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Club History

The Estonian Ski Club was founded in Los Angeles in 1961, making it one of the oldest ski clubs in the United States. The club has no rules or requirements except that everyone is welcome and to have a good time and you don’t have to be Estonian to join. The founders and first members were immigrants from Estonia who settled in Los Angeles via Australia, Sweden, Germany, Canada and other countries. They were forced to escape during World War II as Hitler invaded Estonia on his way to invade Russia.

The first ski trips originated from the homes of its members, who at the time were mostly living in an area referred to as the Mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles. From there, they would travel to Mammoth, China Peak and other resorts in California by car. As time went by, the membership grew as did the trips and the use of busses became the main mode of transportation. With the use of busses a new location was needed to start the trips, so Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley was chosen as the central starting location.

The club has visited numerous ski resorts during the years, some of which include Mammoth, Telluride, Aspen, Whistler/Blackcomb, Steamboat, Heavenly Valley, Squaw Valley, Breckenridge, Taos, Jackson Hole, Crested Butte, Vail, Sun Valley, Alta, Solitude, Snowbird, Grand Targhee, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. There is one ski resort that the club has visited every year of its existence and in 2011 they celebrated the 50th Anniversary of travelling to China Peak. This resort was chosen due to its central location to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The History of China Peak

The club started its annual trek to China Peak in 1961 at the invitation of Otto Tamm, a popular ski instructor and ski patroller of the early days of the resort. He invited his Estonian friends to come ski with him, and they haven’t stopped since. That first year, 53 Estonian gathered to have a good time. They enjoyed participating in a ski race, a short film of the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, a dance and doing fireside improvisational sketches.

As word grew of the annual trip, which always occurs the second weekend in March, participation grew and in some years would number up to 200 people. The majority of the people come from Los Angeles and San Francisco, however it’s not uncommon to have people come from New York, Washington D.C., Seattle, Portland, San Diego, Phoenix, Amsterdam, Toronto, Estonia and other cities and countries.

With such a long history of visiting China Peak, stories abound of what has occurred at the resort. One year the club decided to pull all the mattresses from the rooms at the China Peak Inn and place them in the hallway and spend the night in the hallways. Another year, the club members were able to drink the lodge bar completely dry to the point that the bar remained closed for two days. A tradition that is still followed today is Formal Day, where everyone dresses in tuxedos and evening gowns to ski and board down the mountain. Local skiers and boarders would see the club members all dressed up and they knew “The Estonians are here!” This tradition has become so popular and to honor the Estonian Ski Club, the resort has initiated a Formal Day for the entire resort the
second Saturday in March.

Otto Tamm

He is an important figure in area skiing and in the history of the resort; his past is fascinating, filled with intrigue. Many people have left their mark, but none is more indelible than Otto’s. He shared the duties of ski patroller and ski instructor. He was an instructor first, but he will be remembered most for his contributions to the ski patrol. He was a likeable man, gifted with great ski ability, and was a wonderful teacher. He was always willing to help a skier in need.

In China Peak’s first year, 1958, Otto joined the small Fresno Ski Patrol. In 1959, he was named Course Setter Official, preparing for the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics. By the winter of 1960, Otto was named Training and Testing Advisor for the California Central Region of the National Ski Patrol. In the winter of 1964, Otto was named head of China Peak Ski School, a position he held in addition to patrol leader of the Fresno Ski Patrol. The Fresno Patrol was Otto’s first love, but coaching the racing team and training kids were important, too. He had organized the first junior ski patrol in 1961. The uniform he designed for the Fresno chapter was adopted as the official uniform by the National Board and became the standard for the country. The Fresno Ski Patrol, under Otto’s
leadership, was one of the best in the western states. He was elected Regional Director in 1968, ‘69, and ‘70. Otto was active in his later years and died in 1998.

Trip Organizers and the Board

Over the years there have been several people that have contributed their time and effort to make all the trips successful. Record keeping was not so precise in the early 60’s and the club is not certain who specially coordinated the trips. If someone has knowledge of whom they were, please contact the club. The feeling is that it was a group effort among the members. In the late 60’s and continuing in to the late 70’s Helle Kalm coordinated all the trips for the club. The reigns of the club were handed over to Robert Anderson in 1980 who became and still is the current President of the club. In 2001, Heidi Reynolds joined the board and became Vice-President/trip coordinator.

In the past decades, there were others who contributed in different capacities to the club; they were Valdek Parik, Mati Laan, Paul Johnson, Inge Kask, Mart Lill, Eve Johnson, Tiit Heinsoo and Tõnis Rebane.

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