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Clarita Heath Bright, 87; Made First U.S. Women’s Ski Team

Times Staff Writer

Clarita Heath Bright, a California-born pioneer skier who qualified for the first U.S. Women’s Ski Team in the 1936 Olympics after a mere 13 months on skis, has died. She was 87.

Bright, who competed as Clarita Heath, died Oct. 13 of natural causes in her sleep at her Brookline, Mass., home.

She never forgot the opening ceremonies of the 1936 outdoor games in the Bavarian Alps’ Garmisch-Partenkirchen -- conducted during a blizzard, which enabled the events to proceed.

Until the previous day, the normally snow-covered Alps had remained bare, fostering talk of moving the Games.

“The joke among the athletes was that [Adolf] Hitler ordered the snow, so it fell,” she told the Boston Herald in 1992.

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Hitler and his Nazi regime were in power in prewar Germany at the time, and the 1936 Games were called “Hitler’s Olympics.”

A native of South Pasadena, Bright was a newcomer to skiing when she was tapped to compete for the four-member team by American ski enthusiast Alice Wolfe.

In late 1934, Bright had accompanied her mother on a tour of Europe, tried skiing for the first time and loved it so much that she begged to stay for the winter at Ski Schule in Kitzbuhel, Austria.

She was so fast and so adept that Austrians quickly dubbed her “that amazing Kalifornien.”

Lured by Wolfe, young Clarita joined 13 other American girls in St. Anton, Austria, on New Year’s Day in 1936 to compete for the women’s team. They paid their own room and board, and Wolfe hired a coach.

When Bright made the team, her expenses didn’t end. The four women had to provide their own uniforms, which she later described as “navy blue knickers ... all different lengths, and red socks that were all different shades, and white windbreakers that were all different shapes.”

“But we were given the insignia to wear,” she added with pride. “So we looked official.”

The men’s U.S. ski team fared better.

“The men were given beautiful warm parkas while we shivered in our windbreakers and thin red socks,” she told the Boston Globe a few years ago. “We felt like the little stepsisters. But they didn’t have any more fun than we did.”

Competing in the downhill event, Bright was in sixth place when she went off into deep snow and into a brook.

Today that would disqualify an Olympic competitor, but in those days, she said, “you just got up and kept skiing.”

But the mishap was costly. Olympic records show she finished 27th.

In 1937, Bright placed second in downhill at the World Championships and competed successfully in Switzerland, France and Austria.

The following year, a knee injury sidelined her, and in 1939, she returned to the U.S., where she won the women’s division of the Far West Kandahar at Yosemite National Park.

World War II ended Bright’s competitive career, and she taught skiing in California and then Idaho, becoming Sun Valley’s first female instructor.

She was inducted into the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame in 1968.

Bright was widowed twice. Her first husband, William W. Reiter, was a Navy pilot lost in the Pacific during World War II. Her second husband, Olympic skier Alexander H. Bright, died in 1980.

Survivors include her children, Candy Reiter Midkiff of Lopez Island, Wash.; Cameron Bright of Freeport, Maine; and Sierra Heath Bright of Dover, Mass.; and six grandchildren.

A celebration of Bright’s life is scheduled for 2 p.m. Oct. 28, at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass.


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