Frank Titus | Truckee ski legend

Frank L. Titus is as Truckee local as one gets. Born in Truckee’s Brickelltown neighborhood during a driving snowstorm on Jan. 8, 1922, he lived there until 1951. Then he moved to Portola and later to Reno, Nev., where he resides today. An early member of the Truckee Ski Club, Titus earned his skiing chops the hard way — by leaping off the town’s towering ski jump across the river at Hilltop, Truckee’s winter sports park.

Frank Titus, far left, was always the youngest guy on the team, circa 1930. | Courtesy Truckee Donner Historical Society

Titus was there in 1932 when Tahoe City hosted the National Championship Tournament at its local winter sports grounds at Olympic Hill, the current location of Granlibakken Resort.

Titus graduated high school at age 16 and enrolled at the University of Nevada, Reno. He joined the ski team, coached by Wayne Poulsen, an expert skier and future founder of the Squaw Valley Ski Area.

At that time, intercollegiate rules required well-rounded skiers who could uncork a dynamic launch off a scaffold-built ski jump, schuss downhill at top speed and handle the kick and glide endurance of a fast-paced cross-country race. Most ski and boarding competitors today tend to specialize in one discipline, but in the 1930s college ski teams required that athletes compete in at least three of the four skill sets: jumping, cross-country, downhill and slalom. Regarding the versatility each skier needed, Coach Poulsen said, “We could not afford any prima donnas.”

“Frank Titus earned his skiing chops the hard way — by leaping off the town’s towering ski jump across the river at Hilltop, Truckee’s winter sports park.”

The downhill and slalom races were no piece of cake with minimal course grooming and stiff wooden skis. There were no chairlifts to whisk skiers up for their training runs. They climbed for each run by attaching sealskins to the bottom of their stout wooden skis to keep them from slipping backward during their ascents. Bindings were adjustable jumping-style cable bindings from Norway that were adapted for downhill and slalom skiing.

Titus competed in all four events for the UNR ski team and despite being the youngest guy on the squad, he contributed significantly to their success. His strongest disciplines were jumping and downhill, but he could hold his own in the other two, as well. Titus’ home in Truckee was the headquarters for the team and many members would stay there while practicing at the popular Hilltop ski jump.

Frank Titus in 2015 at age 93. | Mark McLaughlin

In the early years, players received no funding from the college and usually had to find their own transportation to meets as far away as Washington and Utah. Poulsen was undeterred, saying, “We’ll compete against the nation’s best, even if we have to travel to Salt Lake and Yosemite on our skis.”

By 1938, Frank Titus and his teammates were considered the third best college ski team in the country, trailing only the University of Washington and Dartmouth College. The following year the Nevada Wolf Pack toppled UW to clinch an undefeated season and win the Pacific Coast Championships.

In 1940, Titus left for San Francisco to attend pharmacy school. When World War II broke out, he signed up for a Navy program that delayed induction and allowed students within a certain time period of graduating to complete their academic studies. In 1942, he graduated and within one month was called to duty. He received his wings in Pensacola, Fla., in 1944 and later, while stationed at the San Diego Naval Air Station, he was assigned to the aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Hancock. Titus spent his time patrolling the Pacific Coast in a Hellcat Fighter and training for bad weather take-offs and landings in Oregon in preparation for a U.S. invasion of Japan.

Fortunately, that invasion never took place and in 1946 Titus discharged out of the Navy as a lieutenant. He returned to Truckee where he became the pharmacist at Loynd’s Drug.

During the slow winter months, Titus got back into skiing, becoming the first ski instructor at Hilltop Lodge in Truckee. On weekends he was an instructor at the Soda Springs Ski Area and for many years taught classes in ski jumping to aspiring leapers.

Today Titus lives along the Truckee River. He doesn’t ski anymore, but he recalls his glory days of skiing with pleasure.

Read more about the Sierra’s history in Mark’s column.