The History of Skiing in Rossland and Area

The History of Skiing in Rossland and Area

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 ORIGINS

Skiing was first introduced to Rosslanders by the Scandinavians who came to the area to work in the mines. The most famous of them was Olaus Jeldness, a mining engineer, who came to Rossland in 1896. At that time, skiing was mainly jumping and what was called ski running, but there was also a form of cross-country. Skijoring was yet another form of skiing where the skier was pulled by a horse.

The Norwegian Ski Club was formed, and it held the first recorded competitions in Canada. These were held as part of the annual Winter Carnival – held from as early as 1898 until 1918. The Carnival continues to this day!

The first downhill race was held in 1896 from the top of Red Mountain down the south side to the site of the present museum. Jeldness won it. The first Canadian (“Dominion of Canada” at the time) ski championships were held in 1898 in Rossland, as part of the first Winter Carnival. Olaus Jeldness won both the downhill and the jumping events. The downhill trophy was presented by the Honourable C.H. Mackintosh and the jumping trophy by the War Eagle (mine) Co. Jeldness won both events three years in a row. In 1908, Jeldness donated another trophy for the “Championship of Canada”- the jumping event. This trophy is known as the Jeldness Cup. Other prominent ski jumpers and runners in the early years were two other Norwegians, Torgal Noren and Minnie Engen.

The famous “Jeldness Tea Party” was held on the summit of Red Mountain. Olaus Jeldness invited 25 guests to hike up, and he would provide skis for the descent. The guests were “fortified” on the way up and at the top. Jeldness had the foresight to arrange for Dr. Bowes and his ambulance to be waiting at the bottom. He received a lot of business!

The Norwegian Ski Club folded by 1918, but people from Trail and Rossland were hooked and continued to ski, though there was no organized skiing until 1929.

POST WAR

The arrival in Rossland of another Norwegian skier in the late 1920’s, Trygve Nora, sparked increased interest in the sport. He became well-known for his ability in jumping and cross country. His interest turned also to slalom, and it was mainly his influence that produced the skiers that would build the ski area at Red Mountain after World War II.

In 1929, the Trail-Rossland Ski Club was formed. In 1933 the Club split to form the Trail Ski Club (TSC) and the Rossland Ski Club (RSC). Jumping was still foremost in competition, and by 1934, the TSC had built two hills, one north of the reservoir and one down in the Trail area. In 1934, the RSC built a cabin and a jump on Monte Christo, north of the reservoir.

In addition, members from the TSC and RSC got together to install a gas-driven rope tow on the present lift line on Red Mountain – approximately towers 2 to 5. This was installed in 1941.

Skiers from both clubs used the cabins as a base for touring up to the higher peaks and ridges. For even easier access, cabins were built in the Squaw Basin. The first was the Klister Klub cabin, built by TSC members. RSC members built one a few hundred yards down the creek. The Yodel Inn was then built in 1945.

In 1943, the RSC hosted the first Grey Mountain Grind – a race starting at the top of Grey, down through Squaw Basin, across Indian Flats, on to Red Mountain road, along the reservoir, and ending at the top of Spokane Street. Originally, it was an attempt to keep the sport of skiing alive during the war years, however, the race was run for four years in a row and cancelled in 1947 due to lack of snow. It was not run again for many years, likely because all attention was on Red Mountain.

RED MOUNTAIN SKI CLUB

Talks between the TSC and the RSC resulted in the amalgamation of the two clubs, forming the Red Mountain Ski Club (RMSC) in 1947. The immediate objectives of the club were to build a chairlift up Red, build a lodge at the base, and to extend Red Mountain Road to the base area, from the TSC cabin where the road ended at that time.

There was only one chairlift in Canada at that time – at Mont Tremblant in Quebec. The single chairlift at Red was designed and built by people who had never ridden one, nor actually ever seen one! It was built by volunteer labour where possible, with the acquisition of equipment from old mining tramlines in the area and the use of on-site lumber. The club also received extensive help from Cominco (now “Teck”). The first ride up was on December 16th, 1947.

The base lodge was built in the fall of 1947, using the timbers of the Black Bear Mine Compressor House located near the present museum site. What is now the Rafters Lounge was set up as overnight accommodation – bring a sleeping bag, rent a cot!

The 1950’s saw more area cleared for skiing, and a Ski Patrol was organized. As well, a Ski School was started, including special instruction for promising kids – the birth of Red Mountain Racers.

In 1960, a poma lift was installed from the Lodge up to the Back Trail. The operation had grown to the point that a full time manager was hired in 1961. When Highway 3B was put through in 1964, the ski area became one of the most accessible in BC.

Installation of the Granite Mountain chair in 1965 opened up a huge amount of skiable terrain, but also put Red into the big leagues of ski areas. Main Run was cleared the same year, and Jumbo and South Side Road the following year.

The first World Cup Race to be held in Canada was hosted by the RMSC in 1968. Around 7000 fans cheered Rossland native Nancy Greene as she won the giant slalom (start gate at the top of the cliff, course down the face!). This win clinched Nancy’s second World Cup (1967 and 1968).

There would be a second World Cup race at the mountain: a downhill and Super-G were held here in 1988. Many other top-level races have been held at Red Mountain over the years, and Red Mountain Racers have put more racers on the National Team than any other club in Canada. Kerrin Lee-Gartner, who won the gold medal in the downhill at the Olympics in Albertville, also grew up in Rossland, and was a Red Mountain racer.

The T-bar was installed in 1971, the Red Mountain chair replaced in 1973, and the Paradise triple chair installed in 1976, opening up yet more skiable terrain. Alongside the lift improvements, more runs were cut and the Lodge was upgraded.

A NEW ERA

By 1987, it became obvious that RMSC could not continue to operate without an injection of capital. In 1988, Directors and members decided to sell the facilities of the Club, which had grown too big to be run by volunteers. On May 3, 1989, after 42 years, ownership passed to Red Mountain Resorts Inc. The 42 years of RMSC is the longest any ski area in North America has been operated by a ski club!

Since the sale in 1989, a good amount of summer grooming has been done, allowing opening of operations with less base snow. Paradise Lodge was built in 1991, and the Granite Chair was replaced with two triple chairs, Silver Lode (1994) and Mother Lode (1995).

The ski area was sold once again in 2004 to Howard Katkov and associates from San Diego. Under new ownership, further summer grooming has been done, new runs cut and a new quad chair has replaced the old Silver Lode, opening up much-needed beginner and intermediate terrain. Along with these kinds of improvements, real estate development has also arrived, transforming Red Mountain into a true destination resort ski area!

Compiled by Libby Martin (January, 2008

updated October, 2017)

For further information:

“The Hills Around – 75 years on skis in Rossland” by Jack Mitchell

The Ski Race” by Sam Wormington

“Rossland – The Golden City” pub. Rossland Miner, 1949

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