This is the second of an eight-part series of excerpts from First Tracks: A History of Skiing in Revelstoke, the latest book from the Revelstoke Museum & Archives. Contributed By the Revelstoke Museum & Archives
Norway is credited with the invention of skiing, so it is not surprising that the first skiers in Revelstoke were from there. The first account of a skier in Revelstoke was in 1891 when Ole Sandberg showed up in town on what were dubbed by the newspaper as ‘Norwegian Snowshoes.’ Norwegians would lead the way in promoting skiing in Revelstoke The following is about the matriarch of one of Revelstoke’s most prominent early skiing families – Anna Gunnarsen.
Norway was not only the source of Revelstoke’s first skis, it was the homeland of two inter-related families, the Gunnarsens and the Nilsens (Nelsens), who followed relatives to Revelstoke in 1913. These families’ vision and passion for skiing not only popularized the sport in Revelstoke, but drew international attention to skiing in the town.
Jorgen and Anna (Johanna) Gunnarsen moved to Revelstoke from Norway with three sons (and had a fourth in Canada). Jorgen was a machinist, cabinet maker and avid cross-country racer who made skis for local children. Anna became Revelstoke’s skiing matriarch, winning many local and regional races, including the women’s cross-country ski race at the first annual Winter Carnival in 1915.
Anna, who continued racing until she was 48, would start as much as a city block back simply to get other contestants to enter the race. She once started behind 17-year-old boys and passed them.
Ken Granstrom remembered that Anna Gunnarsen was very kind. “She would bend over backward to help people, especially the down-and-outs. She would do everything to see that they had something to eat. We didn’t have welfare or anything else but she was one special lady.” She was also kind to Ken:
“In 1938, I was only seven years old and I was in the ski jumping line-up and I jumped. The prizes were given later that day at the Civic Centre. I knew I wasn’t going to win a prize but I thought I’d go and see who’d win. Mrs. Gunnarsen called me up and presented me with a blue shirt. She said she knew I wasn’t going to win a prize but I needed something.”
Anna’s son Hans would become one of the best ski jumpers in Revelstoke. Her other sons, Gunnar, Carl and Emil also competed in jumping and cross-country races. Hans was killed in action during the Second World War. In 1946, the Big Bend Ski Jump, near where Jacobson Ford now is, was renamed the Hans Gunnarsen Jump. Anna cut the tape at the jump’s ceremonial opening.
First Tracks, the History of Skiing in Revelstoke, is due out in early December. Pre-orders can be made at the Revelstoke Museum & Archives or by calling 250-837-3067. The book is $40 inc. HST if ordered before Dec. 1, and $45 inc. HST afterwards.