Ski Pioneers

A handful of hooligans brought skiing to the South and inadvertently started the biggest ski club in the country.

This year, the Ski Club of Washington D.C. is celebrating its 75th anniversary and the 60th anniversary of discovering snow in Canaan Valley, West Virginia. Between 1936 and 1960, the group of pioneering Yankees introduced skiing to the South, developed the first commercial ski slope, even brought the first organized ski school and ski patrol to the area. BRO asked the historian of the Ski Club of D.C., Kate Hayes, to walk us through the club’s impressive 75-year timeline.

1936: The Ski Club of Washington D.C. is founded, and they immediately start opening ski areas close to home. It costs $1 annually to join the club.

“Waldo Holden was our first accidental president. He was looking for spots where the train routes hit the snow with steep elevation. All of those three things intersected in Glencoe, Pennsylvania. Waldo arranged with Union Station to put on a ski car with a stop at Glencoe, then advertised the service in the newspaper. Hundreds showed up. Waldo had arranged with the farmers in Glencoe to allow people to ski their farms. The farmers actually towed skiers up the hill on “sledges,” basically wooden pallets driven by horses. Skiers stayed with the various farmers, and the wives made sandwiches for lunch.”

1939: The club holds its first official race, an impromptu event in Shenandoah National park.

“Skiers cleared a little run in the park in Whiskey Hollow with the help of the CCC. It was really tight though, so if you got going too fast, you’d hit the trees. They called it a “three pint run” because you needed three pints to work up the courage to ski it. You were lucky if you only broke a ski.”

1948: The club installs a portable rope tow at Rock Creek Park in Washington D.C., taking advantage of local snow.

1951: The club develops the Drift on Cabin Mountain in West Virginia, a downhill slope with a rope tow that would later become Canaan Valley State Park.

“Two past presidents found Cabin Mountain, which was a snow-covered cow pasture with a small farm house owned by the Hauzy family. They knocked on the door and asked if they could ski the farm. At the end of the day, they asked if they could come back and bring some friends. It got so popular, they installed a rope tow, then another. During the summer, volunteers would groom the slope, removing rocks so the hill could be skied with less snow. If the rock was too big, they blasted it with dynamite. They built “his” and “her” outhouses and organized Sloppy Slalom races, with grand costumes and obstacles scattered throughout the course.”

1962: The Drift closes.
“In the 60s, things changed because of airplanes. People could start making trips to snow, so the club stopped operating the Drift, and the club began to evolve into more what you see today, with trips planned all over the world.
1989: Membership in the club peaks at 7,054, making it the largest ski club in the country.

A vintage movie of the SCWDC’s heydays skiing The Drift:

Places to Go, Things to See: