Rosemarie Schutz Asch


Canadian Olympian and national champion

Our friend Peter Asch recently showed us a photo of his 93-year-old mother, Rosie, cross-country skiing in what looked like full stride. His mom, it turns out, is Rosemarie Schutz Asch, Canada’s national slalom champion in 1953 and 1954, and a 1952 Olympian.

Rosie Schutz Asch
Rosemarie Schutz. Olympedia photo

Photo top: Racing for the Canadian team at the 1952 Oslo Olympics, Rosemarie Schutz went on to win the national slalom championships in 1953 and 1954. Photo: Laurentian Ski Hall of Fame.

Peter and Rosie visited us at our home in November. When they arrived, Rosie jumped out of the car and, with a quick gait and warm smile, graciously offered us both hugs. Immediately, her engaging personality and authentic curiosity won our hearts. Peter made it clear that his mother did not like to talk about herself and was understated about her accomplishments, and that proved true. For two hours, over cups of English tea and cream, we were graced by the presence of a true champion with a gift for storytelling who applauded others more than herself.

Born in 1930 in Westmount, a suburb of Montreal, Asch dreamed of being a top figure skater like Norway’s Sonja Henie, the Olympic champion of 1928, ’32 and ’36, turned film star. Her parents could not afford skating lessons, but her dad loved skiing and taught her on the rope tow at nearby Mont Royal. Later, the family built a modest ski house a mile and a half from Mont Tremblant, where the American Joe Ryan had built a single-chair lift in 1938. Asch’s tremendous athleticism and graceful ice-skating skills helped her become one of Canada’s most accomplished ski racers. She claims it was because of her training on the narrow, icy ski trails of the Northeast, where twice she broke her ankle.

Rosie in race bib
Racing for McGill University, Schutz won slalom and downhill at the 1950 Quebec championships. Kappa Kappa Gamma photo.

Asch remembers identical twins Rhoda and Rhona Wurtele, whom the press dubbed “the Flying Twins.” They were Canadian ski champions in the 1930s and ’40s and the only members of the Canadian women’s Alpine ski team in the 1948 Olympics at St. Moritz (both were injured there). But three years later, when tryouts for the Olympic team were held in Banff, Asch took to the wide-open terrain and soft snow. She earned her place on the Canadian women’s Olympic ski team. “We were locked into our bindings and if you fell, you would break your leg,” she says. “I broke my ankle twice in Saint-Sauveur, Quebec.”

The team (Joanne Hewson, Lucile Wheeler, Rhoda Wurtele and Schutz) competed at the Dartmouth and Middlebury Winter Carnivals, and at Lake Placid. Because she got carsick on the bumpy roads, Asch recalls, she always sat in the front seat during team trips and, thus, was navigator. “Back then we were using maps, so we always got lost and roamed around aimlessly,” she says.

For the 1952 Olympics, Schutz, Wurtele, Wheeler and Hewson boarded a piston-engine DC4 and flew for 18 hours, plus refueling stops, to Oslo, Norway. Stein Eriksen won gold and silver medals there, but it was the 19-year-old American Andrea “Andy” Mead Lawrence whom Asch remembers. During the slalom, she watched Lawrence fall in a hairpin gate and spin out of the course. Asch says, “Andy jumped right up and climbed back and around the gate and still won the slalom gold medal and then repeated with a gold medal in the giant slalom.” Schutz placed 14th in downhill, 23rd in GS and 37th in slalom. Hewson was eighth in the downhill and Wurtele ninth in GS. Like their American counterparts, the Canadian women’s team outperformed the men.

The youngest member of the 1952 Canadian women’s team was Wheeler. Her parents owned the Gray Rocks resort, famous for its early skiing facilities. Wheeler would go on to win a bronze medal in the 1956 Olympics in Cortina, Italy, and then two golds and a silver at the 1958 World Championships.

Asch achieved her greatest ski racing success after the Olympics. She scored victories in downhill, slalom and GS, including at the Canadian national slalom championships two years running. In 1955, she married Robert Asch and hung up her racing skis to raise her family. In 2009, she was inducted into the Laurentian Ski Hall of Fame.

We asked Asch if she had ever skied Tuckerman Ravine at Mount Washington in New Hampshire? She lit up and told us her story:

Rosie Asch
At age 80, Asch won the ITF World Tennis Championship. Kappa Kappa Gamma.

“We would drive down to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. I would be with four guys and me, but no boyfriend in the group. At the border they asked me to come inside and wanted to know if my parents knew I was travelling with these men. Of course, I told them they did but I was not actually sure about that. They wanted to make sure I was not being abducted. We would arrive at the Harvard Hut, which was halfway up the mountain. All of us would sleep there. Just two girls and all these guys, and we had a party that night and had alcohol punch. I needed a card to get a glass of punch, and everyone was a little high. I was sleeping upstairs, and some guys were next to me (nothing went on), and I was in my sleeping bag. One of the guys next to me vomited. I hopped over to the second-story window and jumped out the window and slept downstairs on top of the stove. The interesting thing is that I got a formal letter in the mail from this fella, Eddie, who apologized for being sick that night. I did not ski over the Headwall but below it. When you carry your skis up and sit on a crevasse and put your skis on—often a ski would slide all the way down the mountain and that was before safeties were on skis. You would have to get yourself down on one ski.” 

Asch is also an accomplished tennis player. At age 80 she won the individual ITF World Tennis Championships, held in Turkey. “I have a one-handed backhand and played for the Canadians,” she says. “I still play tennis if someone plays with me. When I wanted to play indoors, there was this French group I wanted to join. They asked me my name and my age. I told them I was 82. There was no way I could share my real age, which was 92, because I thought they might not let me join in. I played for a few weeks and someone in the group looked me up and was delighted to learn I was 92, and they were thrilled to be playing with me.”

Asch relates how she has friends her age who cannot walk because they have not stayed active. “It speaks well for skiing—staying active,” she says. “I just wanted to be a fancy figure skater, and I have skated all through my adult life, even took up hockey.” Asch plays tennis, and now pickleball, and still cross-country skis with her family.

This year she will turn 94. Rhoda Wurtele-Eaves is going to be 104 and Wheeler will be 90. Hewson passed away on December 1, 2023, at age 93. Robert Asch died in 2022 at 93.

The four women of the 1952 Olympic team took center stage at a Canadian Ski Hall of Fame banquet in Montreal, on November 17, 2023. Seventy-one years after they raced together, they stood side by side and received a rousing ovation for lives well-lived and for their love and contributions to Canadian skiing. 

Authors Rick and Melinda Moulton are ISHA stalwarts. Rick is chairman of ISHA and of its Awards Committee.