Sunday, January 31, 2010

First giant slalom?

The first giant slalom was set on the Marmolata in Italy's Dolomite mountains, by Guenther Langes in 1935. See Franco Dezulian, "Lo 'slalom' gigante alla Marmolada," Rivista Mensile (Feb 1935: xxiii-xxvii. One whole page is taken up with a photo and the course drawn on it. Der Winter 28, 13 (April 1935): 555-556 says that the Marmolata GS is now being copied and there will be one at Easter (I presume Easter 1935) at Davos. -- John Allen

Controlled Downhill Skiing – Part Two
By Richard Durrance
In a sense, this is not exactly the right terminology, insomuch as it implies simply the lengthening of our present slalom. In this way the quality of daring for this type of race is liable to be lost. On the other hand, it should not be the present downhill race controlled to the nth degree, thus “sissifying” a course beyond need. In other words, control a downhill race in the dangerous sections with portions of a slalom in the sense of harmonizing required turns to the particular stretch in question. An example of this would be a race on Mt. Washington from top to bottom, done in the following manner: insert fluid, smooth slalom sections in the rocky parts above and to the headwall and then leave the headwall itself open. This includes a section daring enough for most skiers and is void of obstacles like trees, rocks, etc. Then continue in the same manner on down the rest of the trail, always avoiding dangerous obstacles by inserting slalom sections. The tall slalom flag should be used, for it helps in giving better vision and maintaining permanence of position of the gates as well as simplifying the question of penalties. They should be about six or seven feet tall and strong enough to withstand punishment. With these flags anyone could lay out a sample of what I am driving at and see how it works sometime, following along these lines: use your entire downhill trail. Then lay out an extremely fast slalom in comparison to what has been done heretofore and try to incorporate all the natural difficulties that usually oppose high speed on this particular terrain. It is very important to direct the speediest spots, that is, direct them into safety. I mean, as you start checking the speed of the slalom for necessity of safety, do it where he who is unable to check for lack of skill and stamina but has had the foolhardiness of daring the speed beyond his control, will naturally fall somewhere besides into extremely hard surfaced trees. Above all, never forget the maintenance of rhythm. Use bumps, gullies and other natural difficulties to give variety and create interest. A trail of this sort should test and separate the skiers on such qualities as I mentioned. There is also more chance of the younger generation trying to reach the pedestal of fame and championship and live through the process.

I am looking forward to the Edson Race this spring with great interest, for it seems to me to represent a turning point in our rapidly evolving sport of downhill racing in the East. The course setter has a large responsibility; in fact, the success of such a course lies in his understanding of the characteristics of this type of modern downhill racing.

End of article.

Jonathan Robinson

The following account was originally published in an Amateur Ski Club of New York News Letter, just before it was reprinted in the January 1, 1937 issue of The Ski Bulletin, entitled:

Controlled Downhill Skiing
By Richard Durrance
It is my sincere hope that a controlled form of downhill racing will spread in use in the future. To me it seems particularly suited to our trails if we are endeavoring to make New England racing safer. Of course, it is an experiment, and only through a favorable outcome can prove anything. I mean by this the practical success is the thing that counts in the end. If I may venture to voice my anticipation of a downhill race of this sort it is only in the form of a forecast. I do not want to sit back and discuss something with great certainty which is still in its theoretical stage of development, as so many people do. The skiers at large must verify or rectify anything I say now.

If safety is to be preserved or introduced, whichever way you may wish to look at it today, we will have to try to curb a certain tendency which seems to be developing as regards racing. Not exaggerating too much, it seems that a first rate trail today must be ever steeper, straighter and more dangerous than any of the others. A headline hero must have taken this trail absolutely straight and necessarily have shaved the trees on all corners and barely have made the finish. The result is true and simple. The good skier with an unusual amount of luck will win, while other good skiers will crack up - and the same man isn't always the lucky one. To be a good skier it seems you must "schuss the whole blasted trail", which all seems to lead to an unknown fantastic goal of perfection in skiing which no one can ever reach. Enjoyment as the real spirit of skiing seems to be forgotten.

