The Red Mountain chair lift transformed skiing in Rossland; it did not create it. Before the lift, the skiing community was active and vibrant, both athletically and socially. Skiing was not skiing as we know it today, in equipment, technique, skill, speed or the terrain casually conquered in a day on the slopes, but we had slalom, downhill of a sort and cross country races -- and a skilled and daring cadre of jumpers. Everyday skiing, however, was essentially Nordic, on the fields, trails and mountains north of the city, with the beginnings of alpine skiing on the steep slope adjacent to the ski cabin. Skiing occurred mostly on weekends, but our local hill had lights so we also had skiing at mid-week. Often, after skiing, the ski cabin rocked with music, singing and stomping that passed as dancing. We had exercise and we had fun, but most of us did not ski very well. The ski club was as much a social as it was an athletic institution. The story of skiing in the pre-lift days deserves to be told and retold. It was an important part of the history of that unique community, Rossland, that we know and love. This essay is my attempt to fill in some neglected aspects of that history.
Rossland was a wide open mining town in 1897, newly incorporated as a city, but only a few years away from being but a cluster of shacks on a bench on an isolated mountain side. As new gold-copper deposits were discovered and proven, men poured in, seeking employment in the mines. Business was expanding, the city was growing and people were exuberant and confident of the future. There were growing pains, of course, but there was also rapid development. Streets were laid out, houses, hotels, commercial buildings and schools were being built (and expanded), and transport facilities from the outside world were being completed and rapidly improved. A small American-owned company, the Rossland Water and Power Company, was supplying fresh water and electricity to parts of the city, but sewerage remained a serious problem. In the near future, the West Kootenay Power and Light Company would be formed and would begin providing electricity to the mines and the city from its hydro-electric works on the Kootenay River and the city would take over and develop the water system and build a comprehensive sewerage system. However, in 1897 Rossland was still a rather primitive frontier town facing another cold, dark, snow covered and, for many, dreary winter. But the city had an ice rink and an outstanding ski champion. Why not have a party to celebrate ice and snow sports and relieve some of the winter gloom -- and have it in February, the gloomiest month of them all.
I grew up in what was left of Rossland’s Chinatown in the late 1930s and 1940s and I have long wondered about the histories of the few Chinese men that I knew, particularly Lui Joe who sold us vegetables and old half-blind John who was the last resident of the Chinese Masonic Hall across the street from our house and who occasionally sawed wood in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, I cannot resurrect their stories but as I was preparing a history of my family I began to wonder about the broader history of the section of town in which I once lived and of the Chinese men who inhabited it.