<<< In our last chapter, alpine skiing gains a toehold in North America, and the Amateur Ski Club of New York is formed.
While sidelined from skiing due to an injury in 1931, Roland Palmedo, president of the Amateur Ski Club of New York (ASCNY), wrote a letter to the Postmaster in Stowe, Vermont. He had been to Stowe in the summer and knew that Mount Mansfield was a significant landmark, but was there life in Stowe in the winter? Did the town have the facilities to host the ASCNY if they arrived in the winter to ski? The reply came not from the Postmaster but from the Secretary of the Stowe Civic Club, and the response was very positive. Stowe and Mount Mansfield became regular destinations for the club. The response from the town would also eventually lead to the biplane flight in 1939. Our story, the story of the creation of the National Ski Patrol, falls in the intervening years between those two events.
The ski conditions on Mount Mansfield in the first few days of 1936 were far from ideal. It had rained, and the snow was soft, sticky, and very dense. The rain and poor conditions did not deter the four members of the ASCNY, who were determined not to let the long drive from Connecticut go to waste. The intrepid party was made up of Franklin Edson III, his wife, Jean Edson, Jane Dole, and her husband, Charles Minot Dole, who was known to his friends as “Minnie.” Minnie had fallen the previous day and was still nursing a twisted ankle but was undeterred.
After a climb up the Toll Road and a short rest, they started their descent. One hundred yards down the trail, Dole initiated a stem christie. His weakened ankle does not cooperate, and his ski fails to edge properly. He would later describe his fall as an “egg beater.” His ankle now points in an unnatural direction, and it is clear that he has broken his leg. It was clear that he would not be skiing or hiking off the mountain.
Jean and Jane went down the mountain to seek assistance. There was a rudimentary ski patrol at that time serving the trail network on Mount Mansfield, but they did not “patrol” the slopes in a regular manner. Franklin stayed with Dole, who was getting chilled and starting to feel the onset of shock.
Eventually, Jane and Jean returned with Bob Cheesewright and Howard Black and a piece of roofing tin. Dole was placed on the short piece of metal sheet and he was dragged a quarter of a mile off the mountain. X-rays at the hospital in Morrisville confirmed a severely broken ankle. Dole was placed in a temporary splint and sent back to New York City via train to have the ankle reset.
His doctor believed that the damage was so significant that it would be unlikely for Dole to walk correctly again, let alone ski. This depressing news did not deter Dole and his rehabilitation efforts. He would later say that an accident like this might have started him thinking about ski safety, but it didn’t. Breaking your leg was just a hazard of the sport. It would take a much greater tragedy for Dole to focus on ski safety.
To Be Continued
Rick Hamlin is the NSP National Historian, and he plans to contribute regularly to Trail Sweep. Please watch for our next chapter in a future issue of Trail Sweep.
If you would like to learn more about the history of the National Ski Patrol, its founders, and the early days of skiing, the following are excellent resources:
“Roland Palmedo, A Life of Adventure and Enterprise,” by Philip F. Palmedo, (2018), published by Peter E. Randall
“Adventures in Skiing,” by Minot (Minnie) Dole. (1965), published by J. Lowell Pratt and Company, Inc.
“The National Ski Patrol, Samaritans of the Snow”, by Gretchen R. Besser (1983), published by The Countryman Press.
“Skiing in the Americas”, by John Jay (1947), published by The MacMillan Company.
“Ski Sentinels, The story of the National Ski Patrol” (Video), A Rick Moulton Film produced by the New England Ski Museum.