By Paddy O’Connell
On Saturday, January 30, 2016, the skiing world lost one of its greats, Nelson Bennett. The modest but impactful man lived a life devoted to skiing and the betterment of those around him. He was a veteran, a ski patroller, and a ski racing icon.
Nelson Bennett, born in New Hampshire, started skiing in boyhood, choosing the passion and sport over a job. At 13, after years of skiing on skis made by his grandfather, Bennett received his first real pair and began his journey of perfecting the turn. From that point, everything in Bennett’s life was rooted in and focused on skiing. He was a dishwasher at Peckett’s Inn at Sugar Hill, skied for the UNH ski team, became a ski patrolman at Sun Valley where he would later design the first patrol toboggans for the National Ski Patrol.
Bennett served with the famous 10th Mountain Division during World War II, teaching skiing, winter survival skills, and serving in Italy. After the war, Bennett became Sun Valley’s superintendent of recreational facilities, eventually moving to Washington to become White Pass Ski Area’s general manager. He was a race official from the 1950s to the 1980s, which included managing the 1956 U.S. alpine ski team. He served as the events director at the 1960 Olympics, and was the course chief for the downhill during the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid.
He was known as the father of the Sun Valley Ski Patrol and was revered by the U.S. ski community for his wisdom, expertise, and humility. Bennett is in early images of Sun Valley; jimmying Lucille Ball’s jacket zipper, bestowing technique to a flustered Clark Gable, and standing behind Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman. He spent close to 90 years clicked in as a mountain employee, a soldier, and a man seeking pure enjoyment.
Skiing Magazine and the entire skiing world salute you, Mr. Bennett. Thank you for your contributions, known and unknown. You will be missed.