Snuffy O’Neil: ski cartoonist |

Snuffy O’Neil: ski cartoonist

"Aspen's First Snow", 1940s ski humor from 10th Mountain Division cartoonist "Snuffy" O'Neil.

As founder of the National Ski Patrol in 1938, Minot “Minnie” Dole marshaled his contacts during WWII to recruit skiers for the 10th Mountain Division. He held a unique arrangement with the military, and the 10th Mountain was a unique corps that required mountaineering talents that only Dole could access.

When the 10th moved to Camp Hale, an affordable drive to Aspen even with gasoline rationing, Dole’s skiers preferred to take their weekend leave there, hauling their skis along with them rather than squandering their pay in Denver or Colorado Springs, the closest cities.

“Snuffy” O’Neil developed a fondness for Aspen as a 10th Mountain trooper. In and out of town, during and after the war, O’Neil was known for drawing caricatures of locals. Some caricatures graced the walls of local bars for years. Others grow dusty in attic boxes. A few have been preserved in museums. The Aspen Historical Society shelters a few, including ones of Red Onion owner Werner Kuster and American ski legend Dick Durance. The Beekley International Collection of Skiing Art and Literature at the Mammoth Ski Museum in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., also protects O’Neils in its archives. O’Neil drew a caricature of entertainer Burl Ives when Ives was in Aspen, now boxed in the Burl Ives Collection in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Those of you who remember early editions of ski magazines will recall that they, unlike most sports periodicals, featured cartoons in nearly every edition. Most Americans of the time found themselves awkward beginners. A good laugh helped to erase stinging memories of embarrassing falls, foreign instructors’ idiosyncrasies, and encounters with inclement weather. Snuffy O’Neil’s cartoons captured both the fun and the humor of the sport.

O’Neil drew the cartoon of a ski jumper headed down a steep jump with a magnified barbed wire fence at the landing for my uncle, Frank Willoughby. Frank was a reasonably good racer. He placed high in local races in part because he could also jump. O’Neil titled a few of his cartoons, often just writing the subject’s name. He waxed poetic with this title, “Willoughby, you sure got balls.”

The sketch of skiers crowding to ski on a small patch of snow titled, “Aspen’s First Snow,” was published in the October 1947 edition of Aspen Leaf, a four-page slick paper promotional piece that was printed by The Aspen Times.

I urge any readers with further knowledge of O’Neil to contact me with personal stories or remembrances. It appears that while several of his cartoons and caricatures have survived, scant personal history of “Snuffy” O’Neil endured.

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