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Media: Two ISHA Award Winners

 

SKIING HISTORY

Editor Greg Ditrinco
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Skiing History (USPS No. 16-201, ISSN: 23293659) is published bimonthly by the International Skiing History Association, P.O. Box 1064, Manchester Center, VT 05255.
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Media: Two ISHA Award Winners

The Winter Army, Les Peuples du Ski, Marcel Hirscher

Ullr Award: The Winter Army, by Maurice Isserman

With the publication of his new work, The Winter Army (a 2020 ISHA Ullr Award Winner), Professor Maurice Isserman of Hamilton College has made a valuable contribution to the substantial body of literature tracing the history of the US 10th Mountain Division in the Second World War. Using a variety of available sources written by both historians and the troopers themselves, he has woven a readable history of America’s ski troops from their founding in a New England tavern in 1940, through their rigorous training at Mount Rainier and Camp Hale in the Colorado Rockies, and to their very bloody but victorious campaign in Northern Italy at the very end of the war.

Though the book’s concentration is on the military rather than the skiing aspects of the 10th Mountain Division story, there are still many interesting references to the giants of American ski lore connected to the 10th, including Minnie Dole, Friedl Pfeifer, Pete Seibert and the rest. The author’s real strength is realized, however, when he explores aspects of the 10th Mountain Division’s combat experience that have not been fully covered in the many past works on the famous unit.

Isserman relies heavily on the memoirs of several Division members, especially Marty Daneman’s superb autobiography Do Well or Die. First-hand accounts detail unexplored events, notably the utter carnage on Mount della Torraccia immediately following the Division’s victories on Riva Ridge and Belvedere in February of 1945. Lt. Colonel John Stone made a tragic tactical error, placing his men in a forest to conceal them from German mortar and artillery fire. Isserman cites Daneman’s account of the horrendous results caused to hundreds of soldiers when explosives hit trees above and rained shrapnel into their foxholes and dugouts. While the 10th was perhaps the most well-conditioned and best-educated unit in the U.S. Army, no training could have avoided that catastrophe of failed battlefield leadership.

Another valuable contribution is Isserman’s focus on often-overlooked Nazi atrocities against the local Italian population. In Ronchidoso and elsewhere, SS units had recently murdered Italian children as retribution for partisan activity. When American troops found the bodies, they reacted with a renewed sense of urgency to beat back the Nazis and end the war in Europe.

Despite a few minor quibbles and oversights (the failure to note that ski champion Torger Tokle’s death was caused by friendly fire, the specific insistence that the 10th was not populated with an abnormally high percentage of Catholic, Jewish and Native American members when anecdotally it clearly was), The Winter Army is a fine addition to any ski and 10th Mountain Division library. —Charles J. Sanders

The Winter Army: The World War II Odyssey of the 10th Mountain Division, America’s Elite Alpine Warriors by Maurice Isserman. From Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 336 pages. Hardcover, $33; softcover $16.99, and Kindle editions.

Ullr Award: Skiing Peoples: 10,000 years of history, by Maurice Woerhlé

Where and when did skiing originate? The Ullr Award-winning Les Peuples du Ski: 10,000 ans d’histoire (Skiing Peoples: 10,000 years of history) tackles that question. In 1888, Fridtjof Nansen and his friend, the amateur philologist Andreas Hansen, theorized that it arose in the region between Lake Baikal and the Altai Mountains of Central Asia. From there, they surmised, it spread with migrating tribes to the rest of Siberia and Europe. In recent decades this theory has been accepted and promoted by Chinese and Mongolian anthropologists. Archaeological evidence for skiing in Central Asia goes back about 5,000 years, to the local bronze age.

But archaeological sites in European Russia and recent DNA evidence suggest that skiing began in the Southern Baltic region at the close of the last Ice Age. It then spread eastward all the way across Asia before Arctic tribes settled in what is now Finland, teaching their Scandinavian neighbors to ski.

