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Original Issue


California's best beloved skier, that's who

On the ski slopes of southern California and related areas, Mrs. Elizabeth Wood, more generally and affectionately known as Schatzi, has been building a reputation for nearly 20 years as a 5-foot 1-inch bundle of concentrated enthusiasm for skiing. Sometimes her passion for the sport becomes so violent that it blots out vital essentials—as on the day when she rushed up to a group of ski friends taking a breather between runs at southern California's Blue Ridge ski area, reproached them in ringing South German accents for their momentary idleness and proceeded to set them an example by scooting over to the tow and grabbing the rope. Next moment, she landed on her head 20 feet up the hill. She had forgotten to put on her skis.


Usually, however, Mrs. Wood's eagerness is tempered with more efficiency. Unlike the majority of skiers today, she enjoys skiing off the beaten track, in deep or difficult snow. And not only can she take care of herself on all kinds of slopes and in all kinds of weather; as one of America's first National Ski Patrol women she has helped hundreds of others out of trouble. The work which she has put into all phases of skiing to make it better and safer for more people have made Schatzi known and loved in ski areas all over the West.

Mrs. Wood looks as if she belongs in the mountains. Like many good skiers, she is built solidly and close to the ground. The characteristic white squint lines of the mountaineer radiate from her lively brown eyes into a strong and open face, seamed by wind and weather and tanned by the snow-reflected sun to a shiny hazelnut brown. A tangle of curls tops it off—silver-gray curls, for although Schatzi can out-climb and outski most of her companions, she will soon be 58 years old.

All of this was learned at an age when many women skiers regretfully consider putting away the boards for good. When Schatzi came to this country in 1920, as governess to the children of the Miller family of Milwaukee beer-brewing fame, she was no skier at all. But she was a fair ice skater, and it was at a skating rink in Hollywood, a few years later, that she met her future husband, a Swiss skater, skier, bobsledder and all-round sportsman named Ernest Wood. He had come to the United States from the French-speaking section of Switzerland. In the early 1930s, a few years after he and Schatzi—the German term for "sweetheart" and his personal nickname for his bride—had ice-waltzed to the altar, he began to take her along to his ski jumping meets at Big Pines, 80 miles from Los Angeles. Soon his young wife joined him on the slopes on a pair of pine skis. Her technique consisted of a straight schuss, usually terminated by an abrupt Sitzmark—a skier's euphemism for just sitting down—or a somersault. Only in 1937, when Hans Georg came from Switzerland and started to teach skiing at Mammoth Mountain in the High Sierra, did Mrs. Wood learn modern ski technique.

It was at about this time that the National Ski Patrol System came into being, and Schatzi was one of the very first to join. Since first aid for skiing was as yet an undeveloped field, she enrolled in a first aid class for policemen. It was a tough and demanding course, just right for those hard early days of Ski Patrol work without adequate equipment and without ski lifts. By now, Schatzi can look back on 15 years of service with the NSPS; and today, as section chief at Big Pines, she supervises the three ski areas of Blue Ridge, Holiday Hill and Table Mountain.

Nor did her patrol work stop during the war. She mapped every foot of terrain in her area and earned extra merit stars in several exhausting searches for crashed planes. On top of that, she set up her own private morale-raising project. Friends and acquaintances were begged, wheedled and conned out of coupons for butter and sugar, and the Wood homestead was converted into a bakery from which hundreds of tins of Schatzi's famous cookies, accompanied by letters with the latest ski gossip, went out to fighting men in all parts of the world.

After the war, with the sudden spurt in the popularity of skiing, Schatzi worked for a number of years at Van Degrift's, southern California's first real ski shop. Her long experience, combined with her convincing accent and appearance, helped her to start out many a new skier with the right equipment and the best of advice.

It's more than likely that the ski slopes of the Far West will have Schatzi Wood around for a long, long time. A few years ago at Wengen, in Switzerland, she and her husband met a confirmed skier who turned out to be 80 years old. That's Schatzi's idea of a good, ripe skiing age—and she plans to continue her Ski Patrol activities too. "It's lots of work sometimes," she says, remembering the time she sweated a 240-pound wounded schussboomer down a mountain trail. "But inside it makes you happy."