Powder Skiing Pioneer Dolores LaChapelle Dies Yesterday


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | January 23, 2007      

One of Dolores LaChapelle’s friends called me yesterday with the news that the powder skiing pioneer had died of a massive stroke at her home in Silverton, Colorado. LaChapelle was one of North America’s most prolific and best known early powder skiers. She authored several books that covered everything from the philosophy of powder skiing to a branch of radical environmentalism known as “deep ecology.” Please leave a note in remembrance of Doris.

Doloris LaChapelle at Alta Utah early 1960s.

Doloris LaChapelle at Alta Utah early 1960s. Her trademark braid is visible on her right shoulder. Photo used by permission of Doloris and Ed LaChapelle, WildSnow History Archive.

From my history book, “Wild Snow:”

…By 1952 other skiers at Alta, Utah such as instructor Junior Bounous, had established the double dipsy invented by Dick Durrance as today’s modern parallel powder turn. Refined techniques followed, such as using minimal upper body movement, and starting a run by jamming ski tails in the snow, facing downhill, and pushing off with your ski poles (now known as the Alta Start).

The new powder skiing methods developed at Alta spread around the world like pollen in strong wind. I’m told that when they [the Engens] first turned up in Europe,” says Jay Laughlin, “the European professionals were amazed. They had never seen anything like it.”

In the early 1950s Dolores LaChapelle, who lived and learned in Aspen and Alta during these pioneer days, took the new turn with her to Davos Switzerland, where the entire ski school learned to mimic her technique.

Through her years with Alta’s legendary snow LaChapelle literally became one with the earth by letting “snow and gravity together” turn her skis, as she wrote in her book “Deep Powder Snow.” She became one of the West’s most prolific and best known early powder skiers, and developed a radical personal philosophy that meshed tightly with the a branch of environmentalism known as “deep ecology.” LaChapelle explains by using a powder skiing metaphor: “There is no longer an I and snow and mountain, but a continuous flowing interaction, that’s deep ecology!”

The cultish tradition and technique of deep powder skiing are Utah’s lasting legacy to backcountry glisse. Complete social groups are built around the sport. Skiers and snowboarders seek out deep snow as the religious seek the Word; and the source of the powder gospel is the Utah backcountry. As LaChapelle writes:

Powder snow skiing is not fun. It is life, fully lived, life lived in a blaze of reality. What we experience in powder is the original human self, which lies deeply inside each of us, still undamaged in spite of what our present culture tries to do to us. Once experienced, this kind of living is recognized as the only way to live — fully aware of the earth and the sky and the gods and you, the mortal, playing among them.

Dolores LaChapelle and other Alta denizens such as her husband Ed, George Sormer, Peter Lev, Ted Wilson, and Rick Reese did quite a bit of Utah ski touring in the 1950s and 1960s. Much of this was on terrain initially accessed by ski lifts, but almost every skiable summit in the Wasatch also felt the touch of glisse. Indeed, the area received national recognition in a 1956 Summit Magazine (an early mountaineering publication) article entitled “Alta, the Hub of Deep Powder Touring.” Nonetheless, backcountry skiing in Utah remained a cult activity until the outdoor recreation boom of the mid 1960s, when interest in ski touring increased all over North America. By 1965, ski tourers were exploring most of the Wasatch backcountry. That same year, North Americs’s first modern backcountry ski guide service was operated as part of the Alf Engen Ski School at Alta. The school brochure listed various ski tours, including the “Alta-Brighton-Alta” trip…


Comments

17 Responses to “Powder Skiing Pioneer Dolores LaChapelle Dies Yesterday”

  1. Nick Joslin January 23rd, 2007 9:36 am

    I met Dolores in 1997, my first real winter of ski-bumming after college. I moved to Silverton as a novice backcountry telemark skier and met Dolores within days of being there.
    She was the most modest and kind person I met there during that winter.
    The skiing world has lost another true inovator, not of harware, but of deep powder philosophy.

  2. Tim January 23rd, 2007 11:19 am

    Lou, I would love to read her book. Do you know anywhere that I can get a copy for less than $165, which is what the copy on Amazon costs?

  3. Tim January 23rd, 2007 11:29 am

    Found a cheaper source for “Deep Powder Snow”:

    http://www.thealtastore.com/catalog/item/1275343/749409.htm#image_1

  4. Lou January 23rd, 2007 11:38 am

    Tim, sorry about that Amazon link. When I looked at it this morning there was a used copy for regular price, I guess it got snapped up…

    Thanks for the link.

  5. powstash January 23rd, 2007 3:16 pm

    Tim – thanks for the link. I’ve been meaning to pick up that book for a while now. I wish I had made the effort when in Silverton back in 2001 to stop in and meet her. A friend offered to introduce us but I was “too busy and had to get going for home”.

  6. Derek January 23rd, 2007 3:36 pm

    A sad loss of an iconic skiing personality. One of many women including Betty Woolsey, Virginia Huidekoper, and Muggs Schultz, to name just a few, who have been skiing from the early days. Developing the sport as we know it today.

  7. Mark January 23rd, 2007 5:06 pm

    Too bad. I’ll have to get ahold of her book. Might give me a new appreciation for powder and the experience of skiing in the wild.

