The New Season!

RetroSki columns will begin Thanksgiving week for the 2018-19 season! It’s snowing as I write this so the ski season should be off to a good start! So dust off those 205’s, lace ski boots, and stretch pants for another year of skiing memories!

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Apres-Ski at the End of the Season

Bob Beattie with Billy Kidd and Jimmy Heuga 1964 OlympicsI begin with the sad news of Bob Beattie’s death on April 1st at age 85. Beattie was a Middlebury College graduate who was better known there for playing football than his skiing. However in 1956 as a post grad he filled in for Bobo Sheehan as the ski coach. His success led to a job as head ski coach at the University of Colorado in Boulder where he built a powerhouse team with such skiers as Billy Kidd and Spider Sabich. Beattie went on to coach the United States Ski Team with many of the same athletes he had coached at Colorado. Beattie made many contributions to alpine ski racing, but perhaps one of the most significant was the influence he had on making the FIS World Cup a true “World” cup. Alpine skiing had been very Euro-centric, so when Serge Lang was developing the idea of a World Cup, Beattie made sure the cup would include races in North America and around the world. Bob was an outspoken influence on ski racing in the U.S. and he will be missed!

Next, I have two random observations from my recent ski trip to Whistler which have more to do with current times than skiing history.

Ski Essentials WebsiteWhenever we mentioned we were from Stowe, we were really surprised how familiar people were with Stowe, including the fact that we’d been getting all that good mid-March snow! It turns out it is due to the popularity of Ski Essential’s Chairlift Chats. They feature Stowe in their ski reviews/tests which include videos. It has also made Jeff Neagle who is featured in the videos an Internet personality as we were asked if we knew him. I do not know him, but he is to be complimented not only for his ski knowledge, but as an ambassador for Stowe!

We also observed a very large number of Spanish speaking visitors at Whistler. In asking a couple from Mexico why they chose Whistler, they replied that they would not come to the United States as long as Trump was President. I know that’s a small sample, but it looks like Trump’s wall is already working – and he hasn’t even built it!

Now on to this week’s column: For some reason as the ski season winds down, my thoughts turn to après ski celebrations. Maybe it’s all the tailgating going on in the parking lots, but whatever it is, my memories are drawn back to some of the après ski stops from days gone by. So last week’s trivia question asked about four of those establishments.

Horst Thomke and the Chez MoustacheThe Chez Moustache was on the Smuggs Mountain Road as you headed back to Jeffersonville from the ski area. It was run by Horst Thomke who hailed from Switzerland. Horst also ran a crêperie in the warming shack atop Sterling. Appropriately there’s a Thomke ski trail near the top of Sterling in memory of Horst. The Moustache was a great stopping place on the way home whether you just wanted some drinks or stayed for dinner. The Moustache building had previously hosted another bar, Mateymuckers, which would have made an even more obtuse trivia question. Horst’s untimely death in 1981 led to the restaurant eventually changing hands. Somewhere I still proudly own a Chez Moustache knit ski hat.

Three Green Doors in StoweThe Three Green Doors was located here in Stowe on the site where the Blue Donkey now resides. It was one of our favorite après ski stops because it was usually uncrowded and they had great hors d’oeurves! You could make a meal out of them. The Green Doors played a part in some of the tradition that Stowe continues to honor. The July 4th Stowe Marathon resulted from a bet who could make it from the Whip to the Doors the fastest! Obviously alcohol was involved, but the 1.7 mile “marathon” is still part of Stowe’s 4th celebration.

Sherm’s was located on the road from Jay Peak down to Montgomery Center. Actually there is still a bar/restaurant there called The Belfry. Sherm was Sherm Potvin who was a friend of one of our regular skiing crew. Sherm would go on to start The Abbey in Enosburg Falls.

The Blue Tooth was on the Sugarbush access road when Sugarbush was, well, just Sugarbush! The Tooth was both an after ski watering hole and a night spot a la the Rusty Nail. There’s no sign of the old Tooth as I believe the building was torn down and now there’s a small condo or apartment development where it was located.

Norma Stancliffe got three out of the four correct. She worked for Horst Thomke at the Moustache in 1975. She also worked at the Three Green Doors when Herb O’Brien owned it. And she partied at the Blue Tooth in her “younger days.”

Bob Curtis also was familiar with the Tooth as it was just up the road from where he met his wife. He says he came back to ski Sugarbush last year and while the skiing was good, the off-the-slopes scene was nowhere as good as the days of the Blue Tooth.

