Dorothy McClung Wullich


In January, 1942 she became the first woman registered in the National Ski Patrol.

Dorothy McClung
Dorothy McClung broke a leg in the 1941 San Gorgonio Downhill, then joined the NSP. Photo: Ingrid Wicken

The National Ski Patrol’s first female member, Dorothy McClung Wullich, hailed from the San Diego Ski Club, then America's southernmost ski membership organization. Founded in 1935, it still thrives today. The club started with 40 members, an amazing number given the era and the geographic location. Members soon developed a ski slope on Cuyamaca Peak (40 miles east of San Diego), with use of the Cuyamaca Rancho Fire Guard Station for a ski hut. Then in 1939, the club installed a rope tow on the Cuyamaca slope.

McClung learned to ski in 1939, inspired by ski scenes in a movie she’d watched. She advanced rapidly in the sport and became a formidable competitor in local races. If she didn’t win the race, she often finished in the top three. She finished second in the January 1941 running of the Sierra Club challenge races on Mt. Baldy. A week later she won the first annual invitational slalom hosted by the Big Pines Ski Club, beating the second-place finisher by more than 13 seconds. McClung won again when she clinched the second annual open downhill race at Big Pines on February 23. This time she beat the second-place finisher by almost two minutes.

She competed in the 1941 San Gorgonio Downhill, one of Southern California’s most grueling races, and it was this race that inspired McClung to learn the skills required for patrol work. She recalled that “I was going too fast, I guess, and tried to check my speed—that’s all there was to it. When it was all over, I had broken my right leg in five places. With six other skiers hauling me, it took four hours to get down the trail that night.”

She recovered from that injury and resumed her racing career the following year. The first annual Avalanche Slalom was held at Mt. Waterman on April 12, 1942. No women’s race was scheduled, but five women showed up so plans were quickly revised to accommodate the female racers. McClung finished first, 14 seconds ahead of her closest competitor. She finished second in the 6th Annual San Antonio Downhill and first in the ١٩٤٢ San Gorgonio Downhill.

Local skier and racer Muir Dawson described the unique conditions skiers encountered in the San Gorgonio race: “It had the distinction of requiring a mountaineer’s sense of route finding in addition to usual racing ability. The start was placed as high as snow conditions permitted in the little draw near timberline on the north slope of 11,502-foot-high San Gorgonio Mountain. The finish was placed at the foot of Christmas Tree Hill, about two miles and 1,800 feet lower, with only a few directional flags to guide the racers through the open slopes and dense forest areas.” Not only did the race test skiers’ racing and route-finding skills, but competitors had to hike up the hill to reach the start.

McClung was on crutches for two months after her crash, and concluded that rescue techniques in the local mountains needed vast improvement. To help, she became a member of the San Diego Ski Patrol and enrolled in Red Cross first-aid courses.

San Diego Ski Club Lodge, 1940
San Diego Ski Club lodge, c. 1940. SDSC photo

One of the feats that drew attention to McClung was when she and five other members of the San Diego Ski Club (all male) skied into Cuyamaca Peak to deliver 150 pounds of food to stranded rangers. Ordinarily, vehicles would carry supplies to the lookouts where rangers were stationed to scan the skies for enemy aircraft. However, at this time almost three feet of snow covered the trails, making them impassable to everyone except those on skis. The San Diego Ski Club was lauded for the accomplishment, and McClung was able to demonstrate her physical strength, first-aid skills and expertise on skis.

In 1941, three years after the National Ski Patrol (NSP) was established, there were 500 hundred men in the organization. The nomination of a woman to the NSP was a precedent-setting move. Walter H. Clemmons had organized the Southern California section of the National Ski Patrol in spring 1940 and fervently supported

Badge No. 1
Badge Number 1

McClung’s nomination. In a letter to Charles “Minnie” Dole, founder and chairman of the NSP, Clemmons wrote: “Where women skiers are possessed of unusual skiing ability and where their stamina on skis, particularly on cross-country tours, indicates that they would be able to handle the heavier demands of rescue transportation, I have felt that they should be seriously considered for a place right alongside the male members of the National Patrol. Ability in the application of first aid can, of course, be equally as efficient in the case of women as well as men, perhaps even more efficient. Other qualifications of personality, tact and interest in patrol work can be just as desirable in women. Granted that women skiers so completely qualified are unusual, it still seems to me that where they meet all requirements, they should be awarded full honors and consideration.”

Arthur and Dorothy Wullich
Racers and patrollers, Arthur and Dorothy Wullich married in 1944.

He concluded his letter with the following recommendation: “I would like to respectively request that the appointment of Dorothy McClung to the National Ski Patrol be fully considered at this time before rejection because of sex, even though hers might be the first woman appointment.”

Only three years after learning to ski, on January 12, 1942, McClung became the first woman member of the National Ski Patrol. In a letter from the National Ski Patrol Committee, dated January 16, 1942, her historic appointment was announced: “The National Committee takes sincere pleasure in presenting you with Special Badge Number 1 together with your Certificate of Merit. This badge is conceived as an honorary award in recognition of the certain talents that have marked you eligible to receive it. ... A Special Badge has been created for you, and the National Committee looks to you to carry yourself that all women skiers and younger patrolmen will aspire to the honor you have been given.”

Arthur Wullich and Dorothy McClung were both prominent and well-respected members of the San Diego Ski Club. Both were known for their results on the racing scene and their accomplishments in ski patrol work. The couple married on December 11, 1944. They remained in the San Diego area and were lifelong skiers. Dorothy passed away on November 8, 1993. 

Ingrid Wicken is a five-time winner of ISHA awards for her books on the history of California skiing. She wrote about racer Chris Schwarzenbach in the May-June 2023 issue. She owns and operates the California Ski Library in Norco, California.