1939 University of Nevada Wolf Pack ski team: A tough and talented bunch
Editor’s note: This is the seond of a two-part series. Visit sierrasun.com, search Mclaughlin, University of Nevada 1939: A pack of shredders.
The young men on the 1939 University of Nevada Wolf Pack ski team were a tough and talented bunch. Under excellent coaching by 24-year-old Wayne Poulsen (future developer of Squaw Valley), the Reno team went undefeated and won that year’s National Collegiate Ski Championship. Or so they claimed.
The University of Nevada ski program was in its infancy, but its athletes were top performers, and within just a few years the Nevada team had its eye on the national collegiate championship. All the hard work and practice came together for the team during the 1939 season when they finally toppled the Washington Huskies, the perennial Pacific Coast champs. The Huskies had beaten the Wolf Pack in each of the previous seasons, but only by narrow margins. The victory over the Huskies was achieved after Nevada staged an impressive comeback at the final meet at Yosemite’s Badger Pass.
On the first day of competition, the Pack was off to a poor start. Plagued by injuries and far from full strength, they lost the opening cross-country ski event so badly they were regarded as almost out of the running. The 1939 University of Nevada Yearbook described how the Nevada skiers pulled back from near defeat: and#8220;Paced by Dick Mitchell, who came blasting down the downhill and slalom runs to take first in both events, the Nevadans staged a magnificent rally, and were within striking distance of the leaders as the second day of the meet closed. Martin Arrouge matched Mitchell in honors. Figured to compete with Mitchell for first place in the downhill event, Arrouge fell on the run as he swerved to avoid a group of spectators who had crowded out on the course, and sustained painful injuries when he hit an exposed tree stump that cut down his time in the remaining three-quarters of a mile to the finish line. He finished the run, however, turning in a time, which, figured with the performances of his teammates, gave Nevada first place in the event.and#8221;
Arrouge was rushed to the hospital with serious but non-life threatening injuries, but the contest wasn’t over and with Marti out of the competition the Huskies smelled blood: and#8220;Going into the last day of competition, Nevada, badly handicapped by the loss of Arrouge, by injuries to Earl Edmunds, Jim Worden, and Jack Starratt, and by the absence of Carl Bechdolt, the Class B jumping champion of California and number one jumper on the Pack, seemed slated for another close defeat at the hands of the Huskies, but four Nevadans finished among the first 10 in the jumping competition, to take the event, the meet, and the coast title. Edmunds, Worden, Starratt, and Fraser West were Nevada’s and#8216;Big Four’ in the event.and#8221;
The claim that the University of Nevada ski team had won the National Collegiate Championship in 1939 was not exactly true. Although they had outscored every college they competed against on the West Coast and#8211; the Pacific States region and#8211; they had never skied against the guys from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, considered by many the best in the country and the team to beat.
The Nevada team based their national victory on a and#8220;comparison of resultsand#8221; because they had beaten the strong University of Washington team by a larger point margin than Dartmouth had. But despite their undefeated record and total point advantage, they still couldn’t claim to be true national champs because there was no national sanctioning authority for intercollegiate skiing until 1954.
Despite the lack of an official national title, the young men on the 1939 University of Nevada ski team were champions in every sense of the word, both on and off the snow. The skill and courage that they showed on the ski course were the same characteristics that made them heroes in both war and peacetime. They proved their mettle on the slopes and later in their professional careers. Grit and determination are the hallmarks of a true competitor, and these guys had it in spades.
Since the heady days of 1939, the University of Nevada Reno ski team has maintained its tradition of victory. In an interview published in the UNR Times, Wayne Poulsen was proud of his alma mater’s skiing program, stating and#8220;The UNR ski team has produced more national champions, more Olympic team members and more national and international recognition than any other group of athletes from UNR.and#8221; That’s quite a legacy, and these young men had a right to be proud.
and#8212; Tahoe historian Mark McLaughlin is a nationally published author and photographer. His award-winning books are available at local bookstores or at http://www.thestormking.com. His new book, and#8220;Longboards to Olympics: A Century of Tahoe Winter Sportsand#8221; will be released in late December 2009.