Fred Lonsdorf was not your ordinary ski enthusiast or coach. He played a much bigger role in the Keweenaw skiing community and the Midwest.
Fred found a love for skiing during World War II as a soldier in the 10th Mountain Division. As a legendary WWII fighting man, Fred started Division training in Colorado. While at training they learned mountain skills and skiing. The mountain skills included navigation and survival skills, to ensure the soldiers would not get lost and to keep them safe in the hash weather conditions of the mountains. Upon completion of his training, Fred fought the Germans in the Alps, putting his new skills to the test. After the war was over, and the soldiers had returned home, many of the 10th Mountain Division Soldiers helped start ski hills across America including major resorts like Vail, Aspen, and Whiteface Mountain. The Mont Ripley Ski Area was no exception, the ski hill’s activity took off after Fred was hired as the manager at about the same time Fred became the Michigan Tech ski team coach in 1947.
During his 32 seasons coaching for Michigan Tech Skiing, Fred was a key player in bringing Alpine Ski Racing back to the upper Midwest, as well as, being the 1st full-time ski coach in the region. Alpine ski racing can be divided into different events such as downhill, slalom, giant slalom, or even combined events. The most popular events at Mont Ripley were downhill ski racing and slalom racing. The objective of the downhill race is to go long distances with as few turns and as quickly as possible. In slalom racing, skiers go shorter distances but they must navigate a course with many turns. During his time with the ski team, Fred coached three national team skiers and one Olympic skier. This Olympic skier, Charles Thompson “Chuck” Ferries, started skiing under Coach Lonsdorf at the age of 7, and later became a part of the United States Olympic Ski Team in 1960 and 1964. Although he did not place in the Olympics, he was the first American to win a major international; slalom race in 1962, according to Skiing Heritage Journal (Dec 2009). Because of Fred’s impact and many years of hard work, he was inducted into the Michigan Tech Sports Hall of Fame on October 30, 1999.
That is just his resume, Fred made an impact on many people during his time as ski hill manager and coach. Doug Hill skied for Fred in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Recently, when Doug was shopping at a thrift store in Iron Mountain, MI he came across a familiar name on a pair of skis, these skis read, “Fred Lonsdorf, Coach, Mich Tech”. Doug was gracious enough to purchase and donate the skis to Mont Ripley. These “head ski” style race skis are 210 cm tall and in very good condition. The bindings on the skis are the first version of the modern step-in binding.
In the 1980s, Michigan Tech cut a variety of varsity sports including skiing. However, Fred Lonsdorf will always be remembered at Mont Ripley for “Fred’s Landing,” located between the Husky Chair Lift and Center Bowl Run. In addition, Nicholas Sirdenis, General Manager of the Mont Ripley Ski Area, says Mont Ripley plans to display Fred’s skis on a prominent wall in the new ski chalet. He also attributes the progress of the ski hill from 1946 to 1979, as the biggest set of improvements for the ski hill to Fred Lonsdorf. Displaying these skis will help to ensure that Fred Lonsdorf’s legacy lives on at Michigan Tech.