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John Jay - Ski Down the Years

Chapter 1 - Tamers of the North Country

p. 22: Photo of Otto Lang skiing past a slalom gate on the east flank of Alta Vista, Mt Rainier beyond.

p. 24: The author surveys skiing history, including prehistoric skis found in Siberia 2500 years ago, the beginning of ski troops in Norway in 1747, the development of sport skiing by Norheim and the Hemmestveit brothers in the mid 1800s, and the start of alpine skiing in the late 1800s by Zdarsky and Bilgeri in Austria. Hannes Schneider began ski instructing in 1907. Around 1920, Arnold Lunn created the Arlberg-Kandahar downhill and a skiing race he called a "slalom," from the Norwegian word for "snake."

In North America, the author describes Sierra speed racing, Snowshoe Thompson, midwestern ski jumping, cross-country skiing in the Laurentian Mountains, and the birth of ski clubs at Dartmouth and elsewhere.

Chapter 2 - The 1932 Winter Olympics - And Away We Go

p. 49: The Lake Placid Olympics included Nordic skiing events only and were held with almost no snow.

Chapter 3 - Model "T" Days - Upski-Ho!

p. 61: Perhaps the first ski school in America was opened in 1929 at Peckett's at Sugar Hill in New Hampshire. Sig Buchmayr and Kurt Thalhammer were the instructors.

p. 61: In 1932 a young swiss engineer named Gehard Mueller received a patent for a ropetow. That same year the first ropetow in North America appeared on Foster's Hill at Shawbridge, Canada, in the Laurentians. In 1934 the first American version was installed in Woodstock, Vermont. Ropetows soon spread across the country. Ski trains became popular in the eastern U.S. in the late 1930s, but were ended by World War II. Fred Pabst invented the J-bar lift in 1936, the same year Union Pacific engineers were busy developing the first chairlift for Sun Valley.

p. 74: The head ski instructor at Lake Placid was a former Norwegian army officer named Erling Strom. Strom made the first winter ascent of Mt McKinley on skis with Ernest Lindley and two Alaskans named Harry Leak and Grant Pearson. According to Lowell Thomas, "Erling insisted that skis could be very useful to mountaineers, and they had never been used before in the ascent, or attempted ascent, of any important mountain. He proved his point, although he made things very rough for Harry and Grant. I will always remember Pearson's remark: 'Them things take me places I don't want to go.'"

p. 80: In the mid-1930s (date not specified), Hans Thorner and his wife came to Mt Rainier to teach skiing. He said, "On weekends there was some activity but, my God, I had seen more ski traffic at midnight in the cemetery of my hometown. The ski lessons were practically non-existent. We starved!" Presumedly this was before Ken Syverson and Otto Lang began instructing on the mountain.

Chapter 4 - Bend Ze Knees - $2 Pleez

p. 85: "[Hannes] Schneider had that rare combination of vision, analytical ability, leadership and horse sense which enabled him almost singlehandedly to change the character of skiing from the gingerly-used tool of the winter mountaineer to a sport in its own right... Zdarsky, Bilgeri and their compatriots, although they evolved such turns as the stem, also had a strong aversion to speed... Schneider's particular contribution was to liberate skiing from this strait jacket and to develop the technique that made controlled high-speed skiing possible."

p. 84: No longer welcome in Nazi-annexed Austria, Schneider came to the U.S. on February 11, 1939. This chapter profiles other prominent instructors of the 1930s including Otto Schniebs, Otto Lang, Fred Iselin and Walter Prager. Prager won the Alberg-Kandahar in 1930 and 1933. In those days they did a lot of experimenting with equipment. Prager won a Parsenn derby with steel edges on one side of his skis and bronze edges (for wet snow) on the other. He rigged up a pair of goggles with little scrapers "like vindshield vipers" and rubber bands so he could unfog the goggles by opening his mouth.

Chapter 5 - Sun Valley - A Generation Ahead Of Its Time

p. 115: About the training film, "The Basic Principles of Skiing," Otto Lang said, "When I asked Darryl [Zanuck] what he had in mind, he said, 'Nothing! Just make me a film on how to teach a bunch of soldiers to ski.' I decided to make a film which would lure every soldier to WANT to ski because it seemed like fun."

