Alpenglow Ski Mountaineering History Project Home
John B. Woodward - Personal Communication
Taped interview, 13 July 2001John Woodward was 86 at the time of this meeting. He loaned me his scrapbook from the 1930s through 1950s, pertaining to his racing years and later involvement with the Seattle Times ski school. He said he donated about 400 photographs from his mountain troop days to DPL-WHG.
by Lowell Skoog
Silver Skis Race
Discussing equipment, John recalled that you couldn't buy metal ski edges in the early 1930s. Peter Lunn's book High Speed Skiing described metal strips inlaid at the corner of the ski. Wally Burr made edges of band-saw steel. If the sections were too long they would pop off. People learned to make edge sections shorter and shorter. Norwegian edges were screwed onto the sidewall of the ski so no screws were exposed on the ski base. I mentioned Wolf Bauer's experience in the 1934 Silver Skis, in which he broke a ski and the tip remained attached only by the steel edge fastening. John recalled:
"I wasn't that lucky. I busted my tip clear off. We used to ski in a real low crouch, which in that case was not a good idea, because the speeds got so high. The snow, you know, in that first one , was like a dry, cold wind had dried out the spring snow. It was like little ball bearings of ice. It's the fastest snow you could ever have. We all got in a crouch, and all of a sudden the wind was screaming and the fronts of the skis are vibrating and sort of flying in the air. I'd read in Peter Lunn's book about wind checking. He said, 'Boy, you better do that.' Well I'd never tried it at that speed, so I didn't lean far enough forward, so when I stood up a little too quick, it was like fifteen pillows hit my chest and BOOM. When I stopped rolling the tip was gone. I went down to McClure Rock. I put the bad tip on top of the other one [while skiing down], and I finally got down to McClure. So I took my number off and I took my skis off and I stood them up and finally some of the U.W. ski team started coming down and they said, 'Oh, come on John. Be a good sport and finish.' So I said, 'Oh well, okay.' So I put my number back on, put my skis back on, wrapped my long thongs and then waited for them. So we went on down."
"After the first three or four skiers [and the subsequent crashes], everybody looked ahead and they didn't see anybody and they thought everybody's gone. But they didn't look behind them. So everybody just, from then on, they just skied down and they'd talk to their friends on the side and the friends would say 'Keep going! You're doing great! There's only a couple ahead of you!' But you'd think, "No, gosh, they're all long gone, hours ago.' The leaders were out of sight. You got up and you didn't look behind you. Here I had been fooling around and guys were still coming down the hill. I think I finished 30th. As soon as I got close to the finish they wouldn't wait for me anymore. They used to wait for me. I'd ski with the [broken] tip laid on top of the other. I'd ski that way and then all of a sudden it'd slip off. I'd go a ways and it'd catch. They'd wait for me at first, then I got near the bottom and they said, "You can make it down from here, John.' So they took off. They were were 25th and 26th or something and I was 30th, I guess."
I asked whether John's U.W. friends who were waiting for him were in the race. He said, "Oh yeah." I mentioned the percentage of good skiers who entered the race and John replied, "Everybody wanted to be in it. The publicity and all that. They started out so far ahead. Everybody said, 'Boy this is something. We've never had something like this before.'"
John didn't remember who collided with Ben Thompson in the 1934 Silver Skis. But he recalled an incident involving Mel Borgerson that he thought was during that race. Mel was an official, but he got hurt somehow. "I'm sure it was Mel," John recalled. "The ski patrol was bringing him down in a toboggan. They weren't trained in those days, and they both fell down and the toboggan got away. He's strapped in and it's heading for the top of Edith Creek Basin. Right below Panorama, you know, those cliffs there. He was heading right for that and he knew it, so he rocked himself back and forth and finally rocked and turned himself upside down and skidded to a stop, with him underneath the toboggan."
1934 was the only time the race ended at Paradise. "That really messed it up," John remembered, "because in that wet snow it was really slow." Later races finished in Edith Creek Basin, which, while not much higher than Paradise, had steeper slopes down to the finish. John thought they might have had two group starts one year. They split the field in half and timed each group race separately. I've never found a record of such a race.
