VOLUME XX NUMBER I
BY JOEL H. HILDEBRAND
CARTOONS BY MILTON HILDEBRAND
he Sierra Club is in the process of making a number of notable discoveries: that its beloved Sierra is the Sierra Nevada, or snowy range, and must be sought by devoted pilgrims not only in July, but also in January, to be known in the fullness of its glory;that winter at high altitudes is not bitter, but is warm and friendly, for the thin air easily transmits the radiance of the sun to bare brown backs; that twelve feet of snow affords a smoother path than even a national park trail, and runs anywhere you wish to go; that the purple shadows of the trees and the pure rose of the alpenglow are colors as rich as those of columbine and heather; that the smooth folds of sparkling virgin snow, the glitter of icicles, and the living green of firs showing beneath their heavy white mantles-all constitute an enchanted world which can be entered by the magic of the ski.
The delighted few who first made these discoveries have spread the gospel, for one simply cannot help telling it to others, till the converts are gathering like the children who followed the Pied Piper. They will disappear into the mountain, too, but not permanently, for each will quickly emerge, laugh and be laughed at, brush off the snow and try again.
The southern members have been fortunate in leaving a mountain lodge, the Harwood Lodge, situated amid the snow and accessible for winter use; but the Parsons Lodge, at Tuolumne Meadows, is practically inaccessible in winter, and the northern devotees have been homeless wanderers, sponging on the hospitable Auburn Ski Club, renting Boy Scout camps, or sleeping like tramps in the abandoned railroad-station at Soda Springs. Nothing daunted by difficulties, in February, 1934, a couple of dozen enthusiasts hired a bus for a two-day trip to Soda Springs and Norden. It cost $3.50 each for the round trip of three hundred eighty miles, and the food cost so little that the whole trip was almost cheaper than staying at home. There were two fine days of skiing; but the historic event was the trip home. No one slept, for there was too much to talk about; skiing technique, waxes, boots, equipment, all afford as much conversational material to the skier as do rods, flies, and the size of fish to the angler. The most serious question, however, was where to spend the night on future trips. The obvious answer was a ski-lodge, owned and operated by the Sierra Club, and the Clair Tappaan Memorial Lodge then and there became an air-castle. Architect Walter Ratcliff was one of the party, and offered his services to pull the air-castle down a little below the clouds where we could see it. He had already designed one ski-lodge (the Sierra Ski Club at Norden), and knew how to do it. A subscription list was started. Bestor Robinson, chairman of the Winter Sports Committee was there and got the idea with a bang, and when he sets out to accomplish anything all obstacles just fade away. He managed to get some hooks onto that air-castle as soon as Walter Ratcliff drew it and pulled so hard it just had to come down to earth.
The location was carefully considered, and every argument pointed to Norden. It is on the main line of the Southern Pacific; it is on the Lincoln Highway, which is kept open all winter; it boasts of a post-office, a store, and a public garage. It lies at an altitude of 7000 feet and has one of the heaviest packs of snow in the United States; twelve feet is normal in February and twenty-seven feet is on record - plenty to fall in.
Norden is only a mile west of the main crest of the Sierra Nevada. Ideal skiing slopes lie in every direction. Four miles to the north stands Castle Peak, a massive, palisaded mountain 9140 feet high, and three miles to the south is Mount Lincoln, 8400 feet, whose north sidle encloses the "Sugar Bowl," a smooth, shaded cirque surmounted by fine pinnacles and collecting enough snow to last through June. The forest is open, and there are many slopes, with but few obstacles to fast running. A magnificent course with a thousand-foot drop in altitude has been discovered, down the slopes of Mount Lincoln. Two of our skiers ran it in five and a half minutes last March in untracked snow. Horace Breed had already acquired a lease from the United States Forest Service on an ideal location in this vicinity, and with the enthusiastic cooperation characteristic of Sierra Club members offered to transfer it to the club. The Forest Service consented, and also gave permission to fell the trees needed for construction. Subscriptions came pouring in; the directors of the Sierra Club caught the enthusiasm and voted money from the treasury; the Southern California Chapter donated the fireplace and hood, the San Francisco Bay Chapter the plumbing and stoves; "benefits" were held, and the fund continued to grow. Lewis Clark rounded up workers and girls to cook for them, and every week-end all the spring and summer groups of ardent, if sometimes unskilled, workmen might be seen digging, chopping, sawing, pounding, and—yes, eating. Some workers spent their entire vacations on the job. Joe Staudinger, master workman at all crafts, deserves honorable mention.
The lodge is now a reality, awaiting only a permanent roof, to be added next summer, to be called finished, and enough members have signed up for the Christmas vacation - this is written November first - to fill up two or three such lodges. It will not stand idle.
Eventually, the club should have several outlying small shelter-huts, where fuel and blankets would be available for more extended tours. Just give us time-and money!
Sufficient skiing proficiency to take full advantage of these facilities is rapidly being developed among our members. We have set standards by adopting the official tests of the British Ski Club. These comprise three classes: the first-class badge is given only to the very few who win first-class international races. We are not likely at present to go in for that sort of skiing. The second-class test is very severe, including, for example, a drop in altitude of l000 feet over a standard course in not over four minutes, which is pretty swift going, and not all straight, either. The writer, who is a judge, has his eye on a few promising candidates, and one may expect to see several second-class badges strutting about by the end of the season. The third-class badge guarantees a rather good skier, well equipped for all ordinary touring. To earn it one must demonstrate climbing ability and stamina, telemarks, christianias, and continuous stem-turns on a gradient of 15 degrees, and run down a standard 1000-foot course within a fixed time limit, usually about seven minutes, but varying with snow conditions. Eight persons passed this test last winter. We have thought it well to encourage beginners by establishing a fourth-class test, designed to demonstrate ability to join in an easy tour without likelihood of having to be carried home. The fourth-class skier must ascend and descend 500 feet within specific time limits. He must demonstrate kick-turns, four successive stem-turns, a snow-plow to a stand-still and a short, straight run. Forty have passed this test.
