Above and opposite: Australian airman ‘Aussie’ T. Elliot was amongst a group of Aussie airmen who came to Revelstoke on leave from action in the Second World War in January of 1943

Revelstoke skiing activity declines during Second World War

World War 2 saw many experienced skiers head off to war. Old-timers and youngsters tried to keep the ski spirit alive while they were gone.

  • Nov. 9, 2012 6:00 a.m.

By Revelstoke Museum & Archives

This is the fourth of an eight-part series of excerpts from First Tracks: A History of Skiing in Revelstoke, the latest book from the Revelstoke Museum & Archives.

The war years

The 1939 (ski jumping) tournament was the last big one in Revelstoke for several years. On September 10, 1939, Canada joined Britain and France in declaring war on Germany. For a few years, Hans Gunnarsen, Earl Pletsch and Art Johnson continued to compete successfully in North America but by 1942 more than 400 men from Revelstoke had enlisted in the military, including several top skiers.

The years 1942 to 1945 showed a marked decline in skiing activity, though many older skiers worked hard to engage high school students in the sport. A poignant editorial in the Revelstoke Review on February 13, 1943, shows how the community struggled to keep its ski heritage alive without its champion skiers:

Despite conditions, which have taken the majority of Revelstoke’s best skiers into the armed forces, the youngsters, aided by a few enthusiastic oldsters, are trying to keep interest pepped up in the ski sport, which has done so much in the last quarter of a century to publicize Revelstoke. Many of the winners of the various events of past years are now doing service for their King and Country and none would be more anxious than they to see the lure of ski sport kept alive in Revelstoke during their absence. The youngsters who are trying to keep interest in the sport maintained are staging a jumping tourney next Wednesday. There is a wealth of available material and these kids ought to be encouraged to the fullest extent. In their ranks may be future Nels Nelsens or Bob Lymburnes who will again put Revelstoke on the map as the world’s foremost skiing centre.

During the war, a group of Australian air force men came to Revelstoke on leave. In January 1943, the Revelstoke Review’s ‘Skeen and Skheard’ ski column noted that there were fewer skiers on the trails and that “a great percentage of the skiers are the ‘Aussie’ visitor.” The columnist described one “very avid and adept” Australian neophyte named Ray Belamy, or Snowy:

We wish that ‘Snowy’ could reside in town and join the Ski Club. He’s such a ‘whizz’ on skis. Having been on the planks little more than half a dozen times, he claims that the road from ‘Suicide’ ski jump is far too tame for him and comes tearing down along the trail yelling ‘blue murder.’ His greatest ambition at present is to climb Mount Revelstoke, having seen so many beautiful snow scenes of that locale. Being an ‘Aussie,’ he ‘wants to see for himself.’

Sadly, at least 32 young soldiers from Revelstoke were killed during the war and Hans Gunnarsen was among them. In 1946, the Big Bend jump was renamed the “Hans Gunnarsen Jump” to honour the celebrated jumper. The 1946 tournament at the Hans Gunnarsen Hill spurred a revival of large tournaments and ski jumping; the following year Revelstoke again hosted the Western Canadian Ski Championships which once again drew ski trains from Vancouver.

***

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.

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