This article first appeared on October 30, 2016 in the Sunday Post – Note: Mr Rankin sadly died on March 12, 2017 (see News post on March 16, 2017)
By Nick Drainey
A campaign has been launched to honour the man who built Scotland’s first ski tow out of metal “acquired” from the 1950s Clyde shipyards, spawning an industry which has gone on to generate millions to the economy every year.
Philip Rankin – who is now approaching is 100th birthday – led a team of yard workers and members of the austere Scottish Ski Club to haul huge lumps of metal up a Glencoe mountain.
A campaign backed by skiers, climbers and public bodies has been launched to recognise his efforts 60 years ago to start what was Scotland’s first commercial ski centre in the snows of Glencoe.
Before the 1950s the only people who ventured into the Scottish mountains in winter were hardened climbers but Philip Rankin, a former Spitfire pilot who had been shot down and injured over the North Sea in World War Two, saw ski-ing as an exciting new sport.
In 1954, Mr Rankin, who had by now left his engineering job in Glasgow and moved to Ballachulish to concentrate on the venture, drew up plans. Members of the Scottish Ski Club, made up largely of doctors and lawyers, then joined forces with the Clan Mountaineering Club whose members came from the shipyards of the Clyde to build the tow in 1955 on the slopes of Meall a’ Bhùiridh.
Family friend Louisa Gardiner, who is behind the campaign, said the metal plate and steel cables needed for the tow came from Glasgow’s shipyards and “were ‘acquired’ and carried up the hill on the backs of these tough Clydesiders, all under Philip’s supervision.”
It was ready for use in February 1956 and its opening marked the creation of the first commercial ski centre in Scotland.
As he sits in his home surrounded by the mountains of Glencoe, Mr Rankin recalls the tough task of building the tow. He said: “It was absolutely crucifying work. In order to make sure we were on a good line we had to start at the top and worked out way down which meant everything had to be carried up the mountain – that took a lot of time, and sweat and tears.”
But 60 years on he said Glencoe is still leading the way. He said: “I think Glencoe has come out top of the pops – It is my baby and I am liable to boost it up but it is certainly the nearest approach to Alpine ski-ing what we have got in Scotland.”
Now, a Facebook campaign to give him some public recognition has been launched. Those behind it have entered him for a Scottish Rural Award but would also like to see greater awards, including the Queen’s honours.
Mrs Gardiner said: “I feel he has been so fundamental to ski-ing in Scotland. He is the most wonderful man … I would hope that he gets recognition for the amount of work he did and how it has influenced the ski industry and tourism. Showing there was another winter sport, other than climbing, really was down to him.”
Friend and neighbour Hamish MacInnes, who was developing mountain rescue techniques when Mr Rankin ran the ski centre, backed the calls for him to be recognised for his work. He said: “He was a real pioneer and he ought to be honoured more; Glenshee and all these places started after he had been going.”
Mr MacInnes, who used the chair lifts and tows to help transport search and rescue dogs up the mountains for training, said that at the time Mr Rankin had an excitable nature and didn’t suffer fools gladly. He said: “He kept getting complaints about not having any toilets up there and his quote to the press was: ‘We don’t people up here who are incompetent or incontinent.’”
Mr Rankin had suffered back injuries when his plane was shot down over the English Channel and on impact he was thrown out through the canopy. It was a Canadian doctor at Stoke Mandeville hospital who brought on a love of snowsports when suggested he could recover through exercise, particularly if he walked uphill in snowshoes.
As a result of this he eventually left his Helensburgh home and made his way to Glencoe to set up the ski centre. His wife Gudrun, an East German refugee who died in 2003, was ticket collector and book keeper while he used his engineering skills to operate the resort, which he did so until the 1990s, seeing the number of lifts and runs increase.
The current owner of Glencoe Mountain Resort said Scotland’s snowsports industry today is “deeply indebted to Philip Rankin”. Speaking on behalf of Ski-Scotland, Andy Meldrum added: “He was one of the individuals who had the vision to see that skiing could be a commercial operation in the Highlands, in particular on Meall a’ Bhùiridh where Glencoe opened for skiing just over sixty years ago.
“Since then four other resorts have opened – CairnGorm, Glenshee, The Lecht and Nevis Range. They, together with Glencoe, now generate around £30 million each year for the Scottish and UK economy, with much more of that spent in a wide range of local businesses than is spent at the ski resorts themselves. This revenue boost during winter and spring is hugely important to Scotland’s tourism. The whole country should therefore be grateful to Philip for his foresight and energy in making skiing happen at Glencoe so long ago.”
Scott Armstrong, VisitScotland Regional Partnerships Director, said the organisation would support any recognition for Mr Rankin. He said: “Philip Rankin’s impact on Glencoe, and skiing in Scotland more widely, has been immense and we would support any plans to recognise the legacy of his work.”
Mr Rankin’s reaction to the campaign was one word: “Fiddlesticks.” “It would be very nice to have it put on permanent record but it doesn’t bother me if I don’t get something. I am delighted to see Glencoe (ski centre) going well in the end – uncomfortably near the end at 99.6. It is pleasing.”