Elisabeth Hussey – Ski Club editor extraordinaire

Photo above: Elisabeth Hussey, with Arnold Lunn's son Peter, captain of the British Winter Olympic team in 1936 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen

 By Arnie Wilson

“The combination of fast cars and slippery planks taught her that when adhesion is lost exhilaration commences”

Elisabeth Hussey, who died on December 2 at the age of 88, was not only part of the furniture at the Ski Club of Great Britain’s former HQ/clubhouse at 118 Eaton Square – for 18 years she was the most important part of the furniture, editing her beloved Ski survey from 1974 till 1992. She was a key figure in bridging the gap between two Ski Club eras, and spearheaded the magazine’s sales beyond member readership. 

Even before that she was important! She worked for many years with Sir Arnold Lunn, and became a renowned expert worldwide on the history of skiing. She also worked for the International Ski Federation (FIS) on its media strategy and was well known internationally. 

She was President of the Ladies’ Ski Club from 1978-81 and an honorary life member, Vice-President of the Kandahar Ski Club, and in 1989 she was presented with the Pery Medal  - the highest award from the Ski Club of Great Britain. 

Said her brother Anthony:

“To blow her trumpet as it should be blown would keep us here until the ski season is over. She went so peacefully. The last two years were horrid for her as she woke up one morning blind. It was at that point that I think, she ‘turned her face to the wall’ and who could blame her. It triggered her off on to poetry which she always loved, and for a few months she drove people at St Teresa's Home in Wimbledon scatty with her recitations before they too faded.
 

“She was a mixture of intellectual rigour, empathy and adrenalin. She really worked and thought about what she was doing. She had a disciplined, joined-up mind and could be astringent at times if one was slack-brained but we had fun, such fun.

 

“She spoke 4 languages, polished off crosswords, could reel off volumes of poetry and loved a good argument.

 

“Getting up at 6:30am one Sunday in the ‘60s and finding that it had snowed, we took our Mini Coopers and spent half an hour accelerating up to 60/70 mph before hauling on full lock and the handbrake. And this was on the A3 Kingston Bypass! No thought back then about ‘Health and Safety!’

 

“One winter, skiing in Verbier, she took a huge tumble down the back of Mont Gelé on some insanely steep run, out of control, helicoptered and eggbeatered her way down and smashed into me. I picked her up and asked her how she was. “Great” she said. And she took off again unruffled.

 

“She loved taking her nephews, nieces, great ones as well and introducing them to skiing. She loved family, her religion and freedom. The freedom to take off in her car in any old weather and wander the ski resorts. Working for Autocar magazine served her in very good stead. Sideways was fun ways. Snowslides across the road? She had a shovel.

 

Elisabeth would ski any slope green blue, red black or one fall, in any snow be it powder, spring or Doctors*. We took some dreadful tumbles but they never deterred her. 

*One-fall: So steep that if you fall at the top you’ll do the whole slope. Doctors is that sludgey, claggy type that catches your edges.

“Once Elisabeth fell out of a car when tiny and was ‘smashed into Little Bits’. In fact she had a tiny scar on the end of her nose but I think ‘Bits’ was the nearest her infuriating little brother (me) could get to Elisabeth. So she became ‘Sister Bits’. 

“The combination of fast cars and slippery planks taught her that when adhesion is lost exhilaration commences. She therefore thought nothing of heading off across Europe in her Lancia Fulvia or Mini Cooper to spend weeks at a time driving from ski resort to resort.  She would ski any slope - green blue, red, or black - in any snow be it powder, spring or Doctors. We took some dreadful tumbles but they never deterred her. 

“She was a great sister. But dammit how she could dodge the cameras. We’ve had a real struggle to find a good picture of her!” 

Anthony read the eulogy at Elisabeth’s funeral at the Sacred Heart Church on Edge Hill, Wimbledon on December 19. “The latter” he was told, “had to be short which would have pleased my sister because she always hated long speeches and sermons.” 

Said Frank Baldwin, publisher and editor of the Skier and Snowboarder: “I am filled with genuine sadness. When I was the ‘new boy’ in the ski magazine business about 28 years ago, the ski journalist world was a bit of a closed shop, but Elisabeth was one of the few people who made me feel immediately welcome and we became firm friends. 

“One of my favourite memories trip-wise was when I was skiing with her in Vail and Elisabeth took a massive fall, tumbling over and over down the slope. After coming to a stop, she picked herself up and dusted herself off and informed us that thankfully she was unhurt. She looked back up the mountain, which was littered with her poles, skis, hat, goggles etc, and she said: ‘Oh look, I’ve created my very own yard sale!’ 

