Friday, October 20, 2006

Treasure hunt unearths historic medal

Story of championship ski race revived

Express Staff Writer

Randy McCann displays a historic Harriman Cup medal he found on Ruud Mountain in Sun Valley last month. Photo by David N. Seelig

A recent search for silver coins on Ruud Mountain unearthed a token of Sun Valley's treasured ski history.

"The medal is not very big, but it brings back a lot of old stories," Randy McCann said. Last month, McCann, a Ketchum resident, ventured to Ruud Mountain with his medal detector in tow.

He combed the hillside for close to 10 hours looking for silver coins. "I was just out poking around," said McCann, who often takes his medal detector to remote locations to find trinkets.

During a recent search, he stumbled upon a medal that looks like it has spent the last half a century preserved in a trophy case, rather than buried underground.

"It's incredible that it's in this good of shape," he said.

McCann dug approximately four-and-a-half inches into the rocky soil on Ruud Mountain, where he discovered a quarter-sized treasure—a Harriman Cup medal.

He has since learned that the medal was won during the fourth annual Harriman Cup Races and National Championships held at Sun Valley in 1940. The Harriman Cup was a prestigious ski race started by Averell Harriman, the founder of Sun Valley Resort.

None of the round brass medal has corroded, which enabled McCann to delve into the history of the pint-sized trophy.

On the front is a skier, painted with a white shirt and blue ski pants. The words National Ski Association encompass the athlete. The inscription on the back reads: National Championships Sun Valley, 1940 Men's Combined Open Class, 3rd Place.

The inscription prompted McCann's hunt into history. He consulted with Chris Millspaugh, the regional historian at Ketchum's Community Library. The two discovered that Walter Prager, a Swiss skier, won the lost medal. Prager was the world's first World Alpine Championships downhill champion, who went on to coach the Dartmouth Ski Team and the United States Olympic ski team. He died in 1984.

In 1940, Prager gathered with other alpine ski legends for downhill, slalom and jumping events held on Bald and Ruud Mountains. It was the first year the racers rode newly installed lifts up the River Run side to a downhill course held the Steilhang on Warm Springs—now known as International. Legendary racer Dick Durrance won the overall combined honor, while Prager trailed in third place.

It's these and many other skiing stories that McCann, who is not a skier, has discovered since finding the medal. He has spoken with longtime valley residents about the early days of Sun Valley skiing, researched the Harriman Cup, and visited the library.

McCann is now searching for the Prager's son. He would like to return the medal to the Prager family or see that it is displayed at a ski museum.

"You never know what you are going to find," he said.

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