Betty Woolsey

by Mike Magers

We normally focus on sports that are played at the high school level and above, but will depart from this from time to time.  Unless you are a ski enthusiast, you may never have heard of Betty Woolsey, but in recognition of the 2014 Winter Olympics, she is our subject.  We believe that she was the first athlete with New Mexico ties to compete in the Winter Olympics. 

Betty’s parents were Theodore Salisbury Woolsey, Jr. (a graduate of Yale University and a descendant of evangelist Jonathan Edwards) and Ruby Hilman Pickett in Albuquerque in 1908 where Theodore was appointed to serve as a district forester the same year.  Elizabeth Davenport “Betty” Woolsey was born in Albuquerque in late December of that year, the first of five daughters.

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Betty grew up in a log house in Albuquerque.  Her bedroom window faced the craggy Sandias to the east which, she said, cast a spell on her, leading to a life-long affair with the mountains.  The family eventually relocated to the east coast as she continued to develop her love of skiing.  After entering international ski races in Europe, she was chosen to participate in the 1936 Winter Olympics (officially known as the IV Winter Olympic Games) in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.  Woolsey was selected to captain the women’s team, the first United States Olympic Women’s Ski Team.  She was considered to be the best skier on the team, excelling at downhill.  Only 17 medals were awarded in the Games.  Neither the men nor the women on the 1936 United States team won medals, but the experience gained would have provided a great base for future teams, had the next two Olympics (1940 and 1944) not been cancelled for World War II.

After 1936, Betty skied competitively for a few years, winning the 1939 United States Downhill Championship in Mount Hood, Oregon.  She continued to pursue her love of the sport, founding and developing Trail Creek Ranch, a ski center and dude ranch near Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  She was elected to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum in 1969 and the Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club has initiated the Betty Woolsey Olympian Endowment in her honor.

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