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Betty Woolsey

Hall of Fame Class of 1969

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As a fearless competitor and early contender on the European ski scene, Betty Woolsey helped lay the groundwork for the later successes of American women skiers.

A native of New Mexico, Betty Woolsey spent her early years in a log house on the edge of a mesa. At age two, she was discovered one night toddling toward the distant Sandia Mountains in the moonlight. An overwhelming love of the mountain pervaded her entire life. Instead of attending school, she traveled (with her parents) to California, France, Switzerland and Italy and was taught to read and write French as well as English by a French governess. She became a rock climber at age thirteen and an accomplished horsewoman and a skier on the glaciers of Switzerland.

Betty arrived on the ski scene in the early 1930s when she was invited to join the first United States Women’s F.I.S. Team in Murren, Switzerland in February, 1935. Virtually fearless, she proved to be the mainstay of the American squad. The women’s course at Murren, nearly duplicating the men’s, was the toughest this fledgling team of American women had ever skied. Betty’s results in the first F.I.S. meet were far from spectacular – a 31st (and last) place in slalom, 15th in the particularly difficult downhill and 22nd in women’s combined. But Woolsey and her teammates had whetted their appetites and proven that, with practice, they could challenge the European women.

Betty Woolsey represented the United States on the United States Olympic Women’s Alpine Team at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany in 1936 – the first Olympics in which there were alpine skiing events. She placed 7th in the slalom and 14th in the downhill. Shortly after the 1936 F.I.S. in Innsbruck, Austria, Betty won the F.I.S. Downhill qualifying race at St. Anton to become the top American seed on the 1936 F.I.S. Team. When she finished eighth in the downhill and tenth in the combined for the best American showing, Sir Arnold Lunn presented her with a special badge from the Kandahar Ski Club as “the first lady ski runner from the United States to enter the Alpha class in our club.”

Betty went on to captain the F.I.S. Team in 1937, gaining valuable experience against the European women who, at that time, were rated the best in the world. Her competitive career “peaked” in 1939 when she won the national downhill and combined titles. If the Olympics had been held in 1940, Betty Woolsey might well have won the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S.

Betty Woolsey served skiing in other ways as well. She was the editor of Ski Illustrated Magazine and author of many articles in the American Ski Annual and other ski-related publications. She went on to run a dude ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where she retired in 1943 and wrote her memoirs: Off the Beaten Track (1984).

It’s been claimed that Betty Woolsey was to the women’s team what Dick Durrance was to the men’s – a fearless skier who knew only one speed, “all out”, and an ideal leader who set the example of what true competition means under trying circumstances. As one of a handful of pioneering American women skiers, Woolsey helped lay a firm foundation for the American women’s ski teams that followed.

For her outstanding contributions to skiing, Betty Woolsey was elected to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1969.

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