Notes on Olympic Skiing: 1936

January 2.—Left Boston on the one-o'clock for New York in order to get to a dinner for the ski team. The usual confusion attending such gatherings prevailed, what with trunks being lost, uniforms given out, Dr. Hildebrand checking up on his team, and so forth.

The uniforms are a strange lot, and quite useless for skiing. Light blue knickerbockers of a cheap gabardine, blue sweat shirts with USA on the front, turtle-neck jerseys, a cap that looks like a New Hampshire farmer's, and a skater's knitted headpiece! We were supplied, however, with very fine U. S. Naval Academy coats (greatcoats) with a small Olympic shield on the breast pocket.

January 11.— Hamburg at 6 P. M. after sailing up the Elbe through an immense amount of shipping. One of the officers said that five hundred ships often cleared or entered in a day!

Reception by the Senate of Hamburg in the Rathaus was very cordial. We were shown the town from a bus in a sleet storm, taken to the Eisbahn, and ended at the Zillertal Beer Hall.

January 12.— Garmisch-Partenkir-chen at 5 P. M., along with a much needed snow. Durrance and Hunter met us at München. They have not had much skiing. About three weeks out of the two months here, I believe.

January I3.— Almost a foot of new snow spruced up the skiing on the lower slopes.

We rode up to the Kreuzeck on the Balm, and thence skied by a trail to the Hochalm. Raced slalom courses in the clouds all afternoon. I felt wretchedly clumsy, as did Alex. But Dick, Ted, and Link looked perfectly wonderful. Had lunch in the Hochaim in the most delightful atmosphere a true German or rather bayerische Hütte, with Kasser Sepp playing the zither and singing impromptu songs about the amerikanische Mannscahft.

Trailed Dick and Ted down the Kochelberg, and practically gave up in wonder at their mastery of the frightful bumps and knolls. Alex and I both felt outclassed.

January 15.— Twice down the Standard with 'Rietsch' pointing out his line. Alex and I were aghast at the mere thought of taking such a course, but it looked better than it might have two days ago.

The Standard is one of three possible runs for the Down Hill Race. The other two are the Neuner and the Krembs. The Neuner is probably going to be the course, but so far it has been closed for practice. It is really part of the Standard—the middle third and a cutoff besides. About a 3300 foot drop in two miles. It takes about five minutes for Birger Ruud—and seven or eight for others. The legs get very tired.

January 16.— Practised the 'fade-away' corner on good snow three or four times. Then ran the Standard, trying to remember the best lines. Lunch at Kreuzeck and then down the Horn. I feel much more at home. There is a trick to mastering these bumps-part of it is knowing where to go, and the other part is taking them relaxed! Try and do it. I have changed to shorter poles -they feel much lighter, easier to swing, and are much less in the way.

January 20.— Standard from the top to the Neuner without stopping. Then practised the gully with Sigmund and Birger Ruud. Those two are amazing in their ability to stand up on inpossible bumps at high speed.

Hunter made a really good 'boner' when Birger came hurtling down from the gully, across the little bridge, and jumped through the air off a bump, landing on his side. Instead of crumpling like an ordinary runner, he bounced back into position and ended in a jump-turn on his feet. As he came sheepishly, back to where we were, Ted, not realizing who he was, said sarcastically to one of the best ski jumpers in the world: 'Ah, Sie sind auch ein Springer?'

January 21.—A very icy Standard with Tony and Al. A funny thing happened as I was resting with Tony at Seelos Gully. One of the numerous Red Cross Guards on the trail came rushing up, attracted by my leg, which I had scraped on the crust. Before I could stop him he unbuckled his kit and started to work with an enormous paintbrush full of iodine and yards of bandage. Then, jotting down almost my entire life history in his little book, he resumed his cold and gruesome duty of waiting for 'crack-ups.'

Lunch in the sun at Kreuzeck, watching with eager eyes a very beautiful French girl. No luck—although Tony did his best in three languages! Twisted my knee slightly coming down.

January 23— Whipped down the Standard three times on eight inches of new powder. Then we packed up for a flying trip to Kitzbühel to race there day after tomorrow.

January 24— Kitzbühel, Austria. A foot of new snow—and more base than at Garmisch—and much better 'gelaende' [see endnote 1].

We desperately ran the Neue Streif four times to get some idea of the course. Slept badly, thank you, in the Reisch Hotel, thinking of to-morrow.

January 25.—Race at 10:45. Up at the Hahnenkamm I found that I was to start No. 1 and Birger Ruud No. 2! He passed me about halfway down the course, when I fell for the nth time!