During the 1935 National Championships at Paradise, Hannes Schroll of Austria dominated the competition. "At Edith Creek Basin," John recalled, "he came down there and he was going so fast, had enough speed up, he took off in the air and he's up in the air and he took his Tyrolean hat off and yodeled and threw his hat back on, right in the middle of the race. That was a tough hill, near the finish line you could see where people tried to turn to make the finish and spilled. So I thought, turn as little as you can and just don't push too much on that outside ski, trying to get through. So I got right down near the finish. It was coming up right there and I thought, 'Now you've got it.' Then I pushed hard and it flipped me. I did about two somersaults and landed up against the finish post. 'Throw your skis across!' they shouted. So I threw my skis across and they said, 'You're in.'"
John recalled a story after World War II involving Peter Radacher, who won the 1939 Silver Skis race. Radacher was in the Austrian mountain troops during the war and he fought on the German side. For a while Woodward and Radacher where fighting each other. John was skiing at Zell am Zee, Austria, in about 1960. Stopping at a restaurant half way up the mountain, he saw a picture of an Austrian farmer and his wife in typical dress, and the caption said Peter Radacher. "So I asked the waitress, is that Peter Radacher who was a big racer? 'Yah,' she said. Is he still alive? 'Oh, yah yah.' Is he around? 'Yah, he's at the Almhouse. He's the proprietor.' So I went down there and went in. There was a big handsome kid in his lederhosen and stuff. I said, is Peter Radacher here? 'Yah, yah, my father.' So he went over and got his father. I said to Radacher that I'd raced against him in the Silver Skis and he won the race that year. 'Yah, there's the trophy,' he said. It's a beautiful thing. Those were Anderson & Thompson skis [on the trophy] and of course I was with the company for a while [after the war]." John recalled that the trophy was crafted so finely that "you could see the slots in the screw heads."
"He had the trophy right there. He wasn't very talkative. I said, well I was in the 10th Mountain Division and I understand you were on the other side. 'Yah yah,' he said. I understand you were captured at the end of the war. 'No. I vas never captured,' Radacher said flatly. I said, okay."
"'Vas you ever wounded?' asked Radacher. I said, no. 'Then you vasn't up against us!' he said." John laughed. "That was about all, I thought. I figured I was lucky to find him, but it wasn't very productive."
Army Ski Patrols, 1940-41John Woodward entered the army around December 1, 1940. During the winter of 1940-41, the army authorized ski patrols in several divisions across the country. In Washington, the 3rd Division organized a patrol in C Company of the 15th Infantry Regiment. The commander of this outfit was a non-skier. Capt. Paul Lafferty led the patrol when it was out in the field. The 41st National Guard Division also created a ski patrol. It was commanded by Lt. Ralph Phelps, who became the commanding general of the 41st Division after the war.
Paul Lafferty was leading the 15th Infantry ski patrol on a multi-day trip from Snoqualmie Pass south along the Cascade crest. John couldn't recall clearly where the trip ended. Lafferty was using some prototype skis that were so stiff that they wouldn't float in the soft snow. He had to lean back and pull the tips up to glide or turn. After a day of this with a 65-lb pack Lafferty developed terrible shin splints. There was a Capt. Morgan on the trip who didn't know much about navigating, so Lafferty put Woodward (a lieutenant) in charge and John led the patrol for the rest of the trip. Navigation was difficult. Trail blazes were often buried. They had topo maps but the crest was forested and had many branches. It was easy to stray from the main divide onto a spur ridge. John recalled that the trip took six or seven days.
The 15th Infantry ski patrol carried no radio on their Cascade crest trip and communication with headquarters at Fort Lewis was difficult. John recalled that before the patrol left they were told, "You've got to learn how to hide your tracks and hide from the airplane. We're going to come and hunt you down. They'll be able to find you," he said. "Hell, they couldn't find us for nothin'!" he laughed. "We'd disappeared as far as they were concerned, and we weren't really trying to disappear. We found a nice little lake, no shadow or anything. So I went out and stomped an 'O' and a 'K' and 'One-fifteen' [the time of day] out there and my gosh they spotted it. So they took a picture of it and they turned it over to the papers. And the papers printed it with a caption like 'Ski patrol believed safe,'" said John breathlessly.
"So we'd attracted their attention at least," John recalled. "There was a holiday of some sort [probably Lincoln's or Washington's birthday] and they dropped a message down there that said, 'Gee, if we knew what you guys wanted we'd have dropped you some stuff.' Thanks a lot, we thought."