  8. Kenn January 26th, 2007 5:06 pm

    I very much appreciated Dolores for her serious and hands-on thinking that was always a doing. I believe that what she taught about ritual and creating ritual (which does not have to be profound) is one of her great contributions.

    By the way I have several copies of Deep Powder Snow and would be willing to make a few available. Don’t know how to make this happen within this system. Anybody help?

  9. geoff wasson February 3rd, 2007 6:02 am

    The Utah avalance center reports that ex husband Ed passed away in Silverton, there for the funeral, died while skiing, any further details?

  10. Ananda Foley February 4th, 2007 11:31 am

    Im writing from Silverton. Indeed, Ed La Chapelle was here last weekend for Dolores’ memorial with his partner Meg. It was lovely to all be together for such a heartfelt event given by his son David La Chapelle, who is my beloved. Ed and Meg traveled on to Gunnison where they were visiting friends and skiing.
    He spent the morning at Monarch Pass with Meg, Knox Williams, Art Mears, and Paula Lehr, doing what he loved to do. After some Powder runs, he needed to sit down. He later developed symptoms of heart pain and asked for oxygen. He was taken by ambulance and relieved of some pain in the Salida hospital before passing away holding hands with Meg. Even after his breathing ceased his heart continued beating on until 3:55pm. It was at that same time in Silverton I was weeping and didnt know why. We have been in some shock ever since, as you can imagine, as we’d only just been releasing and honoring the life of David’s mother, Dolores who passed away just 11 days before, Jan. 21 2007. Both of these amazing and strong people will live on through thier contributions and your deep respect for their lives. Thank you to all who are taking the time to stop and breathe for their passing. More information about Ed La Chapelle is available at the following website. Also, stay tuned for postings on the domains we have secured for future use, edlachapelle.com and doloreslachapelle.com. (They are not up yet)

    http://www.telemarktalk.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=31552&sid=ca44f8ae0c0305e04fc10013bec48ff3

  11. Mark D March 26th, 2008 10:10 am

    So this is well after-the-fact, and I hope it gets read..

    Don’t know any other way to go about this other this, but is there any way I can get in touch with Kenn, if he still has multiple copies of her book? I am doing my senior project on skiing and gender, and feel that Dolores’ book would be of great help to my research. I would gladly send it back upon completion of my research, or do whatever you wish to be done with it. Hopefully this wasn’t an inappropriate place to go about my digging, but I have spent many hours trying to find hard information on Dolores, and being in the midwest it is hard to find.

  12. Margot Early September 18th, 2008 11:35 am

    She was my friend and neighbor, and in many ways remains so after death, but I miss her physical presence every day.

  13. Stephen Duplantier October 31st, 2008 3:00 pm

    I moved to Costa Rica four years ago and had lost touch with Dolores for many years. I knew her from the bioregional and deep ecology movements in the early 1980s. We had the great experience of camping with her in her beloved “Chinese Mountains” of Colorado and later reciprocated the hospitality when she visited Louisiana. I took her canoeing in a cypress swamp and later, with my wife Kathleen and our children, we made tree jewelry and ritually dressed up an old growth Longleaf Pine tree with beads and bangles.

    She liked visiting her friends in the swampy lowlands near Abita Springs, but her heart was never far away from her beloved mountains.

    Ave atque vale. Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

    Stephen Duplantier

  14. n/a April 14th, 2009 8:39 pm

    Tragic loss. She truly will be missed.

  15. Bill Torrez March 26th, 2010 12:39 am

    I met Dolores around 1978 in Albuquerque NM through mutual friends. I later participated in winter solstice ceremonies in Taos, and Dolores attended as well. We became friends and I respected her wisdom, warmth, and above all her love and respect of the earth.

    She always welcomed visitors to the Way of the Mountain Center. it must have been around 1983 when I visited her there and stayed at the Center. Some other friends of hers, professors at universities, were visiting at the same time, and she took us hiking. She was our guide and teacher during those hikes and shared with information about the trails, the flora and fauna. She was a treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge. She was and still is one of the most beloved and cherished people I have known.

    I have many photos of the time I spent with Dolores. I can share them if you’d like.

  16. Dee McMurrey May 5th, 2010 3:06 pm

    Dolores accompanied guests to her Chinese mountains and graciously offered tea ceremonies and tai chi and her quiet ways of wisdom. Her writing in the subject of deep ecology awakened others to this perspective. I met a moose on a walk with Dolores and it was another breath in mother earth’s gifts to us. Dolores introduced me to the indivisibility between the natural world and the human. So amazing that humans have detached themselves. Dolores held close to the earth and heard the heartbeat. She translated the messages of the earth to contemporary humans in her writings, teachings and actions with honesty, simplicity, strength, resiliency, sincerity, intelligence, calm, humility and a deep sense of communion with the natural world. We are blessed, Dolores. May we remember you through the careful reading and reflection of your books, our memories of walks, conversations and ritual celebrations in your genuine presence. May Mother Earth hold you close and Father Sky warm your spirit. The grandmothers and the grandfather dance in celebration of you. With gratitude and esteem, RMC / D. McMurrey

  17. Harold Stiles November 25th, 2010 7:34 pm

    I started skiing at Alta in the late 60’s and goty to know Ed and Dolores arpound the Alta Lodge. I believe another personality at the time was Bengt (Binx)Sandahl We had a lot of after skiind amusment and learning with that group. Definitely brings back old memories.





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