Year of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Department or School/College
Department of History
Richard Drake, Bill Borrie
Skiing, National Parks, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Rainier, American West
University of Montana
Human Geography | United States History
In 1886, the U.S. Army mounted cavalry soldiers on skis to patrol the winter landscape of Yellowstone National Park. Prior to Yellowstone's skiing soldiers, the U.S. government had no formal relationship with skiing. In Yellowstone, the Army initiated the U.S. government's intimate and enduring relationship with skiing in the American West. When the National Park Service (NPS) took over the management of Yellowstone, the government's involvement with western skiing transferred over to the NPS. Upon its creation in 1916, the NPS inherited a national park system primarily carved from the high western mountains and embraced the promotion of recreational skiing in the deep and lingering snow of the parks. Working with regional boosters and park concessionaires, the NPS endeavored to transform snowbound parks into four season destinations. By the 1930s, national parks hosted high stakes ski competitions and became some of the earliest centers of lift-served skiing in the West. Ultimately, ski lifts operated in ten western parks during the 20th century. However, critics questioned the appropriateness of the national parks as venues for Alpine skiing. Struggling with its dual mandate of preservation and recreation, the NPS began to recalibrate its permissive approach to Alpine skiing by limiting the type of development and competitions allowed in the parks. The NPS exited World War II with a more conservative approach towards Alpine skiing. However, in the 1950s, the agency embraced a park by park approach to winter use that stifled the development of lift-served skiing in some parks while enabling its growth in others. This approach led to decades of contestation between the NPS, local populations, environmentalists, and concessionaires, which ultimately led to the removal of ski lifts in all of the parks except Yosemite and Olympic. In 2015, the United States Forest Service is the government agency most often equated with western skiing. In my thesis, I will suggest that it was the national parks that first created the inextricable link between the U.S. government and skiing in the West, and once this connection took hold, it proved to be an extremely difficult bond to break.
Meyer, Jeffrey T., "Alpine Experiments: The National Parks and the Development of Skiing in the American West" (2015). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 4474.
© Copyright 2015 Jeffrey T. Meyer