Sun Valley and White Pass pioneer

Passing Date: 
Friday, January 29, 2016

Nelson Bennett, an early Sun Valley patrol supervisor who later managed the White Pass ski area in Washington for almost 30 years, died on January 29 at his home in Yakima at the age of 101. He had fallen at Christmas and never fully recovered.

Born in 1914, Bennett started skiing as a child, racing with his brother on barrel staves in their New Hampshire backyard. He got his first pair of skis at age 13 and learned his first turn—a Telemark—from a book he checked out of the library. After high school, he washed dishes at Peckett’s Inn in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire and then raced for the ski team at the University of New Hampshire. He graduated in 1940 and drove cross-country to check out the new Sun Valley resort. Dick Durrance hired him as a ski patroller for the 1940–1941 season and he was soon promoted to supervisor.

In 1942, he was drafted into the Army and served with the 10th Mountain Division in Italy. He returned to Sun Valley after the war as Superintendent of Recreational Facilities, where he skied with such celebrities as Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper and Clark Gable and worked as a stunt double for several films, including the 1958 movie Lucy Goes to Sun Valley with Lucille Ball. He managed the 1956 U.S. Olympic alpine team, worked as assistant director of ski events for the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, and was a longtime FIS technical delegate, homologating dozens of racing venues across the United States.

In 1960, Bennett left Sun Valley for a job as general manager of the White Pass ski area near Yakima. He held that position until his retirement in 1986 and was inducted as an honored member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame that year.

In January 2015, nearly 200 people attended his 100th birthday party at the White Pass base lodge, including his three children, several grandchildren, and longtime companion Madi Springer-Miller Kraus. On the day after his death, the flag flew at half-mast at the Sun Valley ski patrol headquarters; at Bennett’s request, there will be no formal funeral or memorial service. (Sources: U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame; Skiing History; Katherine Wutz, Sun Valley Guide)

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