The construction of the first track in the United States, at Mt. Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid and hosting the 1932 Olympic Winter Games set the stage for American bobsledding dominance. In fact, by the time Lake Placid hosted its first World Championships in 1949, the vast majority of bobsled athletes were Adirondack locals.
Perhaps one of the best known was Stan Benham of Lake Placid, who, with his team, won the gold in 4-man in that first World’s event and who later had a track curve “Benham’s Bend” named for him. Right behind Stan was Jim Bickford of Saranac Lake, winning Silver. Bickford went on to carry the U.S. flag in the 1952 and 1956 Olympic Games.
The 2-man competition had its own list of local stars. Fred Fortune, of Lake Placid, drove his team to win the bronze medal. He later founded the children’s village, the North Pole in Wilmington. Tuffield “Tuffy” Latour, of Saranac Lake placed just after Fortune in 4th. Tuffy went on to operate Tuffy’s Tavern on Broadway in Saranac Lake. Other locals competing at the World’s in 1949 were Leo Martin and Hugh Bickford (brother of John) of Saranac Lake, Schyler Carron of Ausable Forks, Pat Martin of Massena, and Pat Buckley and Henry Stearns of Lake Placid.
It was quite the local roster for the 1949 World’s, an event that almost didn’t happen. It was postponed twice due to lack of snow. In a final act of desperation, the organizers trucked in snow from near-by areas, a massive undertaking. The event also took place just after World War II, in fact, most athletes had served. When the war was over, and competition resumed in 1947, there was a country noticeably absent—Germany, the price for their role in the war. In 1949, they were granted permission to compete in Lake Placid, but that came with protest from Switzerland and Belgium. In the end, it was felt the comradeship of sport could help foster peace, which most of the World was striving for.
Controversy aside, the 1949 World’s also included tragedy. During a training run, a Belgian 2-man sled driven by Max Houben entered Shady curve, the 180° corner with towering 32-foot walls, and jumped out of the track. Max later died of his injuries in Lake Placid Hospital. During the competition, the French team was also injured at the same curve. Houben’s death brought about the creation of The Max Houben trophy in 1950 by the village of Lake Placid and is a lasting legacy, still presented to the winner of the 2-man World Championships.2021 World Championships