"We had some black panels and we had this manual... Oh, this was fun... So we put the panels out, and wrote what we wanted to say and everything. I forget what it was that we sent. The plane came and it was a bi-plane, a big fighter. It swooped down and around, you know, and they looked and pretty soon they came right over where we had a group standing and they dropped an aluminum tube with a little streamer. We ran over and opened it up and took out the message and read, 'You have the only manual in Fort Lewis on air-to-ground [signalling], so we don't know what you're telling us!'" he laughed. "It shows you how prepared we were."
I asked whether John knew of mountain troops training in the Corral Pass area. I read somewhere that such training led to later interest in developing Corral Pass as a ski area. John couldn't remember such a thing. But he thought the 41st Division might have done some training there.
I asked John several questions about the ski circumnavigation of Mt Rainier reported in Hal Burton's book (burton-1971-p88a). John recalled that between the 15th Infantry and 41st Division ski patrols, they circumnavigated the mountain pretty well, with "probably a little section below Gibraltar we didn't cover." He thought they travelled between 4000 and 7000 feet. John recalled a segment from the White River entrance to Sunrise continuing across the north side of the mountain to the road at Mowich Lake. He thought another trip may have started north of Indian Henry's Hunting Ground across the west side of the mountain to the northwest corner of the park. A third trip did a circuit in the vicinity of Indian Henry's. "The north side was a son-of-a-gun," he said, "because there was no nice downhill skiing. It seemed like you went across a level plateau, then you dropped down a cliff to the glacier, then you'd go flat across the glacier, then up a cliff at the other side." The ski patrols did several shorter trips around Paradise, but never traversed the east side of the mountain.
The west side of Mt Rainier was the section that John remembered least well. He thought he took pictures of the 15th Infantry in this area, but he couldn't remember clearly where they started and ended. My hunch is that they didn't really do a traverse here.
John was the only person on all of these segments because he was the only one in both the 15th Infantry and 41st Division ski patrols. He finished working with the 15th and was assigned to the 41st temporarily in early March. The 41st had already completed their ski instruction so his time with them was spent mostly on longer trips. The Cascade crest and Sunrise to Mowich Lake trips with the 15th Infantry came first. Then, with the 41st Division patrol, he did the Indian Henry's trip, followed by two trips in the Olympics Mouintains, the first up the West Fork Dosewallips River and over Anderson Pass to the Quinault River (five or six days) and the second from Deer Park along Hurricane Ridge to Seven Lakes Basin (about two weeks). The patrol was resupplied at the end of the first week, between the Hurricane Ridge and Seven Lakes Basin portions of the trip.
John did not remember clearly how the 41st Division ski patrol got from Hurricane Ridge to Seven Lakes Basin. Since they were resupplied by truck, they probably descended to Whiskey Bend on the Elwha River. A few men were sent out there. Their civilian boots were a problem. The soles sometimes ripped off following a fall with a full pack. I asked whether any of the men lacked edged skis, as Hal Burton wrote in his book. John said they definitely all had edges. He didn't recall being shuttled by truck after their resupply. He remembered that they had poor maps and they got rained and snowed on for at least a day after their resupply. They couldn't find the shelter they were looking for and everybody was wet for a few days.
Army Mountain Equipment and Training
The ski patrols were told to purchase civilian gear and fill out questionnaires to tell the army what worked best. They used a rucksack made by Ome Daiber. The pack eventually issued by the army was almost identical except that it had tubing instead of a rod frame. The 41st division patrol used a pack with a rattan frame. It was superior for civilian use but you had to be careful with it. You couldn't throw it out of a truck like you could a metal-frame pack.
Boots were a big problem. The Mountain and Winter Warfare Board was staffed with good mountaineers and they did some great work. The first mountain boots had Tricouni nails that sparked on rock at night and were only good for ice climbing. Bramani soles were just coming out and the army mountain boots eventually used them.
John Woodward and Ome Daiber experimented with foam rubber pads for sleeping. "They were fantastic, as we know today," said John. But the Navy had priority on rubber and wouldn't release supplies for this use. The army developed a fiber pad that was never used. During maneuvers, the mountain troops made bough beds, justifying the practice because "This is wartime."
Ome Daiber's Penguin sleeping bag was great for sentry use, but too bulky for combat. I recalled a story that Duke Watson told about testing Penguin bags near Snoqualmie Pass. The men were waddling around near the highway at night when they were suddenly caught in the lights of an approaching car. Duke remembered that the driver almost crashed out of surprise at seeing "abominable snowmen" in his headlights.
