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If the skier of 1954 were to see a film of the race held on Mount Moosilauke, N.H. one afternoon in the winter of 1927, he might think he had seen a competition for youngsters. The Carriage Road on Moosilauke is gently graded for vehicles, so that the racers had to pole furiously in the flatter parts; and there was even an uphill stretch on the lower half of the course. Yet this race in 1927, in which some Dartmouth students, a handful of enthusiasts from Boston and members of the Appalachian Mountain Club competed, was one of the first formally organized downhill skiing races in this country. As such, it marked the beginning of one of the most rapid and extraordinary histories of growth in American sport.
It is hard to know exactly how many Americans this winter will pour out of the cities to slide down snow-covered hillsides. Some rather headstrong statisticians have gone as high as five million, but last year's figures reveal at least two million people of all ages paid a total of $70 million for some kind of ski equipment, and it is reasonable to assume that those who bought equipment went out and used it.
Only a few skied in competition. About one skier in 30 goes into a race, one in a thousand ever learns to jump. But the day is gone when skiing was confined to a small band of highly skilled experts who jumped and schussed for spectators who would never have dreamed of putting skis on their feet. American skiing is now a family sport. Everybody wants to go.
At Mount Baker near Seattle, or at Arapahoe Basin near Denver, I have seen a young father heading down the mountain with a toddler, papooselike, in his rucksack. Mother, it's true, may do a bit of sitting by the lodge fire, and the littlest ones may spend more time throwing snowballs than skiing; but the 10-year-olds will soon be leaving the ropetow on the easy practice slope to follow father up the chair lift and beat him down the big slopes.
While the young predominate in winter's new armada because the sport is so new, there are plenty of couples in their 40s and 50s who will take off in February or March?the favorite skiing months?for a leisurely holiday in Aspen, Col.; or Sun Valley, Idaho; Squaw Valley, Calif.; or Stowe, Vt. They'll be prepared to spend $15 or $20 for a comfortable room in a pleasant lodge and perhaps half as much again for lift passes and private lessons. Not that they need to learn the fundamentals. They are veterans of several seasons, but they know that when they ski behind a wizard like Fred Iselin, co-head of the ski school at Aspen (see chart p. 64), or Bob Bourdon at Stowe, their run will be smoother and faster. They will ski out of their class because of the instructor's skill in picking the best line down the mountain, choosing the right spot for each turn, avoiding the deep ruts in an overbeaten track and finding the patches of still-fresh snow if their taste runs to powder.
SOFT SNOW IN THE MORNING
Or if they are in Utah, perhaps in April, they may have Alf Engen or Jack Reddish take them over the pass from Alta to Brighton, where they can run down Mount Millicent early in the morning when the sun has just softened the surface of corn snow over a hard base, when their skis will seem to guide themselves without effort in long, drifting arcs with no pull on the muscles?a sensation like dancing, only more free and unconstrained.
Having plenty of time, they will take only two or three trips up the mountain each day and will pass up the days when a blizzard is swirling or bad light makes the running uncertain. Not so lucky the younger ones who cannot get off for a winter vacation. They must pack all their skiing into weekends, with perhaps a few extra days wheedled from the boss around Christmas or Washington's Birthday. They will set off by car after work on Friday, perhaps driving late into the night to get to Mad River Glen or Big Bromley in Vermont from one of the eastern cities, to Yosemite or the Donner Summit from San Francisco, or to Mount Baker or Mount Rainier from Seattle. They'll be content with a boarder's room in a farmhouse, or a tourist cabin, or they may belong to a ski club which maintains a bunkhouse for its members near the mountain. For them it's the ski school class if they still need instruction. That usually means two hours before lunch and two again after, in groups of eight or 10 skiers to a teacher and class tickets costing about three dollars for the day.
The kind of instruction given in American-ski schools this winter will vary from place to place. Each teacher has his special pedagogic tricks. Usually, however, it will be a blending of Hannes Schneider's Arlberg method with the methode francaise made famous by the great French racer Emile Allais. The Arlberg technique first came to this country in the early 30s and was entrenched by half a dozen top Austrian instructors of various resorts; but the victories of French teams in European races in the 40s gave enormous publicity to the new system the French had develped at Chamonix, Megeve and Val d'Isere. By now the sound of battle between the adherents of the two schools has died down and most American professionals are combining the best elements of both to fit local conditions.
Both systems teach a skier to turn by body rotation, shifting the weight from one ski to the other to change direction. The Arlberg method, however, begins with the snow-plow position (skis pointed together in a V) until the learner has mastered enough rhythm to turn with his skis parallel, while the French system leads the beginner into his swing from side-slipping practice with the skis together. Either way the end results are about equal, for, as one case-hardened ski bum remarked to a tourist at Aspen, "After they get past 20 miles an hour, they all ski the same."