Many years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Toni Matt tell the story about his famous Inferno ski race down Tuckerman Ravine in 1939. Toni was born in St. Anton, Austria the hallowed ground of ski racing and ski instruction and when he came to America, he entered this famous race up in New Hampshire against all of the hotshot Dartmouth ski racers and won because he straightlined the Headwall of Tuckerman Ravine. This was a feat that had never been done let alone in a race and the National Ski Hall of Fame recorded the account on the evening that I heard Toni tell the tale. Interestingly, 1939 was a pivotal year in American skiing. Some of the first rope tows went up that year in Woodstock,Vermont, Seven Springs, Pa. and Fish Hill up in Western New York state. People were starting to get enthused about sliding on a pair of skis and the late 30s prior to the big war, were the seed years of skiing in this country. Post World War II, the 10th Mountain Division veterans founded some of the larger ski areas out west including Vail. There are several accounts written about the 10th and their exploits against the Nazis in Italy and how their adept skiing skills not only helped them in the battles in Europe but also fueled their passion to create modern day ski areas.
I have always liked history particularly the founding years of our country. But it is also interesting to look at the history of my favorite sport in America. If you ask anyone who plays golf, they can tell you about the famous courses and their history in this country. The Opens, the Masters, how they don’t take out the wooden floor in the men’s grill at Oakmont Country Club because the spike marks belonged to such luminaries as Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. If you have a passion for your sport, you know the history and appreciate the efforts of those who have gone before you. The old saying that “you don’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you have been”, applies to American History as well as the history of sport. I love looking at the old pictures of the wooden skis( I owned several pairs and skied on them as told in my last post.) I love seeing how the early days of stretch pants, leather boots, cable bindings shaped the sport and respect the passion of those who took the time and effort to market skiing.
I had the pleasure of skiing Holimont this past week up in Western New York. The private club was founded in 1962 and has been a haven to ski enthusiasts ever since. The members are avid skiers, racers, and take pride in their club. You can feel the passion of the members in the way that they meet each week with their crock pots, lunches in the lodge, promoting events that foster their love for the sport of skiing. They let non members like me ski during the week and it is quite evident that this club is well run with excellent grooming, lifts and dedicated instructors and patrollers who are eager to converse about skiing at Holimont.
History has a great way of telling the story about those who had the vision to build a hunting lodge like Adolph Dupre did at Seven Springs here in Pa. How he built the rope tow for his customers out of an old truck engine, some truck wheels that served as the rotating wheels on the tow, and a heavy duty rope that he fashioned himself. These stories pervade all of those startups in 1939 and if you look at the pictures above, you will see the history unfolded. Those Holiday Valley Queens were somebody’s girlfriend, wife or eventually mother who told the story about the fun times that they had back in the early sixties with the snow carnivals. Don’t you just love that fur hat? Not quite sure what those guys were doing with the parachutes on their backs but it looked like fun with their wooden skis and leather boots. Well we have stories like that as well and I am sure that as the years go on, my wife and son and his family someday will see the old pictures of our skiing exploits and talk about our little bit of history on the slopes. If you have the passion for a sport, take pictures, talk it up to someone who would like to try, and encourage them to be a little part of history for someone down the road looking at how it was done. I think my ski outfits and equipment are pretty state of the art. But no doubt someone looking at them in the future will ask,” Wow- what does grampa have on his feet and what on earth is he wearing?” Hey, that old relic grampa will be a little part of ski history. Think snow and thanks for reading.
My Vermont born friend corrected me. Woodstock rope tow was first in 1934.
pat, history of sport is just amazing ,like it is said build it and they will come ,comes to mind . The R@ D of equ. today is is a work of art in itself snow is here everyone enjoy !
Great stuff! there are so many fascinating stories about the hardy folk who plowed the way for skiing in this country. And avid skiers should join ISHA to support their efforts of telling the stories! Thanks for a great topic Pat. And yeah, I think woodstock was first too.
Thanks Edie. My good friend Eric Durfee is from Bethel, Vermont and is very proud of his history. He wasn’t going to let me make the mistake of suggesting that the rope tows at Woodstock and Seven Springs were contemporaries. Haha. Thanks for reading.
Nice article 👍😘
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Have a Great Day!