It should be the ambition of everyone to pass at least the third-class test. The satisfactions of skiing confidently under control are very great. Do not emulate those who go wildly down a steep slope out of control, waving arms and legs madly, holding poles so that a fall threatens impalement, only to crash to a mass of wreckage long before reaching the bottom.
No one who can use his legs should fear to try skiing. The first couple of days are very awkward, for one's natural reflexes are of little use and a new set must be acquired; but this need not take long, and it begins to be fun very soon. It is fun for those who watch you, right from the start. There are now a number of members who will be willing and able to help the novice. There are several helpful books.(1) A great deal can be learned from a motion-picture designed particularly for instructional purposes, entitled "In a Glistening Paradise," which can be rented from the Extension Division of the University of California.
The first problem for one wishing to learn the charm of winter in the mountains is equipment. The novice should consult someone who really knows, not some salesman who has never been on skis. The books here recommended give good advice. I have seen people trying to learn on skis a foot too long, with soft moccasin-toed boots that wobble about in the bindings so that the skis cannot possibly be guided. It cannot be done in that way. One simply must have proper boots and bindings, with skis of the right length. It will pay, in the long run, to buy real ski-boots with stout soles and square, hard toes. They are not cheap, but will last a lifetime, and the satisfaction one gets from them will justify cutting down on some expensive vice in order to own a pair. They should be big enough to permit two pairs of heavy wool socks; and still allow you to wiggle your toes. Do not drench them with oil, but wax them a couple of times a season. Keep them on lasts when not in use.
The skis should be of ash or, better, hickory, and not longer than from the floor to the palm of the upstretched hand. The grain should be either vertical or else strictly horizontal throughout. Bindings should fit the boot perfectly, permitting no side-play of the heel, but allowing it to be lifted freely far enough to kneel on the ski. Bindings with toe-straps are easier on the boots, and far more practical than those which clamp the sole. Try to find a salesman who has been on skis himself, and is interested in helping you to be a successful, and hence permanent, customer. This degree of enlightenment is rare, but it exists.
You will need a pair of ski-sticks, also canvas mittens and woolen mittens to wear under them when the sun does not shine. Provide yourself with four kinds of ski-wax: for cold dry snow, for wet snow, for crust, and for "corn-snow," which is coarse, granular spring-snow. The purpose of wax is to enable one to slide downhill freely without sticking, and yet to climb up-hill with sufficient sticking to prevent back-slip. The extent to which these contradictory aims can be achieved is indeed remarkable. A small cake of paraffin is useful if the other waxes have not prevented the adherence of snow to the skis.
Trousers may be either knee-breeches or long trousers, of the Norwegian type, tied at the ankle. Riding trousers do not allow enough knee-room. In either case they should be of wool, closely knit, with smooth finish. Light waterproofing is advisable. Do not bundle yourself in heavy underwear, for skiing is often hot work. Wear a light flannel shirt and depend on sweater and wind-jacket, carried along in your rucksack, for protection against cold on an exposed ridge or in the late afternoon. Your cap or hat should furnish generous protection against the sun; but provide yourself in addition with goggles and theatrical grease-paint This last is far superior in effectiveness and sticking quality to other face-dopes. The burning power of sunlight in snow at 8000 feet in March cannot be overestimated.
Always take your rucksack if you are going more than a mile from the lodge. Put into it your sweater, wind-jacket, woolen mittens, wax, a couple of straps, lunch, a can of tomato-juice, first-aid for yourself and skis, flashlight, and matches. An aluminum ski-tip may prevent your being marooned miles from home.
Never go off alone. An accident which may be only a minor one to a member of a party becomes a major one to a lone skier. Each party should have a responsible leader and a rounder-up, and noses should be counted at intervals. Do not court danger; if not for your own sake, at least as a courtesy to others, for injury to either you or your skis makes you a nuisance. Learn something about avalanches, and avoid a possible avalanche slope as you would the plague. Every slope of 25 degrees or more is dangerous after a new fall of powder snow; also when the snow is very wet.
Do not allow yourself to be deterred by the dangers of skiing. These can be minimized by knowledge and judgment so that they are no more serious than the hazards of motoring, which deter no one.
I would urge our ardent mountain climbers to restrain their ambitions to climb peaks in winter till they have learned to ski. One should be ashamed to make a long descent by "sitzmarking" at every turn when it should be possible to run down under control in a beautiful series of christianias or telemarks. To one who has learned to ski, it is this, not the mountain-peak, that is the greater glory.
The winter greeting in the Alps is "Ski-heil." Heil means health and happiness; it means long life and good luck; it means wholesomeness. The ski-runner knows that only on skis can these be realized in their fullness. Come to the mountains! To the Sierra Nevada, where the air is crisp and the sun is bright, where the only depressions are those that one takes with a flourish and whoop! Strap on your skis and shout with us, "Ski-heil"!
1. The following are particularly recommended: "On Skis over the Mountains," by Dr. Walter Mosauer; The Cloister Press, Hollywood; price, 50 cents. "Modern Ski Technique," by Otto Schniebs and J. W. McCrillis; The Stephen Daye Press, Brattleboro, Vt.; price, $1.25. "The Art of Skiing," by Charles N. Proctor; Harcourt, Brace & Co., New York; price, $2.00. "Der Skilauf" (in German); Winkler, Lindauer, Munich.