Friday, February 13, 2009

When the world’s most famous woman skied


By JOHN FRY

For a brief three winters after her husband's assassination and before she opted to cruise the Mediterranean in Aristotle Onassis' yacht, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy skied. In March 1964, less than four months after JFK's monumental Washington funeral, Jackie flew to Sun Valley for a snowy retreat with her brother-in-law Robert F. Kennedy. The following Christmas, she brought her children—Caroline, 7, and John, 4—to Aspen to ski with their rambunctious Kennedy cousins. They were joined by Defense Secretary and Snowmass homeowner Robert McNamara, and by ex-Olympic racer Tom Corcoran, among others. Ski magazine published a cover picture of a snow-covered, winsome 12-year-old Kathleen Kennedy, Bobby and Ethel's eldest daughter and future lieutenant governor of Maryland.

But the nation's focus was on Jackie and her effort to bring the normality of a family Christmas skiing vacation into the lives of two vulnerable young children who'd tragically lost their father. Everywhere, even on the slopes and in the ski lodges, the press and paparazzi pursued her.

On the slopes, the world's most famous woman was capable of making cautious stem turns. In Aspen, she competed in a recreational slalom race. Attorney General RFK made fast, long, non-stop runs, often leading his children down the mountain, including Bobby Jr. and 7-year-old Michael. (Returning to the same Aspen Mountain 33 years later, Michael was killed when he struck a tree.)

In the winter of 1965, Jackie and Bobby took their children to ski at Lake Placid and in Vermont. The following Christmas, the RFK brood were again at Sun Valley where they occupied a cottage loaned to them by family friend and fellow Democrat U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Averell Harriman, the resort's founder. Jackie joined them after Christmas, then flew in January with her children to Gstaad, Switzerland, where she was the guest of old friends, the skiing economist and Ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith and his wife, Kitty. Perhaps Jackie skied there, but after 1966 she was no longer seen on the slopes.

For a brief three winters, Jackie-mania and the public fascination with the Kennedys fanned a worldwide blizzard of newspaper and magazine publicity about skiing, adding to its luster as the in sport of the 1960s. Bobby attended a glittering, black-tie, New York City ski ball that raised $40,000 for the U.S. Ski Team.

What politician would not want to be linked to such a healthy outdoor pursuit? Yet, in an odd political twist in the winter of 2004, opponents of John Kerry for president used pictures of him snowboarding to portray the senator as an effete, out-of-touch candidate. Queen Jackie would not have been amused.

John Fry is the author of the award-winning Story of Modern Skiing, a history of the sport after 1945.




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