COLUMBIA — Columbia has a long-lost Winter Olympian.
Charles Proctor, who competed in the 1928 St. Moritz, Switzerland Olympics, the second-ever Winter Olympics, was born in Columbia on January 4, 1906. Proctor placed 14th in ski jumping and 44th in cross country skiing to finish 26th in the Nordic Combined, which is a combination of the two ski events.
“He was a very modest, gentle man,” Proctor’s youngest daughter, Peggy Dean, said by phone from Ketchum, Idaho. “His feats in skiing were because it was what he loved to do. He didn’t do any of it for fame.”
Proctor died of heart failure on February 1, 1996 in Scotts Valley, Calif.
According to Proctor’s oldest daughter, Nancy Tesman of Boulder, Colo., the United States Olympic Committee didn’t decide until just a few weeks before the 1928 Games that it was going to send a ski team to Switzerland. But when it did, it called Proctor, who was attending Dartmouth University in New Hampshire . Proctor asked his father, also a skier and a professor at Dartmouth, who told his son he could skip a semester to go to the Games and graduate a year late.
His father gave Proctor $300 and he got on a boat to Switzerland. The team had virtually no time to train, so the athletes would run on the boat for training.
“Guys like Charley Proctor were at the roots of North American skiing,” John Hamilton, a radio announcer and ski journalist, said in a 1996 story in the San Jose Mercury News. “They grabbed on to the sport and stayed with it all their lives.”
Proctor lived in Columbia for only the first year or two of his life, when his father was a graduate student at MU. The family then moved to Chicago, where he lived until he was four. His father then got a job as a professor at Dartmouth and moved the family east, where Proctor first learned to ski.
In 1931, Proctor and John Carleton became the first to ski the famous Tuckerman Ravine on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington. The two had to climb 6,288 feet of the tallest mountain in the northeastern United States. They then skied down 1,000 feet on a slope that is 55 degrees, making it more of a free-fall than a typical ski run, all with skis that were long, fast and uncontrollable.
“Where the skis went, you went,” Hamilton said.
At age 30, Proctor reviewed and approved the world’s first chairlift. The lift was installed on what is now Proctor Mountain in Sun Valley, Idaho — named after Proctor. Two years later, he moved to California, where he was the director of ski operations at Yosemite National Park for 20 years.
“When Charley left Yosemite, he was almost 70,” Anne Hendrickson, president of the Far West Ski Association, told the San Jose Mercury News. “He was about the prettiest skier on the slope. He had such style and grace. It didn’t look like it took any effort at all.”
The North American Ski Journalists Association established an award in Proctor’s name to honor others who made significant contributions to the sport. Proctor was inducted into the U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1959 and has written two books on skiing, "The Art of Skiing" and "Skiing."