The ski patrols used one-man tents that could be zipped together to create a common area for cooking and moving around. It was nice to have individual tents for sleeping, whereas the army two-man tent was heavy and cramped. The army tents were waterproof, which was all right in summer. But in winter the tent would get so frosty inside that if you didn't shake it out frequently the frost could melt and run down and get your sleeping bag wet.
At Camp Hale, the army received a shipment of skis and mounted up 4000 to 5000 pairs. Then somebody tried to ski on them and found them impossible to turn. Apparently the ski dimensions had been taken from prototypes made of a soft northern hickory. The production skis were manufactured from a really hard southern hickory, making them terribly stiff. After receiving complaints, the Quartermaster's Office sent out a man to look into the problem, but he said he couldn't help much, since he didn't know anything about skis. John told the man, "You know how a bow and arrow works, don't you?" Sure. "If the bow won't bend, it won't work, will it?" Naturally. "If the ski won't bend it won't work either." The men at Camp Hale had ridge-topped a pair of these skis to soften them up and John had the man from the Quartermaster's Office flex those and the original models. "Now we've got two broken legs from these and the testers are in the hospital," said Woodward. "They'd like to talk to you."
"Oh, that won't be necessary!" said the man without hesitation. He reported back to the Quartermaster's Office and got authorization to modify the skis. Over several weeks, Woodward's men processed skis in batches of 500, removing the bindings and sending them away to be ridge topped.
During the winter of 1941-42 at Paradise, the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment didn't do much tactical training. Mostly they trained in ski technique, mountain orientation, trail breaking, and how to move around in the mountains. They didn't do longer trips like the ski patrols of 1940-41 had done. John recalled that the army had not yet manufactured enough gear for all the troops to do longer maneuvers.
John thought the most important mountain training that they received was in winter survival and winter hygiene. Trenchfoot had knocked out a lot of troops in Europe. The U.S. mountain troops were taught to dry their socks out in their sleeping bags at night and to move slower and take shorter breaks to keep from perspiring on the move.
I asked about the Military Ski Manual by Frank Harper (harper-1943). John didn't remember that book. Before the mountain troops moved into Camp Hale, General Rolfe asked John to select 100 to 200 instructors to write manuals on skiing and mountain training, select training areas, and have everything ready when the camp opened. "Yes sir!" he replied. "Happy to do it." Woodward's Mountain Training Center (MTC) detachment gathered information from wherever they could find it. For example, men from the Sierra Club contributed a lot of rock climbing expertise. The MTC detachment wrote drafts of their own manuals, but John didn't remember them being distributed beyond the MTC instructors. I believe the Harper book was not an officially endorsed army publication and was not used by the mountain troops.
In a later conversation, John said that Michael Myers, a young associate member of the 10th Mountain Division Association from Portland, is the foremost authority on equipment used by the mountain troops. He has many of the original specifications and other paperwork.
A&T Ski CompanyI showed John a Seattle Times article about A&T (st-1966-dec-25-mag10) and asked him for comments or corrections. He thought that George Aaland was already making skis before he tried making laminated skis for A&T. He guessed that Aaland and Ray Anderson worked on their laminated ski for a few years before bringing in Ben Thompson, mostly for technical advice and to lend his name to the venture. John recalled that Thompson ran a ski shop at the Bon Marche at one time. Later he was a cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine. Wally Burr didn't make many skis himself but he repaired a lot of them. If you broke a ski, Wally would make a replacement tip and dovetail it onto the break. Burr's repairs never came apart. Sid Gerber bought A&T around 1938.
The D-2 fiberglass ski mentioned in the Times article must be referring to K2. John recalled that Bill Kirschner asked A&T if they would be willing to sell a glass ski if he could manufacture one. Woodward and his partner at A&T, Henry Simonson, helped Kirschner acquire tooling from the unsuccessful Dynaglass ski and they financed his operation by paying for a year of skis in advance. Kirscher worked out the bugs in manufacturing a reliable fiberglass ski and had great success with the K2 Holiday model. He eventually sold the K2 Ski Company to Cummins Engine. In about 1974, Woodward and Simonson sold A&T to J.B. Fuqua Industries, which eventually dismantled the company and sold the assets.
