care whether they made money."

p. 164: The author discusses government support for skiing and the role of ski publications in promoting the sport.

Chapter 12: Epilogue: To the Future

p. 171: The author summarizes the transformation that occurred between Fridtjof Nansen's day and 1940: "Idraet's skisport was a life philosophy, skiing was merely a leisure-time amusement. The skisport had contained a pantheistic connection and held out hope for its regenerating effect on individual body, soul, club, and even nation. There was nothing remotely connected with these notions in the 1930s crowd waiting in line to grab the rope tow [...]"

p. 172: Significantly (for this project), the author notes that the Idraet ideal did not disappear entirely as skiing became a modern sport. "The only true enthusiasts who remained, it seemed, were the few who sought lonely and challenging mountain peaks." Today we call them ski mountaineers.

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Last Updated: Fri Feb 28 10:49:08 PST 2003