I was in a blue funk all the way- and skied perfectly miserably. I picked up courage however, after he passed me and trailed after him, but in the last field I misjudged the wood path and fell down below it into the trees, losing a minute in climbing back out again. At the finish I found that Birger had fallen up above, hurting himself, and that I had passed him only to have him pass me again when I fell below the path! Anyway, the whole race was a nightmare of rotten skiing on my part. I took many needless falls and let the racing feeling get me too much. Alex and Tony had the same thing happen to them and had bad luck in falling in bad places. Durrance finished ninth in spite of a costly fall on the 'Steilhang.'

I was twenty-fourth, Page twenty-sixth, Bright twenty-eighth, Crookes twenty-ninth, Lindley thirtieth. Thirty-two were in the race!

The slalom was the longest I have ever seen—and set by Bill Bracken. The girls ran it first and cut it up considerably. Evelyn Pynching won in 1: 89. After thirty-eight girls had run, the men started. Seelos won in 1:13, Kneissl second in 1:18. The rest were in the 1: 3's. Dick did 1: 29 with a six-second fall. I did 1:35 with a fall. Dick was eleventh and I nineteenth. Alex had particularly bad luck. Seelos was miraculously steady and sure in all his turns—even on a rutted, grooved, grass-strewn course. (There was no fixing up of the course at all.)

It was a bad day for the American team, but I think very good medicine.

January 28—Back to Garmisch. Went out bright and early to practise slalom on the Gudiberg, but it was too icy and not much fun. Gave up after a few abortive attempts and sat in the Ski Stadium Restaurant drinking 'ski-wasser' [see endnote 2] in the sun. After lunch we all hurried to the Hochalm with the idea of a practice race. Climbed rather late in the afternoon to Osterfeldkopf on skins. It was cold and clear, the Alpspitze very imposing in deep shadow, and untracked powder snow everywhere. We were so exhilarated by the weather and the powder that we all whisked down and forgot about the race. I think this is the first time I have been on a real open slope in Europe—one could turn at very high speed by wishing! It was more like flying, or rather floating, than anything else I can describe.

As we pulled up at the Hochalm I found the 'Doctor,' stop watch in hand, busily timing us as we came in. He had been waiting for an hour and was furious when he found we had not raced at all. Went home by the Kochelberg over 'glatt' ice. Almost a death ride.

January 31— Went down the Standard to see what condition it was in. Sheer ice below Seelos Gully, so we decided to race to there. It was nice new powder above, beginning to get sticky. I didn't fall and was second to Dick (Durrance 4:19, RL 4:32, Page, Crookes, Washburn, Bright, Lindley).

After lunch the ice below the gully began to soften, so we decided to race again. It should have been from the top of the Standard as in the morning, but was changed to start at the Kreuzeck. It took roughly nine minutes, and the old legs took it without a murmur! At last! Finished—Durrance, Page, RL, Washburn, Crookes, Lindley, Bright. Alex took a 'purler' above the Seelos Gully and had to chase his ski one hundred yards.

February 1.—It started melting again last night. Ran from the Kreuzeck, lazily practising Seelos turns with Dick, Darrough, Link, and Tony. Dick sprained his ankle quite badly and had to hobble down on one ski. Good-bye to the best U. S. chance!

February 4—The Neuner is open—in a howling snowstorm. Ran it four times in all. Here is a description of the whole Neuner, which is almost certain to be the race course. It is two miles long and drops about 3300 feet. First you have one third of a mile of 30-35 degree open wood running impossible to take straight, because at the bottom comes Fade-Away Corner; the trick is to judge the top speed at which you can hold the corner. If you fall there, you roll fifty feet below the course. Next comes an easy 'schuss' over rolls to Damen Start, and there a sharp left over bumps to a steep wood trail like the upper part of Bear Mountain Trail for about one quarter of a mile. The bottom 'schusses' you out across Krembs through deep woods flat and bumpy, then down into the Labyrinth, where there are sharp rolls and bumps that cannot be taken straight. You must traverse up the back side of a roll, turn on top, and traverse the other side the opposite way. There are two switchbacks, then a final traverse (usually icy), a schuss across a wide trough, and two woods turns to the 'Steilhang.' At the top of the Steilhang you can sideslip on 'glatt' ice for the whole distance of eighty yards and schuss the last bumps over the bridge, or turn sharp left at the top after almost stopping, then sharp right and begin your traverse lower. It is really a very deep traverse with a flattening after eighty yards, a left jog straight downhill, and a bad 'knick' at the bottom just before a bridge-which, though twenty-five feet wide, never seems wide enough.

