Rhona Wurtele Gillis
Hall of Fame Class of 1969
Rhona Wurtele was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and was one of the well-known Wurtele twins who dominated alpine skiing in the Eastern United States and Eastern Canada from the mid to late 1940’s.
Rhona and he twin sister, Rhoda, first came on the international ski scene during the first Canadian-American Downhill and Slalom staged at lake Placid, New York in 1943. Rhona placed fourth in the downhill behind Paula Kann of the American team and behind her sister, Rhoda. Rhona won the slalom competition handily and took first honors in the combined, followed by Rebecca Fraser and her sister, Rhoda (in third place). This was a most impressive beginning to a brilliant career.
Rhona skied as a member of the Penguin Ski Club of Montreal and for the Canadian Amateur Ski Association as well as the National Ski Association of the United States. Rhona and Rhoda Wurtele won many races on both sides of the border, helping forge a link in the goodwill chain, binding the women skiers of both countries in unity and friendship.
Not only did these sisters look alike, they skied alike. Rhona was a very aggressive skier who showed no fear and fiercely loved good competition. Technically more steady than her sister, Rhona emerged as more of a slalom and combined specialist, whereas Rhoda’s aggression and lust for speed gave her as edge in the long run and treacherous downhills. Both were strong skiers, able to win over the other or anyone else on any given day. Their differences in abilities were nearly immeasurable.
Rhona won the National Ski Association Slalom and Combined titles in 1946. She also won the National Ski Association Combined title again in 1947 and the National Ski Association Giant Slalom title in 1952 along with nearly every Canadian Amateur Ski Association Slalom, Giant Slalom and Combined titles from 1944 through 1956. Most of those she did not win were won by Rhoda.
Rhona also won the Eastern Downhill Champion at Pico Peak, Vermont, placed second in the slalom and first in the combined in 1947. As usual, when one twin won, the other was close behind. It was true here as Rhoda was in third place in the downhill, won the slalom and was second in the combined. These Canadian-born twins with their good-natured, cooperative attitudes, helped mold the women’s ski teams of both nations today.
The twins directed skiing for Ski Jay and Ski Chicks Clubs for nearly 25 years, the first children’s ski club in North America (1956-1979) and started a club for housewives in 1964.
Still going strong, the twins are active in biking, golfing, etc. They have taken groups to the West in February and Europe (2 weeks) in March for 30 years. In 2004 the twins took a group of 64 to Panorama, B.C., to Canazei, Italy and Lech, Austria.
Rhona Wurtele Gillis was elected to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1969.
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