Jill Kinmont Boothe, the ski champion who grew up near Mammoth Mountain and was the subject of a book and two Hollywood films, has died. She was 75.
At age 18, Kinmont was the national women’s slalom champion and on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Adding to her appeal, she was, in the words of 1950s press accounts, a “plucky, pretty” blue-eyed blond — the mid-century ideal of young womanhood.
Kinmont was trying to make the U.S. Olympic team in 1955 when she crashed in Utah and broke her neck. She was paralyzed below her shoulders and would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.
“At the time that she had her accident, she was probably the premier up-and-comer women’s U.S. skier,” Alan Engen, a former U.S. ski competitor and ski historian, told the Los Angeles Times.
The crash before thousands of spectators was reported around the nation. When Kinmont returned to Southern California after two months in a Salt Lake City hospital, crowds of reporters and cameramen greeted her at the train station.
Her promising career as a skier over, Kinmont learned to write, type and paint using her neck and shoulder muscles with the aid of a hand brace.
After graduating from UCLA with a degree in German and English, Kinmont earned a teaching certificate at the University of Washington and taught remedial reading off and on for the rest of her life.
“To get mad, to scream and holler, to tell the world – that doesn’t get you anywhere,” she told the LA Times in 1968, when the newspaper named her a Woman of the Year. “You sort of look for what’s good that’s left, I guess.”
In the 1970s, Kinmont and her mother moved to Bishop, the California mountain town where she spent her early years and learned to love skiing. It’s where she met her future husband, John Boothe.
“I think the thing that impressed me most the first time I met her was that after a few minutes you forgot all about her being in a wheelchair,” Boothe told the Times last year. “She obviously isn’t preoccupied by it and pretty soon you’re not either.”
In Bishop, Kinmont Boothe was an avid painter and continued to teach. A school in town is named after her.
Her life was the subject of a 1966 book, “A Long Way Up: The Story of Jill Kinmont,” by E.G. Valens, and two films, The Other Side of the Mountain in 1975, and a 1978 sequel.
Boothe was inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame in 1967. She is survived by her husband.