Most of us hope our interactions with ski patrols is limited to the times when we’re asked to lower the bar on the chairlift or scolded for ducking a rope. But what if you crashed and were injured in the backcountry? Here’s the story a hilarious version of it in a video from SkiVermont, “The Drunk History of the Ski Patrol”
It was just such an accident that helped get the nation’s first ski patrol started. It all began on the backwoods hike-to-ski trails of Stowe’s Mt. Mansfield more than 80 years ago. The story begins with Roland Palmedo, who grew up in Montclair, New Jersey. He graduated from high school in 1912 and spent a year touring and learning to ski in Europe. When he returned, he entered Williams College and joined their ski team. In those days ski competitions were primarily cross country and jumping. Slalom hadn’t been invented and downhill racing was limited (the first organized downhill race in the U.S. wouldn’t happen until 1932). Even after he began a career on Wall Street working for various firms, including Lehman Brothers, Palmedo remained infatuated with downhill skiing.
There were no lifts at the time so he and his friends kept exploring, looking further and further north of New York City to find adequate skiing terrain. In 1931, he founded the Amateur Ski Club of New York with the goals of promoting skiing and locating good skiing terrain. In February 1932, Palmedo’s search brought him to Stowe to check out Mt. Mansfield. His host was Craig Burt whose son, Craig Burt Jr., acted as the ski guide for Palmedo. Palmedo was impressed with the terrain: the Toll Road looked suitable for less skilled skiers and the logging trails offered a challenge for more advanced skiers. Palmedo returned to New York and reported what he had found. From that time on New York Ski Club members became Stowe regulars.
While skiing in the Alps, Palmedo had been impressed with the Swiss Army Ski Rescue Unit that looked out for skiers’ safety. So when the Mt. Mansfield Ski Club was incorporated on January 16, 1934, Palmedo made sure it included a committee responsible for the safety of its members.
This was the start of the Mount Mansfield Ski Patrol, the oldest, still-operating ski patrol in the United States. Another member of the Amateur Ski Club of New York was a New York insurance broker named Charles Minot Dole, “Minnie” to his friends.
Over New Year’s 1936, Dole, his friend Franklin Edson and their wives came to Stowe to ski. January 2nd was a drizzly day, but the two couples started up Toll Road anyway. As soon as they started to ski down, Dole fell and broke his ankle. While there was a Mt. Mansfield Ski Patrol, it did not include organized patrol activities to spot accidents. There were usually some volunteers around who, if notified, would help an injured party. The two wives set off to find some help.
It was hours before the women returned with a couple of volunteers and a piece of corrugated tin roofing to be used as a toboggan. The roofing was not long enough to support all of Dole’s body so they used it to support the leg and ankle while Minnie dragged his butt in the snow. It was after dark before they got down to where he could be transported to the hospital. Minnie Dole would be laid up for 15 weeks recovering from the break.
During that time his friend Franklin Edson entered the Quadrangle Downhill Race held on the Ghost and Shadow trails near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Edson went off the course and hit a tree suffering a broken arm, fractured ribs, and a punctured lung. Well-meaning volunteers helped him off the mountain and to the hospital, but Edson would die the following evening from his injuries. He was 28 years old.
These two incidents would drive Minnie Dole’s interest in improving safety for skiers both in terms of better response time to an injured skier and also better quality care for the injured. For the next two years he would study the types of accidents skiers were having and the injury types. His efforts resulted in the comprehensive “Report of the Committee on Ski Safety of the Amateur Ski Club of New York.”
In March of 1938 Stowe hosted the National Downhill and Slalom races. The Mt. Mansfield Ski Club asked Minnie Dole to coordinate the safety efforts for the races along with the Mt. Mansfield Ski Patrol, the Burlington Ski Patrol, and the Pittsfield Ski Patrol. This “super patrol” developed a system of stations with toboggans and scheduled volunteers. President of the National Ski Association Roger Langley was so impressed with the system that he asked Dole to become chairman of a National Ski Patrol Committee. Dole said “sure” and according to Dole they sealed the deal with a glass of Vat 69.
Minnie Dole officially started the National Ski Patrol in 1938 naming Roger Langley as National Appointment #1, Palmedo as #2, and Dole himself as #3. Despite being #3, Dole would become the head of the National Ski Patrol, a post he would hold until 1950. The Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum’s current exhibit, “Service and Safety, the National Ski Patrol,” celebrates the rich history of the National Ski Patrol and its ties to Vermont.
There can be no better place for this celebration to take place than at a museum that lies in the shadow of Mount Mansfield, where the National Ski Patrol began.
Retro VT columnist Greg Morrill is the author of Retro-Ski, a Nostalgic Look Back at Skiing and writes for The Stowe Reporter. Follow his Retro-Ski blog.
All photos except top right courtesy Rick Hamlin/Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum
Visit The Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum: The Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum’s exhibit on The National Ski Patrol opened on November 14 in Stowe village. There, you can find out about National Appointment #4 and why his contribution to Stowe skiing is still in use every day of the ski season. Or, learn what a patroller carries in his or her pack and how the patrol communicated before there were radios or cell phones. The Museum store is also a terrific place for holiday shopping. It carries beautiful sterling silver replicas of the Museum’s historic charms and ski pins (reproduced by Stowe’s Ferro Jewelers) as well as the classic Moriarty hats, posters, books, old magazines and retro art. For hours , more info or or to shop online, visit www.vtssm.com
And here’s Ski Vermont’s hilarious take on the story: