Photo courtesy of Pico Mountain
Andrea Mead Lawrence, daughter of Pico's founders, raced with
steely determination and sheer exhilaration. She competed in three
Winter Olympics capturing two gold medals in the 1952 Olympics, a
feat still unequalled for an American.
As Pico celebrates its 75th anniversary this month, it's
appropriate to recall its first great homegrown competitor, the
daughter of the mountain's founders and the best female racer in
America for many years.
Andrea Mead (Lawrence) competed in three Winter Olympics,
winning two Golds in the 1952 games, a feat still unequalled by an
American for a single Winter Olympics Alpine event.
She skied that year in boots secured to her skis with a leather
thong wound around each ankle and instep and threaded through a
hole mortised in the ski. An iron toehold kept her foot locked in-a
far cry from today's safety bindings.
Few skiers remember those years, but they were heady times for
the U.S. Women's Ski Team.
Starting with the 1948 Olympics held at St. Moritz, the second
Games that they entered, the women were on a roll. Gretchen Fraser
won Gold and fifteen year-old Andrea Mead, the youngest member on
the team, finished eighth in slalom that year. Then in 1952, the
newly wed Andrea Mead Lawrence took fourth in downhill and first in
giant slalom and slalom, despite hooking a tip.
In those days when a skier fell or went off course, they were not
automatically disqualified. Spinning off the course after she
caught the course pole with her ski tip, Mead climbed back up to
the gate and finished her run. A spectacular second run put her in
It was a time when she was skiing out of the sheer exhilaration
of the sport, channeling her enjoyment of competition and all-out
energy to an ideal that incorporated her experience, concentration,
balance, and timing. That combined with her love of "going fast"
propelled her to victory.
"My purpose was to do the best job I could. I set a standard for
myself that every single time I left the starting gate I would put
150 percent of my effort into it. I extend myself to the maximum
all the time," she said of her 1952 races.
In 1954, she withdrew from F.I.S. races because she was pregnant
with her second child. In 1955, she won every race she entered. A
mother of three, Lawrence participated in the 1956 Olympics, just
missing another medal in slalom by a split second and came in
fourth in giant slalom. She won her final race in Norway that
season, ending an amazing career that spanned 14 years. She was
inducted into the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame in 1958 and the Vermont Ski
and Snowboard Museum's Hall of Fame in 2002.
So how did this young Vermonter come to do so well?
Movement and mountains were a fundamental part of Lawrence's
life since she was born in Rutland in April 1932. Her parents Brad
and Janet Mead "dreamed a mountain" and built it, so Andrea grew up
skiing at Pico Peak as it was known then.
By the age of eight, she had climbed up Pico to ski the 2.5-mile
Sunset Schuss with her father and Karl Acker, Ski School
Her father, Brad Mead, died in a tragic drowning accident in
Acker became a coach and friend to the young girl who possessed
a singular love for having fun and going fast. However, she was on
her own during the war years as Acker joined the 10th Mountain
At the age of ten, Andrea foreran her first slalom and captured
the prestigious Kate Smith trophy in February 1943. She became the
first North American racer to win the Arlberg-Kandahar Downhill in
1951, another highlight in a career of winning important ski
She married David Lawrence in 1951, who was the first winner of
the Men's National Giant Slalom title in 1949 at Slide Mountain,
Nevada. Both raced the Sugar Slalom at Stowe in 1951 on the same
course. Andrea won for the women and Dave for the men. Her time was
second only to his, causing a male competitor to comment, "Some
damned woman beat me."
In her book A Practice of Mountains, Andrea wrote (in response
to having overheard that), "I was not aware that, for women, the
need to excel was supposed to apply only to husband, home and
Having moved to the Sierras in Mammoth Lakes, California,
Lawrence also became a climber. "We have mountains inside us. A
mountain is never there simply to ski or climb. It is a challenge
to physical mastery and spiritual possibility to which one goes
toward risk with as much abandon as possible," she wrote, a fitting
explanation of how she achieved so much.
She raised her five children in California after having divorced
in 1968. She also became a environmental activist and led a group
fighting unchecked development at Mammoth and served on the Mono
County Board of Supervisors for 16 years. She founded the Andrea
Mead Lawrence Institute for Mountains and Rivers, working for
balance between economic growth and environmental preservation.
Photo by Karen Lorentz
Andrea Mead Lawrence, second from right, at the 2006
International Skiing History Association's awards banquet in
Vail, CO. Also, from Vermont Olympian Billy Kidd left.
She died in 2009 and was lovingly and glowingly remembered in a
well-attended memorial service at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland.
The many tributes hailed her as "a hometown Olympian" as well as
California's "most significant and effective citizen activist."
Hers was a life of "striving for high-quality perfection" in
skiing and applying that same striving "to something good,
something relevant to life" as she explained to Olympic historian
David Wallechinsky in 1998.
Her life was both well lived and one that made a difference, not
only in skiing and Olympic history but in her passion for the
preservation of wilderness places and the earth's beauty.
Lawrence's book, which was co-written with Sara Burnaby and
published in 1980, explains her passions, and the roles that the
ideal of the Greek Athlete and mountains played in her life. It is
one of the best tributes to skiing as a way to explore and extend
one's awareness that you will likely ever read. It is a challenging
book, but one that rewards with insight and inspiration the role of
sports in our lives.
Lawrence left us a powerful gift in sharing her covenant with
mountains and her life at Pico started it all.