As the season sinks slowly in the East (it never really rose in the West this year), along comes a publisher with a book about skiing. The timing is just about right. Once their gear is stowed back down in the basement, skiers can turn to reading again, in this case a delightful book about the oldtimers and old days of cross-country. Erling Strom, now 80, tells of these times in Pioneers on Skis (Smith Clove Press, Central Valley, N.Y., $9.50).
Strom's lively tales range from his youth in Norway (where he was sent on errands on skis without poles, poles being considered dangerous for children under 12) to life in Stowe, Vt., where he organized the first cross-country derby down the Toll Road from Mount Mansfield.
Strom came to the U.S. in 1919 at the age of 21, cowboyed in Arizona and introduced cross-country skiing to Colorado. With a friend, Lars Haugen, Strom skied the 110 miles from Estes Park to Steamboat Springs, and their skis attracted crowds wherever they went. In 1928 Strom started a long love affair with Mount Assiniboine, the 11,870-foot "Matterhorn of Canada," when he organized the first ski trip to the mountain from Banff. 34 miles and two mountain passes away. Nobody in Banff thought the trek possible. Later he led seven men on a 250-mile skiing hike between Jasper, Alberta and the Columbia Icefields on the Continental Divide.
The most gripping part of the book deals with Strom's ascent of Mount McKinley, the 20,270-foot Alaskan peak, which he and three other pioneers—Alfred Lindley, Harry Liek and Grant Pearson—undertook in 1932, for the most part on skis. The enormity of the task is well conveyed—the 10 days it took to cross the Muldrow Glacier, the 6,000 to 7,000 steps that had to be cut into Karsten's Ridge. Strom's party not only climbed the higher South Peak, but also the North Peak, becoming the first to conquer both in one ascent. "Nothing in the world is as satisfying as reaching the top of a mountain." he writes, "and the tougher the trip the better the feeling. No other job can be so definitely completed. One can do no more."
Strom had hoped that the McKinley adventure would give a boost to cross-country skiing, but it was not to be. Almost 40 years elapsed before many Americans began to appreciate the sport. Reading about the pioneering days in his book, one is reminded again that cross-country skiing makes it possible for us to travel far off the trodden paths.