Great thoughts: Minnie Dole and the ski patrol

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(Host) Commentator John Morton says that the founder of the National Ski Patrol was inspired with his “great thought” by difficulties he encountered while on a ski vacation in Vermont.

(Morton) In the winter of 1936, Charles Minot Dole, a frequent visitor to Vermont, was skiing Mt. Mansfield with his wife and another couple when an unfortunate event lead to a series of great ideas.

When Minnie Dole (as he was known to his friends) fell and broke an ankle, the wives were sent for help. They returned hours later empty handed except for a piece of tin which served as a splint. Nine weeks later, Dole’s skiing buddy, Frank Edson was not so lucky. Hurt in a more serious fall, Edson died and Minnie Dole resolved to do something about skiing safety. In 1938, he organized the ski patrol for the National Downhill Races held at Stowe. Then later that year, with 94 volunteers, established the National Ski Patrol.

Today, the National Ski Patrol is comprised of nearly 30,000 men and women serving on 600 ski patrols throughout America. It has pioneered innovative approaches to outdoor emergency care, evaluated ski equipment, developed avalanche rescue techniques, and promoted safety in both Alpine and Nordic skiing, and more recently snowboarding.

In the winter of 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland. Small units of Finnish soldiers on skis were able to annihilate two Russian tank divisions, humiliating the invaders. Minnie Dole saw the Finnish Winter War as justification for establishing a mountain warfare unit in the American Army. Dole was able to present his plan to General George C. Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff, who recognized its merit.

The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Army activated its first mountain unit, the 87th Mountain Infantry at Fort Lewis, Washington. The outfit quickly became known as “Minnie’s Ski Troops” since Dole and his National Ski Patrol assumed responsibility for recruiting qualified young men for the unit. In July of 1943 the 87th was relocated to Camp Hale, Colorado and expanded into the 10th Mountain Division. In January, 1945, the Division was deployed to the mountains of Italy where it drove the Germans north to the Po Valley.

When those ski troops returned to civilian life after World War II, they developed ski resorts, established ski schools, imported equipment from Europe, and manufactured ski clothing here in the States. It could be said that thanks to Minnie Dole’s broken ankle on Mt. Mansfield, the National Ski Patrol was created, the 10th Mountain Division was established and Vermont’s ski industry today ranks third in the nation, pumping $1.4 billion annually into the state’s economy.

This is John Morton in Thetford, Vermont.

VPR’s commentary series, “Great Thoughts of Vermont,” examines the big ideas that came out of a small state. Learn more about the Great Thoughts in this series.

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