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Smoke Screen: Smoking and Skiing

On Madison Avenue and on the slopes, smoking and skiing were longtime partners.

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At a time when famous cancer victims regularly show up on television warning against the perils of cigarettes, and when the one in four Americans who still smoke can’t find a public space to do so, it’s mind-boggling to recall that doctors once endorsed tobacco products. Sixty years ago, R.J. Reynolds created a series of popular magazine ads around the slogan “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” The ads featured athletes enjoying both their sport and a smoke.

In one ad, the tobacco company recruited red-cheeked “international ski star” Blanche Christian to testify that Camels were her first choice when lighting up. “Experience is the best teacher in skiing and in choosing a cigarette,” she says. The endorsement wasn’t out of place. At the time, almost 45 percent of


Magazine readers smoked. The Camel advertisement featuring Blanche appeared in the

Saturday Evening Post



. In the 1950s and 1960s, hearty, healthy skiers puffed away in ads for a number of popular cigarette brands, including Lucky Strike, Winston, Kent and Kool.

In 1973, Benson & Hedges awarded Jean-Claude Killy $40,000 (roughly $200,000 today) for winning the Grand Prix pro racing season, which the cigarette brand sponsored. In the 1980s, skiers could earn half-price weekend lift tickets by redeeming Newport cigarette boxes.

As a bonus for appearing in the Camel advertisement, “RJR supplied me with cartons and cartons of cigarettes,” Blanche recalls. “I didn’t smoke, so I gave them away.”

Skiing dominated her life. She taught in one of the nation’s oldest ski schools at Cranmore, N.H., and also at Mt. Tremblant in Quebec. When Colorado’s Vail Mountain opened in 1962, she and her husband, Dick Hauserman, became the new ski village’s first residents, and Blanche opened Vail’s first sports shop.

Divorced by the 1970s, she married railroad heir Cortland Hill, a Sugar Bowl, Calif., pioneer and one-time U.S. Olympic alpine ski team manager. After he died in 1978, Blanche moved back to Vail.

And there the gorgeous lady in the famous Camel cigarette ad has remained. At 93, she still lives near the base of the Vista Bahn lift in the heart of the village, and her love of skiing has never waned. “I could live anywhere in the world,” she says. “I live here because I still love it.”

Skiing’s overt ties to tobacco ended in 1993, when Philip Morris stopped sponsoring the Marlboro Challenge self-timed racecourses. For more than a half-century, however, an unhealthy habit promoted one of the world’s healthiest sports.

John Fry is the author of

The Story of Modern Skiing

, about the changes that revolutionized the sport after World War II.