This is the argument proposed by Maurice Woerhlé in this exhaustively researched book. Drawing on 50 years of Russian archaeology not previously published in the West, and on copious new DNA research, Woerhlé reconstructs the migrations of prehistoric tribes across Eurasia. As glaciers retreated from Europe beginning 15,000 years ago, nomadic hunters moved northeast from near the Pyrenees, and northwest from what is now Ukraine, to create a stable culture south and east of the Baltic. Here, flat marshy land promoted winter travel using sleds and dogs, snowshoes and skis. Tribes so equipped migrated quickly to the Urals and beyond. The Russian archaeologist Grigori Birov has unearthed sled runners and skis carbon dated more than 9,000 years old.

Woerhlé retired 20 years ago after a four-decade career as research engineer at Rossignol (he helped to create the Strato, and all alpine race skis thereafter). Since 2000, he has been traveling to archaeological sites, interviewing scientists, arranging for translations of their studies, and compiling this impressive book (in French). Skiing History will publish, in English, an extract later this year. –Seth Masia

Les Peuples du Ski: 10,000 Ans d’Histoire by Maurice Woehrlé. From Books on Demand, 324 pages, illustrated. €33 softcover, €11.99 e-book.

The 2021 ISHA Awards will be presented April 29 via webinar. See skiinghistory.org/events for details..

Marcel Hirscher: The Biography, edited by Alex Hofstetter

This is the official biography, in German, of Marcel Hirscher, Austria’s recently retired most celebrated skier. Assembled by sports journalist Alex Hofstetter, it draws on diary entries by trainer Michael Pircher, and input from PR chief Stefan Illek. They offer an explanation of the extraordinariness of Hirscher’s skiing career. “Sometimes,” as Hirscher himself said, “I found myself a puzzle.”

The book contains many short essays illustrated by numerous black and white photographs and several sixteen-page folios of photos. At the end are 27 pages of statistics, followed by 17 pages covering the years from Hirscher’s birth in 1989 to his first race in 1996, and on to his retirement in September 2019: a phenomenal career. For those who do not read German, these appendices are easily understandable.

One of the first photos shows airport wagons loaded with equipment, and five members of Team-H setting off for the 2019 Olympics in PyongChang, where Hirscher won gold medals in giant slalom and combined. The photo illustrates that Hirscher’s success was tied to people he trusted implicitly: the vital service-man, ski trainer, physical trainer, psychotherapist, and media man.

Hirscher also relied on the Ferdl-Factor, referring to his father Ferdinand, well known on Austrian television. Ferdinand ran a ski school at Annaberg and had put Marcel on skis at age two. As he grew up, Ferdinand recognized his son’s talent. “It was unbelievable how fast the kid skied,” said Ferdinand.

Ferdinand shot endless videos, piled up notes on equipment used, snow conditions, training. (“Our feet fit in the same shoes”). By 2006, Michael Pircher, at that time training the Austrian World Cup slalom team, saw “einen neuen Star kommen!” And so they worked on “Project Speed,” racing trips in America, all chronicled in Pircher’s diary entries, which give the tale immediacy.

Hirscher had also become an internet star: 605,000 followers on Instagram, 582,000 on Facebook, 179,000 on Twitter. His ‘retirement’ press conference in 2019 was held on prime-time ORF television and live-streamed around the world. It would not surprise me if his flashing style soon graces an Austrian postage stamp, joining the likes of Hermann Maier, Karl Schranz, Benjamin Raich, and Elisabeth Görgl.

In attempting to answer the puzzle of Hirscher, the authors have chosen the “race of all races,” the world championship slalom at Schladming in 2013. The previous winter Hirscher had won his first (of eight) overall World Cup titles. Now all of Austria waited for him to win gold, on native soil. The night before the race, he had not slept, had a stiff neck, migraine and was absolutely washed out. But the next day, 55.47 seconds after he left the starting gate, the 1.9 million Austrians watching on television and 50,000 watching from the side-lines let loose; Hirscher had not failed them.

If he had not skied to the gold medal, he said, “They will slaughter me.” The Schladming race, where he had felt that “a herd of wild dogs was at his heels,” remained for him “the most emotional, impressive victory of my career.” The authors conclude that Marcel no longer has to function like a machine, but has to learn how to live. He will manage all right, “ganz sicher,” that’s certain. —E. John B. Allen   

Marcel Hirscher, die biografie, by Alex Hofstetter, Stefan Illek and Michael Pricher. Available from: Egoth Verlag (egot.at). € 29.90

 

 

 

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