A life Spent On The Mountain - Sam Wormington, North Idaho
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A Life Spent On The Mountain - Sam Wormington, Sandpoint Idaho

  When Sam Wormington was just a boy, his elementary school teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. “I want to ride horses and ski,” young Sam answered without a moment’s hesitation. “Well, you know you can’t make a living doing that,” his teacher replied. Fortunately for Sam, his teacher was dead wrong; and after graduating from high school, Sam found work packing mining supplies and sportsmen up into British Columbia’s Rocky Mountains on horseback. Then, after a brief false start working underground as a hard-rock miner for ten dollars a day, and service in the European theater during WWII, Sam went on to become one of the fortunate few who make their living doing  something they love, spending the rest of his life working and playing the snow covered ski slopes of North America.

  Born in July of 1920, Sam took to skiing at an early age, traversing the snow-covered backcountry of Kimberley, British Columbia on a pair of shaped pine skis that he’d paid a dollar for, brand new. Since they’d only come equipped with toe straps, Sam fashioned himself a pair of heel straps by cutting strips out of the rubber inner tube of an old tire and attaching them to the skis. There were no lifts, tows or hospitality back in those days. You just headed out into the woods, hiked up a hillside and skied back down. “A lot of work for a little ride,” as Sam put it. But it did make for a rugged young bunch of skiing enthusiasts. It was not long before Sam and his friends discovered the thrill of jumping, and began building snow ramps on the mountain’s hillsides that would send them hurtling skyward. When Sam was 11, he and his buddies got together to build their biggest jump of all, one that would send them flying for as far as 160 feet.

  Shortly thereafter, a Norwegian friend told Sam that downhill and slalom skiing were the wave of the future, and going to be introduced as new events at the upcoming ’36 Winter Olympics, suggesting that Sam might want to think about getting more involved in those aspects of the sport. Sam took the advice to heart. By the age of 16, he had moved up to a pair of ash skis and saved up his odd-job earnings until he had the dollar it cost to have a Norwegian fellow install steel edges, allowing him to carve his way into more radical turns, and was competing in slalom and downhill events, cross country racing and jumping.
He had also begun a solo effort to hand clear a slope below the North Star mine, using an ax, or crosscut saw whenever he could talk a friend into helping. Perseverance furthered, and slowly but surely he’d worked his way up to a mine dump at the top of the hill, built a small cabin at the base and the Kimberley Ski Club was born.

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   By 1936, club membership had grown to such a degree that the need for a larger clubhouse became apparent. Despite some vigorous argument against leaving North Star, the membership voted to build a new log lodge on Myrtle Mountain due to the presence of a spring, plentiful timber and, most especially, the willingness of nearby mine owners to help by offering land and equipment.
By year’s end, club volunteers had the main lodge up and dried in, a fireplace built and food service facilities in place, with a caretaker’s cabin following soon thereafter. However, with a mere 600’ vertical drop, the downhill and slalom possibilities were strictly limited, and Sam knew in his heart that Myrtle Mountain would never become the great ski area he dreamed of.

  Then came World War II, and all thoughts of ski hills fell to the wayside as Hitler’s Blitzkrieg war machine overran Europe with lightning speed, soon putting Great Britain under siege and fighting for its life. Like most of the other young men in Canada, Sam was ready and raring to go, determined to do his part to stop the Nazis in their quest for world domination. By June of 1944, the tide of war was about to turn, and Sam found himself ashore on the beaches of Normandy, taking part in the greatest sea-to-land invasion ever attempted, and the great push to liberate France, Belgium and Holland, eventually driving straight into the heart of Nazi Germany and onto the streets of Berlin. The fight was long, hard and brutal, winter no longer a friend, and many a good man, friend, and fellow skier would not return from those blood-soaked fields and forests. But at last the job was done, and Sam could go home.

  Arriving back from the war, Sam could think of nothing he wanted to do more than get some serious skiing in, hopefully at a ski hill with a chairlift to allow him the maximum possible skiing for every minute on the slopes. The only
problem was that there were only two resorts in the entire Northwest that had chairlifts, Sun Valley, Idaho, and Alta, Utah. Because Sun Valley was then reserved exclusively for the use of servicemen recuperating from the war, Sam put $100 in his pocket and headed south to Alta, where he enjoyed all of the deep powder skiing he’d hoped for, until the urge to return home and get to better know a beautiful Swedish brunette named Elsa, whom he had met shortly before leaving for Alta, and who would later become his wife, got the better of him. Soon after his arrival back in Kimberly, fate stepped in when an official of the Cominco mining company, operators of the North Star mine, sought Sam out to offer the use of land and equipment for his new
ski hill, and the rest is history.


  Today, Sam’s dream of building a righteous “ski hill” in Kimberley is reality. North Star has become a world-class ski resort, employing more than 500 people, and attracting skiers from the world over. Sam stayed on as resort manager until 1963, when the founders of a brand new ski resort under construction above the sleepy little logging town of Sandpoint, Idaho approached him. The challenge was more than Sam could resist. Off to Idaho he and Elsa went. Upon arrival, he found that the road up to the resort had been completed, and construction of the Riblet chairlift underway, but there was still a lodge to be built, parking concerns to be dealt with and downhill ski runs to be laid out and cleared before there could be any hope of reaching the resort’s goal of a Thanksgiving Day grand opening. “We had to go like hell to make it happen,” Sam says.

  As regards the naming of Schweitzer Mountain Resort, Sam states that although he had not yet heard the story of Ellie Farmin and her bizarre encounter with the hermit Schweitzer
(after whom both Schweitzer Creek and Schweitzer Basin were named), he thought that

Schweitzer was a fitting name since it was synonymous with “Swiss.”

  Sam managed the resort for the next 14 years, seeing much growth and many changes, before finally leaving in 1977. After Schweitzer, Sam continued to turn his love of skiing into a paycheck, building ski lifts in such diverse locations as Washington, Oregon, Virginia, British Columbia and Alaska.

  In 1980, Sandpoint’s Selkirk Press published his book, “The Ski Race”, a fascinating look at the evolution of skiing from the Bronze Age to modern times, with a focus on the history of ski resorts in the Columbia River Basin.

  Today, Sam still spends much of his time on the snow-covered slopes of Schweitzer Basin, training his beautiful Czechoslovakian shepherd Astra, a search and rescue dog adept at locating victims of both avalanche and drowning. He has also been featured in numerous Canadian Broadcasting Company TV specials, and last year saw him in Holland, looking fit, trim and youthful as ever in his WWII uniform, exuberantly marching at the front of a parade celebrating the Dutch liberation from Nazi Germany by allied troops.

  So, if you see Sam around town, be sure to stop and say hello. He is always ready for some conversation and has a wealth of fascinating information to share on the world of skiing, and life in general.

  To sum up Sam’s love of skiing, I cannot resist quoting a comment I recently overhead him make while enjoying a cup of brew and conversation with a beautiful young lady on the patio at Monarch Mountain Coffee: “Skiing—it’s better than sex.”
NILM Correction

In the article that appeared in our spring issue on how Schweitzer Mountain Resort got its name, the author incorrectly identified the resort’s first manager as Sam Worthington. The correct spelling
of Sam’s last name is Wormington (see our article on Sam in this issue). Dr. Fowler’s primary 
partner in the founding of the resort (and the architect who designed the first lodge) was also misidentified as “Jerry” Groesbeck. His correct first name is Grant. The author’s apologies to you both. - Robert Easton

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