Taped interview, 18 August 2001John Woodward was born in 1915. This meeting took place after I reviewed John's scrapbook and did more library research.
by Lowell Skoog
Pre-War SkiingJohn knew Hans-Otto Giese well. He laughed: "I remember we had the 'I Beat Giese Club.' In the early days, it was pretty exclusive. There weren't that many of us that beat him. Then, I think, there was one race where he was way down the line. He says: 'The club is cancelled. There's no more I Beat Giese Club.'" John recalled that Giese won at least one big cross-country race in Germany before he came to this country.
I mentioned reading that John was the Pacific Coast collegiate ski champion, but he said they didn't really have such a title. There were just separate competitions between West Coast schools. He recalled that his best racing result was placing fifth in the tryouts for the 1936 U.S. Olympic Team. Due to the way the team was chosen, Darroch Crookes and Don Fraser were selected from the Northwest, even though John finished higher in the tryouts. Don Fraser broke his leg before the tryouts, but the Washington Ski Club, which put on the races, got to choose somebody for the team, and they chose Fraser. Alfred Lindley got on the team largely due to his financial contributions. John remembered Matt Broze, winner of the 1942 Silver Skis, as a "real tough, rugged skier." Broze came from outside the club scene that John knew and was not known for having a refined technique, but he won some big races.
Most of the men of the 15th Infantry ski patrol weren't skiers to begin with. John had to teach them. Walter Prager and Ralph Bromaghin arrived later, after the patrol completed its winter 1941 activities. Prager and Bromaghin participated in the 1942 army training film, but not the 1941 film by Otto Lang (asc-1941-principles). The 1941 film included Arnold Fawcus, Tom Hill, Ray Zoberski and John Woodward from the 15th Infantry ski patrol, plus four Austrian and Swiss ski instructors from Sun Valley. Paul Lafferty was a technical advisor for the film. Walter Prager had won the Arlberg-Kandahar race two or three times in the 1930s. This race was considered the first world championship, so Prager was the top skier in the world at that time.
Thomas Pearce was a Pfc. in the 15th Infantry ski patrol when John was a 1st lieutenant. Pearce rose through the ranks so fast he became a major before John did. Pearce married John's sister and was a battalion commander in the elite 1st Special Service Force, which pushed into Norway to divert the Germans from the Normandy invasion. Later Pearce was sent to Italy. He was killed by artillery just outside Monte Cassino. In John's picture of the ski patrol at Snoqualmie Pass (leich-2003-p18b), Pearce is fourth from the right.
Paul Lafferty was a very experienced mountaineer. He could have been a ski coach (as claimed by some sources) but John didn't recall that. Lafferty was older and had a successful fruit freezing business in Oregon before the war. John did a lot of ski racing before the war and some mountain scrambling. He recalled trips in the Snoqualmie Pass area such as the Chair Peak loop. He didn't do much roped or glacier climbing before he got in the army. His first climb of Mt Rainier was in the army.
Howard Crawford was the commanding officer of the 15th Infantry ski patrol but he was not a skier and so did not participate in the field. John did not recall seeing the final report that Crawford supposedly wrote. Ralph Morgan was a skier, but not as experienced, so Lafferty put Woodward in charge of the Cascade crest trip after Lafferty had to drop out. John remembered Morgan as a captain, but other sources said he was a lieutenant.
The 41st Division ski patrol was quartered at a CCC camp just outside the park (probably Ashford) while the 15th Infantry was at Longmire. Rita Hume (noted in John's scrapbook) married John Secondari, author of Three Coins in the Fountain. She died in an automobile accident on a mountain road in Italy.