Pat and Lucy Ostrowski from Saint Augustine, Florida, identified all four après ski spots. But they had a distinct advantage since they probably were at those watering holes with me a few times! Pat says, “Horst & Barbara Thomke were the best hosts of any après ski refuge” at the Chez Moustache. He also pointed out that the Blue Tooth opened a second location on Saint Paul Street in Burlington for a while.

This brings another RetroSki season to a close. Thanks to all my readers and particularly those who participated in the weekly trivia. Have a great summer and I look forward to returning next ski season!

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Trivia 2018 Week 17

For each of the following now defunct Vermont après ski places, identify the ski area associated with it:

  1. Chez Moustache
  2. Three Green Doors
  3. Sherm’s
  4. The Blue Tooth
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Freestyle Mogul Skiing

World Cup Mogul SkiingAlright, I’m going to say it. Today’s World Cup mogul competitions are boring! They’ve become formulaic with two pre-built jumps and machine-made moguls. The top competitors piston their way through the bumps and launch very similar complex jumps. Any slight break in form pretty much eliminates a competitor from the competition. The final scores of those who do complete the course without major form breaks are so close that the average fan may be left scratching their head over what made the difference.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. These are amazing athletes who deserve to be recognized. They bring perfection to a sport that defies perfection. However the sport has lost the connection to its roots.

I’m not the only one who feels that way. One of the pioneers of freestyle skiing who was known for his mogul skiing shares that view. Airborne Eddie Ferguson admires today’s mogul skiers, but feels the sport is missing the “free” in freestyle skiing.

Freestyle skiing’s roots were in the late 1960s.  A group of young skiers were doing amazing things on skis and they were captured on magazine covers and in ski movies. Some of them were even getting paid for their antics.

The first acknowledged freestyle competition was held at Waterville Valley in 1971. This was no amateur event as cash prizes were offered along with a Corvette! Competitors got one run to demonstrate their mogul skiing, jumps, and skiing tricks – all in that one run. This would eventually lead to the three separate events: moguls, aerials, and ballet. But the overall prizes still went to the competitors who did the best over all three events. At some point specialization took over with separate competitions for moguls and aerials with ballet falling by the wayside.

The early mogul competitions were held on natural terrain such as Exhibition at Sun Valley and Bell Mountain at Aspen. When the freestyle circuit came to Stowe, the mogul competition was held on the upper National. The “judging” was somewhat arbitrary, but a run that looked like the skier was on the edge of disaster usually got high points. Recoveries from breaks in form were rewarded not penalized. Even a fall didn’t mean a competitor was out of it as long as they didn’t lose any equipment and finished the run. As I recall, two falls in a run did knock you out of the competition. In general the run that produced the biggest reaction from the spectators received the highest score.

Airborne Eddie FergusonThere were no prebuilt jumps. Competitors found air wherever they could and some spent most of the run in the air! One such competitor was Airborne Eddie Ferguson who definitely earned his nickname!

Ferguson grew up in Idaho skiing at Bogus Basin. By age 14 he had become an instructor and at age 16 he became the youngest certified PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) instructor ever.

Bill Kornrumpf knew that Airborne Eddie Ferguson was the youngest PSIA instructor. Bill says he was just starting skiing when the freestyle movement began and loved the fun approach exemplified by Ferguson and others such as Wayne Wong.

Longtime Smuggs instructor, and personal friend of mine, Glen Findholt also had the correct answer to last week’s trivia.

As mentioned, Eddie Ferguson was a young certified ski instructor which meant he had a strong understanding of skiing basics. But as most teenagers do, he wanted to test the limits. By age 17 he was doing flips and helicopters. Still he stuck with his instructing which helped pay for college and in 1969 he was named to the PSIA demonstration team.

When freestyle contests began in the 1970s, Eddie was a natural. He was a crowd favorite and excelled in moguls. Ferguson attributes his training in basics for allowing him to push the limits, but still keep going. He literally would launch off every mogul doing backscratchers, spread eagles, whatever. He became the World Freestyle champion in 1973 and also received SKIING magazine’s “Hotdogger of the Year” award.

Ferguson would start camps for younger skiers to learn the fun of freestyle skiing. From 1972-79 his camps spread around the United States, Canada, and Europe. He taught and trained an estimated 4000 students passing on freestyle to the next generation. That next generation would see freestyle become a World Cup and Olympic sport.

Airborne Eddie Ferguson is being inducted into the United States Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame class of 2017.

