Yes there was skiing before we built the chairlift - Ronald A. Shearer

Yes, there was skiing in Rossland before we built the chair lift.

by Ronald A. Shearer

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.

In this essay I plough over some well- tilled ground.  In The Hills Around[i] Jack Mitchell has given us a fascinating and insightful personal memoir about skiing in Rossland from the 1920s on.  His relation of his experiences on skis before the lift was built and his story of its construction, provide an unsurpassed glimpse of a community engaged in winter recreation and in a unique cooperative effort to create what were then the most advanced and most challenging ski facilities in western Canada.  In addition to having fun, Mitchell made outstanding administrative and engineering contributions to skiing in Rossland and particularly to the creation of the Red Mountain Ski Club and the construction of the lift.  He was not alone, of course, and his memoir suitably documents the roles of many others.  They all deserve to be recognized and honoured.  My concern is with what went before.  Very different from Mitchell's memoir is Sam Wormington's carefully researched but not well-organized book, The Ski Race.[ii]  Wormington compiled many (but not all) significant contemporary press reports on skiing in Rossland and reprinted them in whole or in part.  By and large he let the press clippings speak for themselves, but interspersed some comments that provide context or interpretation.  The book is a marvellous resource for anyone interested in the history of skiing at Rossland (or at several other places in British Columbia, Alberta, Washington and Idaho).  I treasure my copy.  However, as a history of skiing at Rossland it is incomplete.  The rest of the extant literature on the history of skiing at Rossland focuses on the legend of Olaus Jeldness and his exploits on skis on Red Mountain.  I doubt that I have found all of the stories, but notable are sections of two books, Lance Whittaker's Rossland, the Golden City[iii] and Jordan and Choukalos' Rossland: The First 100 Years,[iv] and several internet and print magazine articles.  Of the latter, perhaps Rolf Lund's, "Olaus Jeldness and the Birth of Skiing in the Canadian West"[v] is most comprehensive and incisive.  I hope my essay complements these expositions.

I am concerned with skiing at Rossland before the building of the chair lift.  The Jeldness legend cannot be ignored, of course.  The larger than life Olaus Jeldness was important, but there were many other people who played fundamental roles in the development of skiing in Rossland over the years who deserve to be recognized.  I attempt to fill in some of the details omitted by Mitchell and Wormington and give my own perspective on the unfolding events.

Topics Discussed in this Essay

  • Olaus Jeldness and the Roots of Skiing in Rossland
  • Skiing and the post-Jeldness Winter Carnival
  • The Snowshoe and Toboggan Club
  • After the Carnival
  • The Rossland Snowshoe and Skiing Club
  • The Trail-Rossland Ski Club
  • The Rossland Ski Club
  • The Squaw Basin Cabin
  • The Grey Mountain Grind
  • The Rope Tow
  • The Red Mountain Ski Club
  • The Indian Flats Cabin