From Skisport to Skiing: One Hundred Years of an American Sport, 1840-1940

Univ of Massachusetts Press
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The first full-length study of skiing in the United States, this book traces the history of the sport from its utilitarian origins to its advent as a purely recreational and competitive activity.

During the mid-1800s, inhabitants of frontier mining communities in the Sierra and Rocky mountains used skis for many practical reasons, including mail and supply delivery, hunting, and railroad repair. In some towns skis were so common that, according to one California newspaper, "the ladies do nearly all their shopping and visiting on them."

But it was Norwegian immigrants in the Midwest, clinging to their homeland traditions, who first organized the skisport. Through the founding of local clubs and the National Ski Association, this ethnic group dominated American skiing until the 1930s.

At this time, a wave of German immigrants infused America with the ethos of what we today call Alpine skiing. This type of skiing became increasingly popular, especially in the East among wealthy collegians committed to the romantic pursuit of the "strenuous life." Ski clubs proliferated in towns and on college campuses and specialized resorts cropped up from New England to California. At the same time, skiing became mechanized with tows and lifts, and the blossoming equipment and fashion industries made a business of the sport.

On the eve of World War II, as the book concludes its story, all the elements were in place for the explosion in recreational and competitive skiing that erupted after 1945.

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About the author

E. John B. Allen is professor of history at Plymouth State College.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Univ of Massachusetts Press
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Published on
Aug 31, 1996
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Pages
240
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ISBN
9781558490475
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Sports & Recreation / Skiing
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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A comprehensive history of skiing from its earliest origins to the outbreak of World War II, this book traces the transformation of what for centuries remained an exclusively utilitarian practice into the exhilarating modern sport we know today. E. John B. Allen places particular emphasis on the impact of culture on the development of skiing, from the influence of Norwegian nationalism to the role of the military in countries as far removed as Austria, India, and Japan. Although the focus is on Europe, Allen's analysis ranges all over the snow-covered world, from Algeria to China to Zakopane. He also discusses the participation of women and children in what for much of its history remained a male-dominated sport.

Of all the individuals who contributed to the modernization of skiing before World War II, Allen identifies three who were especially influential: Fridtjof Nansen of Norway, whose explorations on skis paradoxically inspired the idea of skiing as sport; Arnold Lunn of England, whose invention of downhill skiing and the slalom were foundations of the sport's globalization; and Hannes Schneider, whose teachings introduced both speed and safety into the sport.

Underscoring the extent to which ancient ways persisted despite modernization, the book ends with the Russo-Finnish War, a conflict in which the Finns, using equipment that would have been familiar a thousand years before, were able to maneuver in snow that had brought the mechanized Soviet army to a halt.

More than fifty images not only illustrate this rich history but provide further opportunity for analysis of its cultural significance.

Few stories from the "greatest generation" are as unforgettable -- or as little known -- as that of the 10th Mountain Division. Today a versatile light infantry unit deployed around the world, the 10th began in 1941 as a crew of civilian athletes with a passion for mountains and snow. In this vivid history, adventure writer Peter Shelton follows the unique division from its conception on a Vermont ski hill, through its dramatic World War II coming-of-age, to the ultimate revolution it inspired in American outdoor life.

In the late-1930s United States, rock climbing and downhill skiing were relatively new sports. But World War II brought a need for men who could handle extreme mountainous conditions -- and the elite 10th Mountain Division was born. Everything about it was unprecedented: It was the sole U.S. Army division trained on snow and rock, the only division ever to grow out of a sport. It had an un-matched number of professional athletes, college scholars, and potential officer candidates, and as the last U.S. division to enter the war in Europe, it suffered the highest number of casualties per combat day. This is the 10th's surprising, suspenseful, and often touching story.

Drawing on years of interviews and research, Shelton re-creates the ski troops' lively, extensive, and sometimes experimental training and their journey from boot camp to the Italian Apennines. There, scaling a 1,500-foot "unclimbable" cliff face in the dead of night, they stunned their enemy and began the eventual rout of the German armies from northern Italy.

It was a self-selecting elite, a brotherhood in sport and spirit. And those who survived (including the Sierra Club's David Brower, Aspen Skiing Corporation founder Friedl Pfeifer, and Nike cofounder Bill Bowerman, who developed the waffle-sole running shoe) turned their love of mountains into the thriving outdoor industry that has transformed the way Americans see (and play in) the natural world.
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