Army Ski Patrols, 1940-41
From various written sources (mrnp-ranger-monthly, onp-super-monthly, tpl-usarmy-41div), I placed the activities of the 15th Infantry and 41st Division ski patrols on the 1941 calendar:
- Jan 30-31, Paradise to Ohanapecosh ski trip (15th)
- Feb 6-7, Paradise to Ohanapecosh ski trip (15th)
- Feb 10-14, Sunrise to Mowich Lake ski trip (15th)
- Feb 17-23, Snoqualmie Pass to Naches Pass ski trip (15th)
- Feb 28, 15th Infantry leaves Longmire
- Mar 3, John Woodward transferred to 41st Div. (temporary)
- Mar 4, 41st Division arrives Longmire
- March, Indian Henry's Hunting Ground ski trip (41st)
- March, Quinault to Dosewallips River ski trip (41st)
- Mar 31-Apr 4, Ohanapecosh to Tieton Reservoir ski trip (41st)
- Apr 8-13, Deer Park to Elwha River ski trip (41st)
- Apr 13, Beginning of Seven Lakes Basin ski trip (41st)
John remembered: "Paul Lafferty and I used to feel kind of guilty because we were doing what we liked so much that we thought, 'Gosh, this is duty?' After we made the trip down the crest of the Cascades, a lot of my friends said 'Boy we've been talking about doing that for years and now you get the army to pay you to do it. That's a dirty trick.'" In a later conversation, John said that he and Lafferty would head up to McClure Rock on Saturday nights to camp out and test equipment. They felt less guilty after putting in extra work this way.
Regarding the Sunrise to Mowich Lake ski trip, John thought that the men's packs were considerably heavier than 30-35 lbs. They carried shelter halves, sleeping bags and rifles, but no ropes. He recalled that the glaciers where well snow covered and that crossing them was easier than dropping down the moraines onto them.
Regarding the Cascade crest traverse starting at Snoqualmie Pass, John recalled that the ground-to-air signaling panels were made of cloth, probably black muslin. Paul Lafferty left the patrol at Stampede Pass, probably by himself. "It was a tough haul," remembered John. "You think of the crest as being one crest, but it can just...run off this way. And if you get on the wrong one, jeez you've got to go way down and then up the next mountain. It was kinda hectic."
After consulting the maps, John concluded that the trip ended at Naches Pass, north of Crystal Mtn, not Chinook Pass, south of Crystal. Many people confused the names of the passes back then. They skied down the road toward Greenwater, where they were met by trucks. There was hard spring snow and the road was fast. John recalled, "We had a heckuva time making the turns."
Regarding the reported circumnavigation of Mt Rainier (burton-1971-p88a), John recalled: "I always felt that we tied together around the whole deal except that we didn't go up the east side. We climbed to Camp Muir several times, but we never tied in over there [on the east side]." I asked John whether they connected the Indian Henry's Hunting Ground ski trip to Mowich Lake. He recalled going to Indian Henry's for three or four days. This trip did not venture onto the glaciers like the Sunrise to Mowich Lake trip did. He recalled that they reached the area from the valley (probably either Kautz or Tahoma Creek) and returned to the valley as well. They didn't get there from Paradise. My guess is that the ski troops never traversed the west side of the mountain to Mowich Lake, but they may have crossed Indian Henry's from Kautz Creek to Tahoma Creek (or the reverse).
Regarding the southern Olympics crossing from the Quinault River to Dosewallips River, John recalled that a man got appendicitis on this trip. He thought it may have been Neal Christie, but wasn't sure. The man's pack was heavily loaded, but he refused to lighten it. John told the other men, "We'll just have to steal stuff out of his pack." They took his rifle and tent and fortunately the man was able to complete the trip. They had to hike a long way before they reached snow on this trip. John recalled seeing elk near the Anderson Glacier. They didn't climb Mt Anderson.
Regarding the northern Olympics crossing from Deer Park to Seven Lakes Basin, John recalled that they spent about a week following the crest of Hurricane Ridge then met the trucks (probably at the Elwha River) to resupply. One or two men may have dropped out there because their boots were falling apart. Some worn skis may also have been replaced. They resupplied with food and headed out for a second week. They started out in the rain and got quite wet for a day or two, finally drying out after they reached timberline. They didn't have topo maps, only maps that showed stream drainages. They hoped to reach a shelter but eventually realized it was in a separate basin. John initially resisted the notion that they were trucked from the Elwha to the Soleduck River (as stated in onp-super-monthly). But after looking at the map and noting that the direct route from the Elwha did not match his memory, he concluded, "It coulda happened."
John could not recall crossing the Cascade Crest from Ohanapecosh to the Tieton Reservoir.
