Carson and Vi White: hard-core skiers in their time
Like a classic, romantic, wartime love story, it started with a polka and lasted a lifetime.Carson White and Violet (Vi) Hanson met on New Years Eve in 1939 at a dance held at the Oakland Ski Club Lodge in Colfax, Calif. Vi was a pretty blue-eyed blond Swedish girl, Carson a native of Chicago who had come west with his family to Oakland. It was love at first sight for the two avid skiers and from that time forward, they would share a passion for the slopes and for each other that would last more than 60 years.Carson and Vi hit it off immediately and soon they were skiing together every chance they had. But one year later, Pearl Harbor was bombed and the nation was quickly embroiled in the turmoil of World War II. Carson joined the U.S. Navy in 1941; he initially worked in the Oakland recruiting office while Vi taught swimming to nurses for the Red Cross. In 1942, before Carson was reassigned overseas to the Forward Area of the Central Pacific as Admiral Hoovers yeoman, the couple married.
The following year Charlie was born, but their new child didnt slow the pace of this determined skiing couple. After the war ended and over the next 10 years, the Whites made several hundred ski trips to the mountains, until 1952 when they decided to move to Donner Lake. Close to the ski resorts they loved so much, they lived at Donner Lake for the next 42 years. Over the course of his lifetime, Carson White became one of the prime promoters of skiing in California and during his career was probably the states best-known ski journalist. Carson Whites award-winning work in winter sports promotion and ski journalism actually started before World War II. Employed as a young office clerk for the Southern Pacific Railroad (SPRR), in 1937 Carson organized and served as secretary of the SPRR Ski Club. It was the beginning of a productive writing career that would last more than 50 years. He helped initiate the clubs sponsorship of Snowball Express ski trains, which were essentially the beginning of alpine recreational skiing in northern California. White simultaneously prompted the California Chamber of Commerce to advertise the states treasure of snow-covered mountains and nascent winter sports industry. In 1937, Carson collaborated with his friend Wayne Poulsen (future founder of Squaw Valley) to survey and produce a feasibility study for locating and developing one of the Wests first major ski areas, Sugar Bowl on Donner Summit. During the winter months there was virtually no way to travel to the summit area other than by railroad, so the first Northern Sierra ski resorts would naturally have to be located near the tracks. Sugar Bowl was opened in 1939 by John Wiley and Hannes Schroll.
Carson White was what today we call a hard-core skier. He didnt have much money (his dad died when Carson was only 14 years old), but he more than made up for it with desire. To get his runs, he would sleep in a friends car, brown bag his lunch, and scrounge for equipment, clothes and transportation. When the price of a lift ticket was beyond reach, he hiked the mountain to the top. A die-hard skier, Carson was undaunted by his lack of money. He often hitchhiked to the races where he sometimes climbed up the ski course to save the expense of the $1.50 ticket.Just like any enthusiastic ski nut, Carson White wasnt above some hijinks. When the 1939 Worlds Fair was held on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, Carson sneaked in to ski down the artificial ski jump that his buddy Wayne Poulsen had helped build for the ski jumping exhibition. After the war, Carson and Vi White were early members of the Oakland Ski Club (OSC). They spent many weekends and vacation days helping to raise funds and joining other club members in volunteering their time building the clubs new ski lodge near Donner Pass. The Oakland Ski Clubs original rented dorm building in Colfax was too far from the Donner Summit ski resorts. Carson was elected president of the OSC in 1946. As the clubs president and editor of the OSC newsletter UPSKI, Carson helped stage a California Ski Association Regional race at Donner Ski Ranch, where future ski film producer Warren Miller placed second. Other than the years during WWII when White was serving in the U.S. Navy, Carson raced for the Southern Pacific RR Ski Club and Oakland Ski Club until the early 1950s.
As president of the OSC, Carson organized 24 local ski clubs into the influential Bay Area Ski Federation and served as chairman for three years. He promoted recreational ski races, including the creation of the Dual Slalom head-to-head race, which brought a lot of fun and excitement to the sport and increased media coverage. As the Bay Area Ski Patrol Leader, White introduced a custom-designed, ski-oriented FIRST AID program that was later approved and adopted by Minot Dole, founder of the National Ski Patrol. The following year Carson began his career as a professional ski journalist, writing for the California-Nevada Ski News as correspondent for the Bay Area. The Ski News was printed in Auburn, conveniently located on old Highway 40 when the Whites were returning home to Oakland or Walnut Creek after a day covering ski races. To meet his deadline, Carson would type out his article and the assorted race results from a portable typewriter on his knees while Vi drove down the highway. Over the next 15 years, White served as ski writer for several newspapers (including the Sierra Sun) and as ski reporter for San Franciscos KGO Radio. As winter sports editor for the San Francisco Examiner from 1955-1965, White personally covered more events than any other ski writer in Northern California. To popularize winter sports, he helped sponsor regional and statewide competitions. He also organized and led several professional journalism groups, including the Northern California and Nevada Winter Sports Writers Association and the U. S. Ski Writers Association. In the early 1960s, White was elected first president of the North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA), a post he served for three consecutive years.In 1960 White covered the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, and represented the S.F. Examiner at the 1962 World Alpine Championships at Chamonix, France, and the 1964 Innsbruck Olympics. He later became the one-man public relations staff for Squaw Valley from 1965 to 1967. His reputation as a highly principled journalist recommended him to the International Association of Ski Journalists, which elected him vice president and a board director. Carson White was also active in our local community, at times serving as president of the Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce and the Truckee Lions Club. He founded Donner Lake Realty at the west end of Donner Lake. Today their son Charlie owns the business and buildings; Charlie runs sales while his wife Diane manages the rentals. The Whites were not only dedicated and active ski industry boosters; they were also accomplished skiers who over their lifetime ventured to resorts throughout the country and around the world. They were friends with a long list of legendary ski icons, many of whom are now gone. The spotlight shines on Carson, but Vi had her own ski columns for the Walnut Creek Sun and Contra Costa Times during the 1950s. She also held posts with professional organizations like the Winter Sports Writers Association of Northern California and Nevada. Vi White, now 88 years old, only recently retired her skis.Carson White, who died in 2001, represents the best of the true skiing spirit. One story really illustrates that Carson White was indeed, A Skiers Skier. In 1984, he and fellow ski writer, Don Thompson, set a record by skiing more than 25,000 vertical feet at six different Lake Tahoe ski resorts in one day. They rode 45 lifts during blizzard conditions, driving themselves between each ski area with no special treatment for parking or lift lines. Not bad for a couple of guys whose combined age came to 123 years. Carson White later wrote that besides the satisfaction of the accomplishment, at age 69 he received Senior Citizen lift discounts, an extra bonus. In 1990, the North American Snowsports Journalists Association nominated White for the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame, and in 1995, the association renamed its most prestigious annual writing award for him. It is now called the Carson White Golden Quill Award. In 2004, Vi White traveled to the Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort to accept for Carson the International Skiing History Associations prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award.
Mark McLaughlin’s column, Weather Window, appears every other week in the Sierra Sun. His award-winning books, Western Train Adventures: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly and Sierra Stories: Trues Tales of Tahoe, Vol. 1 & 2, are available at local bookstores. Mark, a Carnelian Bay resident, can be reached at email@example.com.
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