Chapter 8 - Hell Bent

p. 151: The author describes the 1936 Olympics at Garmisch, Germany, using excerpts from the diary of Robert Livermore, one of the U.S. team members.

p. 157: "'All racers on the Silver Skis program,' the race instructions directed, 'will use the simultaneous start...' If you said 'geschmozzle start' before finishing the above paragraph, you're a genuine old-timer." Jack Hillyer, owner of Cunningham Ski Lodge in Seattle at the time the book was published, recalled several of the races. Excerpts:

"In this first Silver Skis race in 1934, the day was perfect; bright sunshine and unusually good visibility. Five thousand spectators had hiked over a mile to see the finish... Someone had scratched a long ling in the heavy spring snow and that was the starting line. I toed the mark with sixty-four other idiots. Someone else fired a pistol and we were off: straight down!"

Emil Cahen wore his football helmet (he was the only one wearing any protection) and took a lot of kidding for it. Howard Dalsbo and Ole and Martin Tverdal wore eight-foot jumping skis. One of them fell and the tail end of a jumping ski caught Hillyer in the pocket of his flapping knickers. He crashed but recovered quickly and plunged on. Near McClure Rock he collided with his friend Frank Fletcher and broke a ski. He completed the last mile on one ski and finished in the top thirty. "There was smashed and lost equipment strewn all over that mountain," he recalled.

"The following year, wiser heads prevailed, and the 'geschmozzle' start was abandoned." In 1940, Sigurd Hall crashed into fog-obscured rocks at the Lizard's Tail and died. Hillyer said the last Silver Skis race was won by Paul Gilbreath in 1948. The author writes: "The Silver Skis, like Mt Rainier on which it was held, is one of the dinosaurs of American skiing. As a stirring spectacle, or as Sir Arnold Lunn likes to say, 'a real skiing test,' its passing is frequently lamented. But like the dinosaur, deep in our hearts we are glad it's no more--at least on Mt Rainier."

p. 161: The author describes other "Bunyanesque" ski races of the 1930s, including the third Harriman Cup won by Dick Durrance at Sun Valley in 1939, the Silver Belt at Sugar Bowl in California, and the Inferno at Tuckerman Ravine in New Hampshire. Tony Matt recalls his famous schuss of Tuckerman's Headwall in 1939.

Chapter 9 - We Climb To Conquer

p. 173: Photo of a large group of U.S. Army mountain troops in whites starting up the hill on skis from Paradise Lodge, Mt Rainier (fine). Most of the information and photos in this chapter are from jay-1947.

Chapter 10 - Left-Overs to Lift-Off

p. 183: In March 1946, Ski Illustrated carried a notice that the Army had declared as surplus 100,000 pairs of skis, bindings, poles and boots. Skiers modified the skis by stripping the white finish and cutting them shorter. The author describes post-war improvements in gear, including release bindings, Head metal skis in 1950, and the growth of fashionable clothing. Win Lauder, former manager of the Mt Snow Ski Area, said that stretch pants were the biggest factor in the post-war ski boom. "Even the ugliest legs look great in a pair of stretch pants, and no other item of sports clothing can make that clame."

p. 191: This chapter also describes the making of ski movies by Hannes Schneider, Otto Lang, Chris Young, Frank Howard, Sidney Shurcliff, John Jay, Warren Miller and others.

Chapter 13 - Speaking of Technique

p. 243: Hans Thorner summarizes early ski techniques. Of the Arlberg, he says, "It consisted of the snow-plow being the basis of all things, a powerful abstemmen (stemming the downhill ski in a stem christie) followed with a strong circular follow-through of the outside shoulder and body into a wide arc of a turn and on to better things such as the parallel turn."

"The Swiss...taught less of a crouch; the snow-plow was just another aspect of the total technical repertoire; the stem christie, with an uphill ski stem, was devoid of any extreme follow-through, had a rather square shoulder, if not a delayed shoulder."

Emil Allais popularized the French technique, "the essence of which was to go down in a sharp body motion with tightened belly muscles and simultaneously execute what the French described as a movement 'circulair.' In short, they eliminated the 'down-up' in the 'down-up-down.'"

"A few years later, with skiing getting speedier and speedier, and slalom tighter and tighter, the bindings and boots more effective, it was noted that to make time and shave off the seconds, the top competitors seemed to have ball-bearings in the pelvis, to ski swivel-hipped and to be leading with the inside shoulder if they wanted instantaneous action and reaction. Whereas the big cry once upon a time was 'vorlage,' now it was 'wedeln.' And unless you could do it with tightly closed feet and legs, you were a slob." Stein Ericksen epitomized the new style.

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Last Updated: Fri Feb 28 21:33:16 PST 2003