Some history on local skiing

In the Adirondacks of New York, John R. Booth of Ottawa brought a pair of skis to Saranac Lake in 1892. The natives, amazed and curious, had several pairs of skis run up by Napoleon Bailey, a carpenter at Branch and Callanan’s mill. Mr. Bailey had come from Wisconsin, where Scandinavian skiing was common, and thus had some small familiarity with it.

Dr. Godfrey Dewey, son of the founder of the Lake Placid Club, relates that in 1904-05, the Club was first kept open in winter and eight people stayed at the old Forest Clubhouse: Irving Bacheller, the writer, and his wife; Irving Van de Veer; Mrs. Dana; Henry Van Hovenberg; Dr. Dewey and his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Melvil Dewey. That winter, someone brought in a pair of skis, complete with toe straps and one long wooden pole equipped with a wooden washer for a snow disk. It was two years before any heel straps were adopted.

At Saranac Lake, 1907 witnessed further ski development. Store skies appeared with suggestions of bindings. A Mr. J. Insley Blair of Tuxedo Park, New York, used huge ash skis, 8 to 9 feet long, with old Telemarken rattan heel loops. His exploits on Slater’s Hill attracted much attention.

In 1914, a Dr. William B. Soper settled in Saranac Lake. Small jumping hills were constructed both in Lake Placid and at Saranac Lake (1919). Cross-country races were also held during this period. In 1919-20, weekly contests were held by the Saranac Lake Ski Club’s 105 members. All of this activity culminated in the organization of the U.S. Eastern Amateur Ski Association at Saranac Lake in 1922 at the annual banquet of the Saranac Lake Ski Club.

Saranac Lake was, at first, on a par with Lake Placid as a winter sports favorite. H.I. Baldwin, in 1910, and Dr. Sober, in 1914, first brought skis and rudimentary technique to Saranac Lake. By 1920, the Saranac Lake Ski Club had grown to a 105-membership roster, and at its 1922 meeting, the United States Eastern Amateur Ski Association was born.

The USEASA was born in 1922 at the old rambling Berkeley Hotel in Saranac Lake. Saranac Lake then was a ski center, and a jumping competition had been held that day. This discussion took another turn, instigated by E.H. “Ned” Stonaker, a local enthusiast, toward the formation of an organization to schedule ski competitions, set judging standards, keep records and foster skiing in general. There were similar talks in 1919 with a Dr. Fox at the Trudeau Sanitarium at Saranac Lake.

At the Berkeley Hotel, however, representatives of several clubs agreed to meet the following day in Harry Wade Hicks’ office 10 miles away in Lake Placid to put organizational plans on paper. Charter member clubs included Saranac Lake Ski Club and Sno Birds of Lake Placid.

The Lake Placid Club preferred a mixed bag. Besides skiing, it went in for skijoring, ice skating, hockey and tobogganing. In 1923, it had 600 pairs of skis, maintained several jumps and gave jumping instruction. The Nansen Club, the oldest, was originally open only to Scandinavian males, and all its records were kept in Norwegian until 1912. In 1923, when USEASA’s first annual meeting was held to discuss, item by item, the proposed constitution and bylaws, all of the clubs’ differences surfaced. In 1923-24, Charles A. Proctor of Dartmouth organized the Intercollegiate Winter Sports Union, which was predecessor to the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association.

In 1924, the USEASA filed affiliation papers with the National Ski Association. The NSA dragged its feet. It was having problems of apparent professionalism within its membership, for one thing, and additionally, the NSA was founded by and weighted heavily on the side of Norwegian clubs, which seemingly felt that only Scandinavians knew how to ski. Whether or not that had any bearing, the NSA did not seem anxious to have the USEASA join its ranks. Another dispute arose over the admittance fee. However, USEASA was finally admitted to the NSA in 1925 as a division.

The USEASA was strong enough to stand on its own feet. In 1925, the USEASA formed an executive committee to function between regular business meetings.

The USEASA expanded rapidly between 1930 and the beginning of World War II. The USEASA convention in 1931 was convened at Greenfield, Massachusetts, where the secretary reported a membership of 39 clubs. By 1934, there were 54 clubs. By 1941 and the beginning of the war, 167 clubs and 4,090 members had joined USEASA.

Natalie B. Leduc lives in Saranac Lake.