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New Book Chronicles When Ski Jumping, Skiboggans Were King
Wednesday, January 24, 2018


Neither downhill racing nor running slalom gates were the most popular winter sport when skiing first captivated the imagination of Americans in the Northwest.

It was ski jumping brought to America by Norwegian immigrants.

That is one of a myriad of things Ketchum part-timer John Lundin learned as he scoured through pages of history in researching his new book “Early Skiing on Snoqualmie Pass.”

Lundin, a criminal defense lawyer who delves into history as methodically as he does court cases, will present a slide show detailing some of the highlights of his book at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25, at Ketchum’s Community Library.

The free presentation, which includes some of the 100-plus historic photos in the book, was timed to coincide with Ancient Skiers Week, which brings hundreds of skiers from the Seattle area to Sun Valley. Chapter One Bookstore will have copies of the book for sale, with proceeds going to the Washington State Ski & Snowboard Museum, which recently opened on Snoqualmie Pass.

Lundin was asked to write the book, which is being considered for the "Best Ski Book of the Year by The Skiing History Association," by his high school friend David Moffett, president of the Washington State Ski and History Museum.

Lundin was astounded to learn that during the 1920s and ‘30s, ski jumping tournaments attracted as many as 10,000 spectators. They drove for hours on icy roads, then hiked several miles up hill to get to the jumps at Cle Elum, Beaver Lake and Milwaukee Ski Bowl where they stood in the snow to watch jumpers fly 60 miles an hour the length of a football field just 20 feet above the ground.

“The spectators were nearly as tough as the jumpers!” Lundin observed.

The Cle Elum Ski Club, the oldest ski club on the West Coast, eventually figured out a way to take spectators on mine cars through a coal mine to get to their jump, which was considered one of the steepest and most dangerous in the world. They’d load them on tractor-pulled sleds for the last half mile.

“The number of stories in the newspapers on ski jumping and skiing at the time was staggering considering only a few thousand people actually skied then,” said Lundin, as he pointed out page after page of newspaper print with several ski stories on each.”

Averell Harriman wanted a ski jump at Sun Valley so he could host four-way competitions involving downhill, slalom, cross country skiing and jumping, Lundin added. Sigmund Ruud and Alf Engen found the ideal location on what is now Ruud Mountain, located above Fairway Road in between Proctor and Dollar mountains.

They built a jump and took a J-bar from Proctor Mountain to create a chair lift for Ruud, delighting competitors who no longer had to hike up, as they did elsewhere. Bleachers were positioned at the bottom for spectators. The jump lasted in to the 1950s

While ski jumping was in the spotlight, The Mountaineers’ 20-mile race from Snoqualmie to Stampede Pass was the pinnacle of cross country skiing. Billed as the world’s longest and hardest race, it even boasted a race for patrollers, who carried machine gun parts that they assembled at a certain point.

Snoqualmie Ski Park opened in 1934. Skiers wore rubber aprons to protect their clothes in spring when the ropes would drip, leaving white residue on clothing. When Snoqualmie got a T-bar, it called it a “Sun Valley-style chairlift without chairs.”

The Seattle Times offered free ski lessons as the sport took root. And years later, in 1946 as the popularity of skiing climbed, the National Ski Patrol asked The Seattle Times to reopen its Times Ski School because of the large number of injuries to skiers that season.

Skis cost just $1.75; boots, $6; ski jackets, $3.95, and bamboo poles, $2.25.

Slalom racing was introduced to the public in 1933 at a Chamber of Commerce springs sports carnival at Mount Rainier. It was not the smooth calculated race of today, however, instead resembling a mayhem of galloping racers leaping frantically around flags as they strove to maintain balance.

Lundin wrote of the Olympic skiers the Pacific Northwest produced during the 1930s and ‘40s. Among them, Don Fraser, who trained for the Olympics at Sun Valley and later made his home here.

Fraser worked his way to the Olympics in Europe aboard a Norwegian freighter, chipping rust and painting decks for 31 days, earning $1 a day. The U.S. Ski Team did supply him with room and board for two weeks upon his arrival, along with an overcoat, cap and sweater.

He did not race, however, after hitting a tree and injuring his hip during a training run.

His wife Gretchen Kunigk Fraser, however, went on to become the first U.S. athlete to win a medal in the Olympic Winter Games, capturing a gold medal in slalom and silver in the alpine combined in 1948. She won the slalom, Lundin noted, even though she led off the racers on a freezing day on an icy course and had to wait for 17 minutes before she could start her race after the electronic timing system being used for the first time malfunctioned.

The book has references to many skiers associated with Sun Valley, including Olympic medalist Susie Corrock, Dick Durrance, Otto Lang and even Jack Corrock, who described a massive sled named the Talley-Ho Skiboggan that could carry 32 snow riders at a time on Snoqualmie Pass.

It also frequently refers to Sun Valley, which the Settle Times called a skier’s paradise with “unlimited miles of long, smooth mountain slopes not obstacled by timber or rocks, where the snow is always powder and never wet and crusted, where ski lifts take all the dirty work out of climbing…and the climate is usually so mild you’ll find yourself taking sun baths right out in the snow!”

“Sun Valley had a huge impact on the whole country and, certainly the Pacific Northwest,” Lundin said. “It was 20 hours by car and 24 hours by train, but it might as well have been in Seattle’s backyard. “

Unfortunately, none of the ski jumps remain, although remnants can be seen at Milwaukee Ski Bowl and in Leavenworth.

“They went away in the 1970s as alpine skiing ascended,” Lundin said. “It was very expensive to maintain the jumps and you couldn’t charge the public money to go off them like you could to ski the slopes.”

Sadly, too, Lundin noted, Snoqualmie Pass is now considered one of the country’s most endangered ski areas. At 3,000 feet, it’s right at the tipping point of rain and snow.

“I learned to ski as a Boy Scout and I remember one of our troop leaders taking us to a cabin there for the weekend. And there was so much snow we had to hike in from the highway and climb into the cabin through a third-floor window,” he recounted. “How different it was then!”

Copies of the book are available at Chapter One Bookstore in Ketchum and on Amazon.

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