Army Mountain TrainingJohn Woodward and Paul Lafferty thought the Swiss ski technique made more sense for military skiing than the Arlberg technique. The Swiss technique relied on stemming, unweighting, and weight transfer to make turns rather than the exaggerated upper-body rotation of the Arlberg technique. This rotation caused you to swing too much when wearing a heavy pack. Walter Prager and Peter Gabriel from Switzerland were the only two instructors in the mountain troops who knew the Swiss technique. They couldn't get the Austrians to go along with it. So the mountain troops taught "modified Arlberg." In a later conversation, John explained that basically they did the leg part of the Arlberg, but not the shoulder part, when wearing a pack. The instructors agreed to use Otto Lang's book as the reference in case of an argument.
The Weasel over-snow vehicle had to be narrow enough to fit in the bomb-bay of a B-17. It worked well on snow covered roads and flat terrain but was poor on hills because it tipped over too easily. John thought the early snowmobiles (motorized toboggans) were poorly suited for testing on Mt Rainier because the snow was too deep and the hills too steep.
Combat in ItalyJohn recalled: "We were sure lucky to get [General] Hays. We had more casualties because of Hays, but for every guy we lost, if he hadn't done what he did, there'd have been three in other units that would have [been lost]. When we'd get a breakthrough, he had a feel for when the Germans were a little disorganized. He'd start for the next objective without orders. He'd be practically in the next town and call up, 'If you want to give me orders, I think I can take this town. I've got troops about ready to enter.' The reply would come: 'Oh! Oh! You've got orders. Take the town.' Most of them would have stopped. 'We've got our objective, let's stop and kind of reorganize.' When he'd see they were off balance, why then, boom!"
After one unit of the 10th took a town near the Po Valley, Hays told them that trucks would be coming down and they should pull out and head to the valley that night. "Who's replacing us?" they asked. "No one," remembered John. "Here we'd had a big battle to get into the town. But the Germans were so disorganized. Hays had the feeling, so we pulled out. There was nobody there. We pulled out and left and there was a big hole in the line there."
"When we got down to the valley," recalled John, "guys would go into the huts looking for loot or something and they'd find German generals' hats, with braid all over them. It was as if they just took off when they realized the soldiers were right outside." Another flatland division was supposed to cross the Po River first. But of General Hays John remembered: "He swiped their boats, and we got down to the river and by gosh the next morning he had their boats and we got across the river. Probably three or four days, they would have been fiddling around. He did it."
I asked whether the Germans would have reorganized if Hays hadn't been so aggressive. "Oh sure," said John. "They were a real army. They weren't a bunch of kids playing. They were tough. But when you lose control, it takes a while, especially when you're pulling out. He really had a real feel for that. We came to one airfield. Here is a Messerschmidt sitting there with the engine turning over, still running and nobody in it. Apparently he left the engine running and ran up to find out what he should do. He was probably low on fuel. He went up there and about that time our trucks rolled up. And here this Messerschmidt's sitting 'tickity, tickity, tickity, tickity...'"
John recalled that a battalion of Japanese-Americans in Italy "saved the neck of a lot of us in the 10th." The battalion was sent to make a diversionary attack up the coast toward Genoa. "It was supposed to be just a feint. But they were so damn good they went all the way to the outskirts of Genoa. We went to the Po River a lot faster because of what they did. I was really upset when sombody would get anti-Japanese, Nissei-Japanese, when I got home. Boy, I kind of blew my cork."
Taped interview, 15 October 2002At this meeting, I brought an article from the American Ski Annual (asa-1942-p5) and asked John Woodward if he recalled some of the people in it. Eugene Winters told me that the men in the 41st Division ski patrol were relatively experienced skiers, while the men of the 15th Infantry ski patrol were not. John confirmed that this was so. The 41st ski patrol was made up mostly of Northwest men who were selected for their skiing ability. The 15th ski patrol was made up of men, many from the Midwest, who had backwoods experience and may have been snowshoers, but were generally not skiers. Two of the men in the 15th ski patrol were Indians. Ray Zoberski, a ski jumper, was one of the few experienced skiers.
by Lowell Skoog
41st Division Ski PatrolJohn recalled that he was assigned to the 41st Division ski patrol because he had slightly more backwoods experience than the other members of the patrol. (Eugene Winters recalled that Woodward filled in for Claude Trinder, who broke his leg earlier in the winter.) Karl Hinderman was an enlisted man and the number-one skier in the 41st, very knowledgeable. He went on the longer trips in 1941 and later ran the ski school at the Big Mountain in Montana.