Then follows a bumpy schuss that must be taken close to the top of a half-buried fence to Dick's Gully. This can be taken to the left near trees or to the right down a log road with a long-drawn-out left turn to the actual gully, which you sideslip, schussing the last part to Seelos Gully. From here on, the course is a schuss which I would never have done before seeing everyone else (Ruud, Durrance, and so forth) do it first. The schuss must be done on a very particular line, where there are fewest bumps. But the bumps are not eliminated, and for tired legs it's just about all I can hold. The Ruuds seem to love it- and are able to miss a great many by jumping every few, feet.

Below Seelos Gully comes one third of a mile of bumpy schuss, over a bridge, a short 'langlauf,' then another bumpy field ending in a grinding right turn into a narrow road. After a short stretch of road, another short, bumpy field- a quarter of a mile of winding, narrow trail, not steep, but usually icy, opening out over a slight drop to a long-drawn-out turnover tricky bumps. These must be held on tired legs, because a fall will lose all your speed. After the turn you plunge over the finish slope, which is just like the landing hill of a jump - with a bad knick over a bridge at the bottom and a shoot over the flat to the Ziel. This last hill is not hard when your legs are fresh, but after five minutes of hard skiing the knick at the bottom is hard to hold and very important, as a fall means at least thirty seconds.

February 5— Ran the Neuner twice to be sure of remembering it. Still snowing. Quit at noon because I felt stale.

February 6.— To-day is the opening of the games. We gathered with twenty-six other nations outside the Ski Stadium in a heavy snowstorm. Each nation marched in with its flags, then around the Stadium to the strains of a crack German military band, and stood at attention during the dipping of colors, lighting of the Olympic fire, cannons, and so forth, and the official opening by 'Mr. Smith.' 'Mr. Smith' stood in a balcony, rather sloppily dressed in an old trench coat over the official brown shirt. He made no gestures and said, in opening the games, simply, 'I hereby declare the Fourth Olympic Winter Games open.' Followed the taking of the Olympic oath by the German skier Will Bogner.

The Austrians got the biggest cheer. The Swiss, Sonja Henie, a ten-year-old girl Japanese skater, the Italians, and Negroponte, the lone Greek skier, provoked the most interest. The U. S. A. was criticized for not saluting 'Mr. Smith' as it filed past. The explanation is this. The Olympic salute and the Nazi salute are almost identical. The other nations, with the exception of the United States and Poland, gave the Olympic salute; I think Austria really gave a Nazi salute, and Italy the Fascist. The American Committee was afraid of giving anything that looked like a Nazi salute; so we were told to 'eyes right' on command and hold it while passing the stands. As it turned out, we were not given enough practice in this gesture, and I believe we were all pretty sloppy in our untutored military bearing. The 'result was that the stands thought we were doing nothing.

I was impressed by the snappy Italian team, in well-cut military uniforms (girls and all), the non-military effect of the German team, although dressed in military uniform, the very efficient handling of 100,000 people by the police (and their politeness), the interest of the spectators, and the stage set by a very efficient German Olympic Committee.

February 7—The Neuner is the course. Last-minute waxing, then a taxi to Kreuzeck Bahn. I have never minded a prospective race as much. Waited in the Kreuzeck for a couple of hours while the girls raced and the forty-nine racers before we went up to the start; then I came along. The usual scene prevailed at the start - with really perfect weather, new snow on top of the day before's ice, a few low clouds, freezing temperature, and the entire course tramped out in the early morning by the 'German army.'

I whiled away the time nervously talking to anyone and everyone, and finally climbed up on the starting chute fairly composed. Hudson had fallen into the first tree and took minutes getting out, so I was worried about that. Everyone else looked perfectly wonderful as far as they could be seen.

I started out cautiously and was a little too cautious to Fade-Away Corner until I found the snow was perfect. At Damen Start I took the corner too slowly, but bucked up when I saw the Turk who had started a minute ahead of me. I passed him wildly yelling 'Bahnfrei!' and just made it, schussing down to Krembs. Before the Labyrinth I ran into a cloud and couldn't see contours, so I took that slower than usual-but through the Labyrinth and down to the trough I went faster than I had dared before. The snow was perfect. I scraped my hand two corners above the Steilliang, but didn't lose any time. On the Steilhang I was scared of ice from reports I had had from Otto Furrer and the girls' race. I didn't take the new cutback, but dropped left over the lip and right away turned on to the traverse. It was icy, but much easier than I had expected, and I was exulting when I caught an edge on the soft snow and toppled into a bushy spruce. Took a maddening thirty seconds getting out, went through the controls, and schussed over the bridge, just holding it. From then on everything was grand—I took it faster than I had ever done in practice and held the knick at the finish. Time was 6:04; Birger Ruud 4:47, Tony 5:42, Dick 5:16, I think, and Link 6:30.