I found it amusing that Elisabeth sometimes clattered down the mountain, somewhat out of control. The very first time I met her – in Courchevel -  she told ME off for skiing over the backs of her skis!

British Ski and Snowboard (BSS) said: “Elisabeth was a journalist who fell rather unexpectedly into the world of British and International skiing. Forever smiling, an intrepid, hard-working, modest, energetic English lady who loved her work in skiing with a passion. She was known affectionately and universally throughout FIS as ‘Auntie’. 

In a tribute for BSS Jenny Shute used notes made by Elisabeth herself in 2005. In Hussey’s own words: “After school, I was sent to Paris to learn about French Civilisation at the Sorbonne.  I also learnt French, how to live with little money, no heating and meagre rations (it was 1947). From 1955-63 I was secretary to the editor of Autocar magazine. 

“My sister Philippa introduced me to Arnold Lunn in 1964. He took me on as assistant editor of the SCGB's British Ski Year Book. I was also assistant to Richard Hennings who edited the club's other magazine ‘Ski Notes & Queries’.  In 1972 these were merged into ‘Ski Survey’. Arnold was appointed Editor in Chief. In 1974 Arnold died and Richard retired; I was made editor.  

“Helen Tomkinson (1936 Winter Olympian, and long-standing GBR FIS delegate) sent me off to my first FIS committee in 1984, and shared all her friends and contacts with me.” 

Jenny Shute continued: “Elisabeth’s involvement in international skiing included membership of the FIS Sub-Committee for Alpine Citizen Racers from 1984 until 2008, and the Committee for Public Relations & Media Committee from 1992 of which she was made chairlady from 2002 – 2004. After retirement, she was appointed an honorary member of this FIS Committee. 

From 2007 she managed a history project for the International Ski Federation, documenting the timeline of the organisation. Sarah Lewis, FIS Secretary General, noted that ‘this required skilful coordination to obtain input from many different persons all over the world, which she mastered with great diplomacy and efficiency’. 

As a tribute to Elisabeth's work in researching and documenting the history of skiing, she was presented with the inaugural Marc Hodler Foundation award in 2009 (the International Ski Federation's foundation). At the time, the American ski historian John Fry described her thus: "Elisabeth Hussey is like Niagara Falls without noise, a person of immense, quiet energy”. 

Said Caroline-Stuart Taylor, the Ski Club of Great Britain’s long-serving former chief executive (1996-2012) “Having known Elisabeth since I was 22, it's been a long working relationship and friendship, and it’s very sad to say goodbye to her.”


And Felice Hardy, who worked as Elisabeth’s deputy from 1982 - 1986 said: “As my editor for four years, Elisabeth was such a pleasure to work for and taught me so much about ski writing and the ski industry”.


It was Elisabeth who forged strong Ski Club links with skiing in the USA.


Said Bernie Weichsel, the founder of SKI USA and the organiser of many US ski shows, particularly in Boston and Denver: “I have very fond memories of the way Elisabeth went all out to help us promote US skiing; she was one of the first people I met when I first went to London for the old Daily Mail show. It was clear she loved skiing and even  though her ‘roots’, like the Ski Club in general, were in the Alps she thought the idea of Brits trying ‘the colonies’ made sense -and once she came on our trips she became one of our biggest and most enthusiastic boosters.”


Said Bill O’Connell, a prominent member of the Colorado ski industry:


“In terms of friendship across ‘the pond’....We (Yanks) made a conscientious decision back in  1979/1980 to join up (there were five resorts) and bring to life Bernie Weichsel’s dream of a SKI USA – dedicated to introducing European skiers, and particularly those from the UK, to skiing in the Rockies.


“One of the first points of entry into a very well established UK (European) skiing world market was to get the skiing press to visit. Elisabeth was on our very first ‘Fam’ trip. Friendship developed because she made a great effort, through the club, to help us become ‘educated’ about the UK skier and their related travel industry. SKI USA started a growing ski/travel business for many.

 “In a very short time, Elisabeth, being the person she was, opened doors for us. For me, it became an issue of simply getting to know the sincerity, kindness and openness of another nation's people.... I suspect that being invited to Sunday roasted dinners at a London home along with meeting Elisabeth’s family (including her sister Philippa) developed a friendship that remained.

“I think Elisabeth went the ’extra mile’. I maintained our contact and friendship simply, I guess, because the Hussey sisters displayed and English warmth I found very human and real.


“I do wish our president would take a few lessons from the Elisabeths of today and learn a bit himself!”