15th Infantry Ski PatrolJohn remembered Ray Zoberski: "He had more energy, and was the toughest guy we had in the outfit. Down the crest of the Cascades, we'd get in at night and we're all just 'Thank God we're here.' And we're ready to fall or crawl into our sleeping bags, to heck with putting up a tent. And here he'd be rushing around cutting boughs for everybody, cutting wood. And he'd have a fire going. At first, we didn't put enough underneath the fire. It would sink in ten feet before we learned to get great, big, green logs to put down before we put the fire down. He would do all of that, help everybody with their tents. Oh, he was a fireball." The 15th Infantry ski patrol used World War I style pup tents, also called shelter halves. This tent had no floor.
Regarding Alphonse Waverek: "Waverek, he was a tough one. I'll always remember one morning, I went to wake the guys up, and he was sleeping half outside the tent and his bare shoulder was outside the sleeping bag on the snow. He was sound asleep. I said, 'Waverek! Get up. Aren't you cold?' And he said, 'No, I feel fine.'" Tom Hill was a member of the Torvieg Ski Club, the early club formed by John and his friends. Hill raced in the Silver Skis race. John didn't remember Reese McKindley, who was pictured on the January 20, 1941 cover of Life magazine. Paul Lafferty was in charge on the Sunrise to Mowich Lake trip. John didn't think Bill Butler took any pictures of that trip. He thought any pictures were probably taken by himself.
Pre-War SkiingThe Huitfeldt binding had a solid, one-piece toe iron that passed through a mortice in the ski and was bent up to fit the boot. Some of them had leather glued to the inside of the toe iron so it wasn't so hard on your boots. These bindings were not common in the Northwest. The most popular pre-war binding in the Northwest was the "bolt binding." (John sketched a picture for me.) It had two irons, one on each side of the boot toe, which were fastened by bolts passed sideways through a mortice in the ski. Each iron had a cutout through which a toe strap could be threaded. A heel strap with a tightening clamp passed through the mortice in the ski, providing some down-pull. Some toe irons used lugs to secure the boot sole, some straps, and some both. Some people built homemade toe irons using a thick plate of aluminum, bent up and screwed onto the top of the ski.
I asked John about the 1935 Table Mountain downhill race at Mt Baker. "Oh, I remember it," he said. "I took one less spill than the other ones, and that's why I won. It was unpacked and rough. I'd make these turns and just hang on. I know I spilled at least once. I think most of us got down this little, narrow chute, and then we hit this big, wide, open place so they had big, wide, open turns with poles. It was pretty hairy. They had only about three gates in a thousand foot drop. That was supposed to be a downhill."
"We had another one," he recalled. "When was that? We started from right at the lodge and went down and ended way down below. We went through the trees. This was late in the spring, and there were big holes around the trees, what do you call them? Tree wells. I fell and slid into one head first, and I had long thongs on. It took me about ten minutes trying to reach up. You had to pull your body up to try to get out of your bindings. I thought, boy, I'll be lucky if I get out of here. They might find me in a year or two, a skeleton hanging from his skis. But I finally got out."
Regarding skiing at Paradise, John recalled: "I was a little upset with one of the rangers. I was skiing down the slope in front of the inn there, not much of a slope. I was going a little too straight maybe, and I caught my tip on the top of a little tree that was sticking out of the snow. I did a couple somersaults and landed. And the ranger comes skiing up to me. He didn't ask me if I was hurt or not. He says, 'You hit the top of that little tree and you, you hurt it, you wrecked it. It may not grow next year.' And I thought, gee he doesn't care if I busted a leg or not. So when we got over on the east side [with the ski troops], coming down the east side of Rainier, I said, 'If you need to cut branches to keep yourself warm, you cut all the branches you need. This is a National Park, but your welfare comes first and we're not going to freeze tonight. If the rangers don't want to come along and frown, well, we'll do what we want.'"
Breakfast meeting, 30 April 2003John was an investor in the Early Winters ski area development at the beginning, with Doug Devin and others. They bought land from Jack Wilson at the foot of Sandy Butte, then later sold to Aspen Corporation.
by Lowell Skoog
The earliest bindings had leather straps with a toggle tightener. Then came Bildstein heel springs, which were curved around the heel and provided forward pressure. Amstutz springs were a straight spring used for hold-down only. Kandahar (cable) bindings came out just before WWII. Leather straps (used with Bildstein springs initially, I think) were thought to be safer because they would break in a fall.
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