By adopting a type of race which is being developed in Europe, and by the way, gaining wide recognition, we are not in the least trying to copy them in order to consider ourselves right for the fact. No, not at all. There is plenty of reason to give this idea of controlled downhill racing thought, here in the East, where the situation seems to be getting out of bounds. It might be the answer to our need for a saner goal for perfection in skiing, with safety as the keyword. It seems to serve a function in the evolution of our skiing here and provide an example and spectacle of pure honest ski technique. It is also a better end for the youngsters to work toward in their desire for championship skill.

Attempting to summarize the qualifications of a ski race, I will name three factors which I think play the major role in testing the comparative ability of different skiers. Technical skill applied to the handling of the skis, stamina and daring. The practice of such a race should be carried out in such a way as to insure as much safety as possible. The slalom as it has been practiced over here in general has to a great extent been unpleasantly jerky; a series of narrow choppy gates, usually quite unrelated to the natural terrain, all of which is avoiding the true issue of the slalom of harmonizing terrain with the different turns. The emphasis here is definitely on the technical skill side and tends to leave out factors of stamina and daring in their wanted proportions. Similarly, the downhill race tends to minimize the presentation of skilled, controlled running by virtue of emphasis on stamina and extreme daring, hereby overstepping the margin of safety. To me the theoretical solution to combine the most desired qualities for a test can be presented in what we might term a "giant slalom".

End of Part One.
Part Two coming in a bit.
Jonathan Robinson

The link below is from a post I made on the Time for Tuckerman site (under my pseudonym Harkin Banks). It explains the story about Durrance's design of the course that year's inaugural Franklin Edson Memorial Race as this country's first "giant slalom".
The articles were taken from The Ski Bulletin dated March 26, 1937.
I have that issue in my collection, as well as the one from January 1, 1937, that has that 'treatise' of Durrance's of which you speak.
If there is sufficient interest in it, I'd be willing to transcribe it for everyone's reading. t21033

Jonathan Robinson

There's a reference in Reaching That Peak, the history of the DOC, on page 253 mentioning what seem to be the first giant slalom in America. "The [1935] Eastern Slalom Championship on [Mt.] Washington [in Tuckerman Ravine] were the last races of significance that season and included one of the first attempts to run a Giant Slalom. Durrance, the source of this idea, laid out the course in Tuckerman's."

Unfortunately, there is nothing in the 1934-35 American Ski Annual on the 1935 giant slalom at Tuckerman's which may be too late in the season to have made the deadline. There is a report on the National Downhill held on Mt. Washington in March.

The picture of Durrance in that race or in a subsequent 1937 race is in Skiing Heritage (Second Issue 1998 Vol 10 number 2 -- Winston Pote Pioneer Photographer page 10), although it is said to be the first giant slalom, it is identified as being in 1937.

Somewhere else that I cannot put my finger on, Dick I think it was refers to a race in 1933 on the Marmolata, I think it was where an Italian champion had laid out a giant slalom course as a variation on the downhill. The FIS might have some info on it.

I have an undated New York Times clip obviously written in 1939 that begins with this lead sentence: "That American competitors are contributing something to the improvement of skiing in their movement for safety in downhill racing is widely recognized. One of the leaders in this movement is Dick Durrance who inaugurated the 'giant slalom,' a controlled downhill race which puts a premium on a competitor's skill rather than on his sheer nerve, though it still demands the stamina necessary to good downhill racing." The article claims the first U.S. giant slalom was the Edson Memorial Race held on Mt. Washington, April 4th 1937, and is now an annual race, but this is obviously not the first GS in the U.S.

Unfortunately, there is nothing in the 1934-35 American Ski Annual on the 1935 giant slalom at Tuckerman's, which may be too late in the season to have made the deadline. There is a report on the National Downhill held on Mt. Washington in March.

-Morten Lund

Dick Durrance wrote a short piece on page 187 of the 1942 American Ski Annual about his idea to run a "giant slalom" race at Alta in the winter of '42. Does anyone out there know of an earlier reference to the term giant slalom? Perhaps g.s. races were held in Europe before World War II. The giant slalom was first introduced as an official FIS event in 1950.

-- Snowfry

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