23 March 2011

Literary Skiers 13a

One of the men I skied with was Lefty Cormier, who had been in the Tenth Mountain Troops. He taught me the single dipsy. Few people could learn it because it violated all the skiing rules of the time. Those were the days of the Arlberg Technique, made famous by Hannes Schneider, in which the shoulders wrenched the skis through wide arcing turns. The single dipsy did none of that; but you did have to turn yourself over to the mountain in a way the skiers of that day couldn't handle. It turned out that learning this technique was the most important thing in my skiing life because it enabled me to turn where few could on steep narrow chutes between trees. Because of this rare technique I acquired a notoriety I didn't really want as a pulver schnee spezialist in Davos, Switzerland and later in Alta as the "best woman powder skier in the world."


Long before we ever got to Alta, way back in 1939, Dick Durrance was manager of the Alta Lodge. You must remember that at that time there were only two real ski resorts in the West--Sun Valley, begun by the Union Pacific Railroad to lure people to ride the train out west, and Alta. Durrance soon found that he could not ski the steep, narrow Alta chutes using the standard Arlberg technique; but because he was also a mountain climber and used to heeling down the steep chutes--that's the beginning of the single dipsy. Of course, through his winter at Alta he refined it some more.


To continue with the story of the single dipsy, the war had started in December, 1941, and the Mountain Troops were formed in spring of 1942. They trained at Camp Hale in a high valley near Climax, Colorado. Dev Jennings from Salt Lake, who skied at Alta, had learned the single dipsy from Durrance and he taught it to many of the men in his platoon the winter of 1942. My friend, Bob Swartz, who owns the Mountain Shop in Boulder, was in that platoon. In fact it is Bob who gave me the origin of the name "single dipsy." It's from an old popular song of the year 1937 called "The Dipsy Doodle." Another old climbing friend, John Devitt, a musician, wrote it out for me. It was sung by Edythe Wright on the original Tommy Dorsey record. Words and music were by Larry Clinton, a band leader.

The song started out with: The Dipsy Doodle's the thing to beware, The Dipsy Doodle will get in your hair. A couple of other lines relevant to the state of mind of powder skiing are: It's almost always in back of your mind. You never know it until it's too late...That's the way the Dipsy Doodle works. It's got a very bouncy rhythm. You can easily see why those mountain troop skiers back in the early forties picked that up as the name for their skiing style.

--Dolores LaChapelle, from Deep Powder Snow: 40 Years of Ecstatic Skiing, Avalanches, and Earth Wisdom, 1993

Photo Credits:
Drinker Durrance Graphics

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