Speed " on the hill, on the road | AspenTimes.com

Speed " on the hill, on the road

Elli Stiller Iselin with Bingo, Aspen's most famous dog. Before moving to Aspen, Iselin was both an Olympic ski racer and one of Europe's first female sports car racers. (Courtesy Aspen Historical Society)

I was comfortably cruising U.S. Highway 395 south of Reno when a blue Subaru zipped past me. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the driver was Andrea Mead Lawrence. Andrea, now 74, is the only American female skier to win two gold medals in an Olympics. Locally, her lead foot is as legendary as her skiing.

It reminded me of one afternoon in the mid-1960s when Elli Iselin stopped in to see my aunt, Doris Willoughby, who kept Elli’s books. Well-known as Aspen’s premier ski fashion retailer, Elli (nee Stiller) was also an Olympian, the Austrian national champion and team member for six years in the 1930s. Elli’s mother was the first woman skier in Vienna.

Elli immigrated to America in 1939 and moved to Aspen from Sun Valley with Fred Iselin, her husband, in 1948. She was an early Aspen Ski School instructor when women were decidedly a minority in that field. Many in Aspen did not know that she was the first female sports car racer in Europe. Nevertheless, her lead foot was known in Aspen.

Elli barged through our door, walked up to my aunt’s desk and began her diatribe, “That rude young man. I am so angry.”

With very little prodding she continued her story with her heavy German accent. A young highway patrolman had pulled her over and given her a ticket. “I told him I couldn’t have been going that fast. He was so damn rude to me. Young people should not talk to their elders like that.

“Can you believe it? He said I was going over 100 miles an hour.” That was not difficult to believe because Elli drove a nearly new Corvette Stingray. As her storytelling did not approach the apparent speed of her driving, it took awhile to get to the part that would have made a highway patrolman appear rude. She gave a detailed description of the patrolman and his lack of manners and the cost of the ticket before we asked where she got the ticket. “It was in Glenwood Canyon.” She referred to the old two-lane, hairpin turn on the Glenwood Canyon highway.

We learned later that the ticket was not her first and that she had been ticketed at 100 mph though she had been clocked at 118. When added to previous tickets, her total points threatened loss of her license.

A few weeks later Elli returned. Her usual matter-of-fact, curt personality brightened merrily. “Fred [Elli’s husband] just bought me a new car. He told me I had to get rid of the Corvette before I lost my license. Come look at my new car!”

We stepped outside and viewed a brand-new Pontiac Firebird, the kind with the big engine, in fiery color. We could not figure out how that would slow her down but she did avoid more tickets.

You can’t take the speed out of a ski racer.

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