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The railroads, too, have been making plans for bigger and better ski trains to run regularly on Sundays when conditions are good. They roll out of Denver, where the Denver and Rio Grande Western hauls teen-agers at $2.60 a head for the round trip to Winter Park; out of Chicago on the Chicago and North Western?which sprouted a ski club of its own among its 250 regular Sunday ski commuters to points in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan; out of New York by the New Haven to the Pittsfield area and the New York Central to Snow Ridge; and the ancient and honored ski trains, among the first in the U.S., out of Boston to the Northeastern slopes.
As the number of skiers has risen, so, unfortunately, has the number of accidents. Most resorts employ paid patrolmen who police the mountains and care for the injured, but the greater share of this labor is carried on by a volunteer organization which is unique in the world of sport. The National Ski Patrol System, headed by Ed Taylor of Denver, has hundreds of expert skiers all over the country who have qualified in advanced Red Cross courses. They spend most of their weekends giving emergency help on the trails and slowing down the slam-bang, out-of-control schuss-boomers who tend to raise the accident rate even on the safest slope.
SUMMA CUM LAUDE
With more Americans on skis than ever before, the quality of competitive skiing in the U.S. (see box) has shown an exciting rise in the past few years. For the real thrills in competition these days one must look to the college meets, where the graduates of the intensive junior programs are suddenly emerging as topflight international racers.
At the last Olympic Winter Games at Oslo in 1952, for example, Dartmouth Undergraduate Bill Beck led the American men with a brilliant fifth in the downhill; and a girl of only 19, Andrea Mead Lawrence, made the finest showing any American skier has ever achieved in world competition, by winning two gold medals. Ten other college-age boys and girls were on our Olympic team at Oslo, and they were being pressed hard last winter by even younger stars like Buddy Werner and his sister, "Skeeter," of Steamboat Springs, Col.; Lewis Fellows and Jill Kinmont of California; Max Marolt of Aspen; and Dartmouth's new flash, Tom Corcoran.
In most collegiate meets the emphasis is on balanced team performance in all four events: jumping, cross-country running, downhill racing and slalom. The skier who can win his specialty helps most, but he must also do respectably in the other events, since scoring is on an averaged percentage basis. He must know how to handle a 40-meter jumping hill (good spring at the take-off, smooth float in the air with his skis close together, a steady telemark-position landing) and be able to run a 12-kilometer course. In the Alpine combination he will come roaring down a curving mountain trail?perhaps a drop of 1,500 feet in a mile and a half?in two minutes, and then in the slalom will twist his way through 50-odd narrow gates devilishly arranged to test his turning skill.
Competition, though few skiers race, sets certain standards for skiing, just as horse racing has some bearing on all riding of horses. But it is basically the pleasure of skiing, the recreational aspect, which is paramount in America today. It is the fun of doing something as well as you can, always striving for better style and more command of those wayward boards on your feet, and above all the feeling of being out of doors instead of stuck in a steam-heated room, that gives the sport its great attraction for so many people. And of all who revel in close contact with nature in winter it is surely the ski mountaineer who gains the most.
He, or she, is the skier who loves to tour on skis in high places, to go up to the lonely vastness, far from the lifts and practice slopes. A March or April morning?for early spring is the best time for touring?will find such an enthusiast strapping sealskins to his skis (so they will climb without backsliding) and heading up, with three or four companions who also like their skiing wild, to a cabin that may lie four or five hours' climb away.
ON TOP OF THE WORLD
If they're in Aspen the ski tourers may strike out for Stuart Mace's hut in Montezuma Basin, packing their grub and sleeping bags on their backs. They'll bunk down for the night in the hut, cooking dinner on an old prospector's stove, and be up by dawn next morning to tackle one of the big peaks in the range. This is the real thing. This is adventure. Here in the upper world they will see no human habitation. They must find their way from a map and beware of slopes that might avalanche. Their tracks, as they climb, will cross those of the snow rabbit; they may see white ptarmigan or, off in the crags, a mountain goat. At the end they will have to abandon their skis and edge their way up a couloir to reach the summit. But there, for their pains, they're on top of the world. They have beaten the city for fair, they are up with the clouds. But the wind is cold at 13,000 feet, so they can't linger. Back down to the skis and an even better reward for the hard climb: the run down the open snow-fields to the hut?long, linked swings through fresh snow with no tracks to mar its pristine beauty. That, they will tell you, is what a ski was made for.