In a second run I should have run parts of the course faster, but so would the others. Dick was eleventh, just behind Sigmund Ruud and ahead of Peter Lunn and the other English, and Tony was beaten only by Lunn. Hudson lost all his time on the first fall into the tree—and Riddell wrenched his back and didn't finish.

February 8.— Practised slalom on the Gudiberg with Dick, Tony, and Link. Possum and Konningen, the Norwegians, came out too. They certainly are not as finished slalomers as the Germans and Austrians, but nothing in the way of ruts or bumps will knock them over.

The pre-racing feeling of yesterday is not as strong to-day. I judge it is a combination of hopeless despair of doing very well and the fact that slalom racing is not so strenuous.

Anton Seelos practised slalom racing steadily for five years, mostly by himself. He really studied the technique very carefully and developed one or two little tricks that increased his chances of going down a course at an absolute maximum. When he races, even the onlookers have a feeling that he always knows exactly what he is doing. One knows that he has decided where, to the inch, he will put each turn, and has judged to the finest possible point exactly how fast he can go through each flag and in between. He seems to be in no hurry at all, just slides down smoothly, no jerking, no arm raising, no frantic swings at a flag just too far uphill. His weight is always unbelievably far forward and his poles are in and out of the snow for each turn, unless it is a very fast long sweep. Going through a tight flush, his inside foot always leads -and he turns on his poles, seems to crouch catlike and straighten imperceptibly for each turn.

At Kitzbühel he pointed out these faults in each of us. 'On icy stretches, do not edge too much -we all did. When grooves, grass, rocks, and so forth, appear in badly kept slalom courses, everyone tends to lean back, a little afraid. Do not do this - but consciously bring your weight farther forward than ever.' He says you cannot get it too far if you try! This last is, as a matter of fact, the thing of greatest importance I have learned from skiing in. Europe. Never until now have I known how much my weight has been on the heels.

February 9.—As Dick had guessed, the slalom was to be held on the Gudiberg. Yesterday the girls slalomed on the same course, and, incidentally, did not do as well as we had hoped, after having seen them in practice. Christl Cranz won in very good time, pulling herself up from sixth in the Down Hill to first in combined. She is a star pupil of Seelos. The course for us was 9.00 metres drop, with 85 gates. On the whole, a fast course, with sudden tricky pull-ups, as Dick had guessed. It was also very icy. They had had a hard time keeping snow on for the girls and had had to spray water on top of new snow at night to put it in shape for us. For the first ten runners I should say conditions were much more favorable than for the remainder.

Seelos and Christl Cranz were forerunners. Seelos fell twice and unofficially made a time of 68 seconds, from the rumors that I heard.

Birger Ruud made 80 seconds, with a fall, Pfnuer made 76, Dick Durrance made 80.5, Tony Page made 85, and l ran all right to the last three gates and slipped below a pair on the ice. Lost my rhythm and fell twice more, making 97.6. Washburn also missed a flag and generally had tough luck. Then just the first 88 runners ran again on the same ice. Ruud made 78, Pfnuer 78, I think; Dick 85, Tony 90, and I, 96.

To give you an idea of how I feel about European competition on my first run, I don't think, with everything done perfectly (according to my ability), that I could ever have done better than 82 or 88. Dick might have done 77 or 78 by letting it out. Ruud fell slightly on his first run; he could probably have made 75 or 76. And Seelos made 68 seconds—with two slight falls! Figure it out.

February 10—Snowing again. What a letdown feeling! No more racing to worry about. Now for some skiing!

[Endnote 1: For those who do not ski, it might be explained that 'gelaende' means 'ski country,' 'schuss' denotes a run straight downhill at top speed, 'steilhang' a steep slope, and 'knick' a sudden transformation from a steep slope to the level; 'glatt' ice is smooth and slippery, and a 'langlauf' is 'running on the flat.'—Author]

[Endnote 2: A raspberry-flavored lemonade, served in a tall glass and very quenching.—Author]