The History Channel profiles Billy Fiske |

The History Channel profiles Billy Fiske

Janet Urquhart
Billy Fiske, left, and Swiss mountaineer Andre Roch atop Hayden Peak, circa 1937, as they scout the terrain for a ski area. Photo courtesy Aspen Historical Society.

Billy Fiske, an adventurer who helped scout ski slopes near Aspen before he was shot down in an epic World War II battle, will be the focus of a broadcast tonight on The History Channel.Local TV viewers will glimpse some familiar scenes during “American Warrior: Billy Fiske,” scheduled to air locally at 7 p.m. (on channel 39 in Aspen).The program details Fiske’s varied exploits before his untimely death at age 29, including his partnership with Ted Ryan, with whom he formed the Highland-Bavarian Corp. and pursued plans for a ski area above Ashcroft in the Castle Creek Valley, south of Aspen.

The envisioned ski area never came to pass, but the program briefly features images of Fiske during his time here and footage of Trevor Washko, an Ashcroft history buff who resides at Toklat in the Castle Creek Valley. Local filmmaker Greg Poschman shot the footage of Washko, who describes Fiske’s activities in the valley in the late 1930s.”Trevor was great. We wanted to have somebody who was familiar with Ashcroft and who knew the history,” said Dean Ward, who wrote, directed and produced the program for The History Channel.”They wanted to highlight his time here in Aspen with the Highland-Bavarian Corporation. I think a number of people probably pointed their finger at me as someone who could speak on that,” said Washko, who said he’s working on a couple of books about the history of the area.Ward said he had never heard of Fiske before the channel contracted with him to produce the show.

His research produced interviews with Fiske’s niece in Santa Fe and a surviving flier who remembers Fiske’s involvement in the British Royal Air Force.Fiske was the son of a wealthy U.S. banker who was schooled in Europe and lived large. He captained the U.S. bobsled team to Olympic victory in St. Moritz in 1928 at age 16 and won the gold again four years later in Lake Placid. An adventurer with a love of speed, he traveled the world; drove fast cars, learned to fly and planned to build a major ski resort in Colorado.”To think he arrived in Aspen and thought, ‘this could be a place for a ski resort’ before anyone else did – it was just another facet of his life that was fascinating,” Ward said.

Passing himself off as a Canadian, according to The History Channel, Fiske joined the British Royal Air Force before American involvement in World War II began.He was killed in the Battle of Britain in August 1940 and is sometimes cited as the first American to die in the war – a matter of some dispute, according to the program.Fiske’s life has apparently also captured Hollywood’s attention. Tom Cruise has been cast as Fiske in a movie to be called “The Few,” according to various web reports.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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