Skiing at the College: A history of tradition and championship

by Mark Cui | 8/13/17 8:50pm

This article was featured in the 2017 Freshman Issue.

Despite its small size, Dartmouth College, as author Stephen Waterhouse asserts in “Passion for Skiing,” can “claim the lead role in the development of skiing in the past, present and future.” The school has been crucial to shaping the skiing landscape on both the national, collegiate and international level. The Big Green has consistently sported powerhouse rosters, and has brought out the best in individual team members. Dartmouth has contributed more skiers, coaches and staff to the Olympics than any other institution, and as of 2017, Dartmouth-affiliated members make up nine percent of the total National Ski and Snowboarding Hall of Fame. Players and coaches alike have been drawn to the school’s outstanding skiing program.

“Dartmouth, in my opinion, is the most storied program in all of collegiate skiing,” women’s Alpine skiing head coach for the past two years John Dwyer said. “The quality of athletes that we get are tremendous both athletically and intellectually.”

Cami Thompson, who has been the head coach of women’s Nordic skiing for the past 11 years, noted that Dartmouth’s reputation and general mindset for players are crucial to its recruitment of athletes.

“We’ve been fortunate to attract some of the top talent in the country,” Thompson said. “Our reputation certainly helps with that. Skiing at Dartmouth is more than just skiing on the Eastern circuit, and we really encourage our athletes to think big.”

Today, the College’s ski team consists of a women’s and men’s team, competing in both Nordic and Alpine events, but the skiing tradition was not always as established as it is today. How did Dartmouth attain its reputation as the collegiate center of the skiing world? The story unfolds, as expected, in the town of Hanover.

The humble beginnings of skiing at Dartmouth did not gain traction until the turn of the 19th century. John Ash, class of 1899, and Ralph Wilder, class of 1899, were the first students to make skis in 1896; several students soon followed by forming a skiing club thereafter. While these students discovered the excitement of learning this new skill, the club and their skis faded into obscurity after their graduation.

A pivotal moment in Dartmouth skiing history occurred in the winter of 1910 — Fred Harris, class of 1911, founded the Dartmouth Outing Club, which has since remained fixated at the heart of national skiing developments and informed thousands of Dartmouth alums’ passion for skiing. During the year of its initial founding, the club organized the first Winter Carnival, attracting coverage from all of the top news press of the day. Harris himself later became one of the first people to be elected to the National Ski and Snowboarding Hall of Fame.

The Dartmouth Outing Club has since spearheaded Dartmouth’s efforts to be a pioneer in the skiing world. The first ski exploration by Dartmouth students was of Mount Moosilauke by Carl Shumway, class of 1913, and G.S. Foster, class of 1913, on Jan. 31, 1912. The first collegiate ski race was organized by professor Charles Proctor, class of 1900, who led a party of 12 students and faculty members from Dartmouth to challenge a group of McGill skiers on Feb. 1, 1914. Soon thereafter, John Carleton, class of 1922 was Dartmouth’s first Olympic skier and competed at the first Winter Olympics in 1924.

Due to these early developments, Dartmouth was relied upon during the two World Wars. When experienced skiers were needed on the frontline to help evacuate people from snow-covered mountains, Dartmouth was the first place the American government and its allies looked to for volunteers. Two notable alums who answered the call despite the danger were Charles Dabney Horton, class of 1915, and Charles McLane, class of 1941. Horton was subsequently awarded with the Croix de Guerre military decoration for his service by the French government.

After the DOC popularized skiing, Dartmouth quickly dominated the competitive scene. The College became one of the first teams to incorporate advanced European racing techniques in the 1930s after closely following their successes abroad. Richard Durrance, class of 1939 trained in the Austrian and German Alps before matriculating to Dartmouth, and used his European techniques to become on the greatest American skiers of the day and inspire significant ski developments in America. Influenced by Durrance’s success, Harris and other early DOC skiers hired several European skiers, such as the legendary Walter Pragner, from 1923-1957 to develop the Dartmouth ski racing team.

Dartmouth skiing has naturally excelled on the national collegiate stage. Since the NCAA National Championships was first founded in 1954 and became co-ed in 1983, Dartmouth has secured second place five times and won it all three times; it took second in 1955, 1956, 1964, 1969 and 1970, and won the titles in 1958, 1976 and 2007.

Arguably the most famous Dartmouth team in the 21st century is the 2007 team that won NCAA Championships. Peter Dodge ’78, coach of men’s alpine skiing for the past 11 years and former member of the U.S. skiing team, recalls the electric atmosphere and describes the experience as the epitome of a true team victory.

“That was a magical time,” Dodge said. “The key was that it wasn’t individual superstars who made it happen, but it was everyone at the time, men and women, alpine and cross country. [It was] the role players who outperformed expectations. There was also a big vibe of the Dartmouth community, people were watching and coming out, and the energy built throughout the whole [experience].”

In addition to the three national championships the Big Green has captured, Dartmouth has had a skier represented in every Winter Olympics since its initial inception in 1924. During the 2006 Winter Olympics, Dartmouth contributed 14 Olympians and many staff members. The Dartmouth members ended up securing three Gold and two Bronze medals for the U.S. team. While the freshman skiers coming in already have top-notch talent, Dartmouth actively facilitates a culture to further develop their skills and realize their potential.

“We set the standard for being the best what you can be,” Dodge said. “Sometimes a skier moves on and goes to the pro level, and while we might miss [him or her] not scoring any points for Dartmouth, we’re really excited about that because that person is achieving [his or her] potential and reaching as high as [he or she] can.”

Today, Dartmouth skiing continues its storied legacy. Alums continue to develop new skiing technology and sports medicine, support industry entrepreneurs, popularize skiing in the national and internal media, accrue more skiing feats and spread their overall passion for skiing. In addition, the Big Green remains one of the powerhouse skiing teams in the nations. Last season, the team added several top freshmen and finished in fourth place in the NCAA Skiing Championships. The coaches and player look forward to continuing to improve for the upcoming season while upholding traditional Dartmouth values.

“There is a lot of history and tradition in Dartmouth skiing. It goes beyond Dartmouth to their continued involvement in the skiing world,” Dodge said. “We really preach the idea of achieving excellence in both the classroom and on the hill, and we look to continue doing that.”