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Trivia 2018 Week 16

This week is Skiing History Week. Some may remember that last year this event was held here in Stowe. This year it’s being held in Squaw Valley. So this week’s trivia question is:

Which of this year’s U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame inductees was the youngest fully certified ski instructor in the history of the Professional Ski Instructors of America?

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La Proell

Annemarie Moser-Proell and Lindsey Vonn

Annemarie Moser-Proell and Lindsey Vonn

A couple weeks ago Mikaela Shiffrin broke the record for most FIS World Cup wins before the age of 23. A couple of years ago Lindsey Vonn broke the women’s record for most total FIS World Cup victories. In both cases the woman who held the previous record was Annemarie Moser-Proell.

I received no answers to last week’s trivia question. I’m assuming everyone was too busy skiing the amazing conditions to bother with such matters.

(Note: The correct spelling of Annemarie’s last name is “Pröll”, mit der umlaut! However it’s easier to type the anglicized version, Proell, so that’s what I’ve used!)

Annemarie Proell was born in Kleinarl, Austria, the sixth of eight children. She began skiing at age four on homemade equipment. The local priest recognized potential talent and recommended her to the Austrian ski association. She won her first regional championship at age 13.

Proell joined the Austrian National Team for the 1969 World Cup season at age 15. Her first victory came the following season at age 16, winning a Giant Slalom.  She actually finished 6th for the overall 1970 World Cup.

Annemarie Moser-ProellIn 1971 Proell’s racing career took off. She won seven races – two slaloms, two downhills, and three giant slaloms. She won what would be the first of her five consecutive overall World Cups. Between 1972 and 1974 she won 11 consecutive downhills. Speaking of 1974, Annemarie married her ski technician, Herbert Moser, to become Annemarie Moser-Proell.

Annemarie Moser-Proell at the 1980 OlympicsProell did not fare as well in the Olympics. In her first Olympics in 1972, she took two silvers being edged out by the Swiss skier Marie-Theres Nadig who won two golds. Proell took the 1976 season off to tend to her terminally ill father, so she missed the 1976 Olympics in her home country. She would finally get her Olympic gold at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics winning the downhill.

After her father died, Proell returned to the World Cup circuit for the 1977 season finishing second in the overall standings. She would win one more overall World Cup in 1979.

Moser-Proell with her 6 Overall World CupsShe retired after the 1980 season at the age of 26. She had raced for a total of 11 World Cup seasons and accumulated 62 wins and 113 podium finishes. She won 35% of the races she entered. The 62 wins set the standard for women until Lindsey Vonn exceeded it in 2015.

Comparing athletes across generations in any sport is difficult. For example, there are more events today with the addition of Super G than there were when Proell raced. And there are more stops on the World Cup circuit which means more races. So in some respects it’s amazing her records lasted as long as they did.

One aspect of Annemarie Moser-Proell’s success was that she was the first woman to gain a superstar status in the FIS World Cup. Austrians love their ski racers and they loved Moser-Proell. After winning her first overall World Cup, 10,000 fans greeted her return to her hometown of Kleinarl. She was highly competitive, but still respected by her fellow competitors. Former U.S. ski racer Christin Cooper says of Moser-Proell, “She modeled gnarly, unrepentant competitiveness before women athletes had come to own that space with pride and confidence.” Annemarie Moser-Proell was voted the Austrian Sportswoman of the Century!

Annemarie Moser-Proell still lives in Kleinarl. You can view many of her trophies at the Café-Restaurant Olympia. Moser-Proell started the business, but sold it after her husband passed away in 2008.

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Trivia 2018 Week 15

Mikaela ShiffrinHappy 23rd Birthday to Mikaela Shiffrin this week! She’s got a lot to celebrate: her second overall World Cup, her fifth Slalom World Cup, and the record for most World Cup wins before turning 23! So this week’s trivia question:

Who previously held the record for most World Cup wins before age 23?

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Bill Briggs

Last week I wrote about Fritz Wiessner who was a skiing mountaineer best known for his ascents. This week I’m writing about a skiing mountaineer best known for his skiing descents – in particular, the first skiing descent of the Grand Teton.

Chuck Perkins was quick to identify Bill Briggs as the first person to ski the Grand. Bill is a personal friend of Chuck and Jann’s. Bill was here in Stowe last October to help celebrate Chuck and Jann’s induction into the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.

Christian Theberge also identified Bill Briggs. Christian is a rock climber and went on to say that he has climbed some of Fritz Wiessner’s routes. He says they are “bold and scary!”

Bill BriggsBill Briggs successfully skied the Grand Teton on June 15, 1971. He had tried once before, but weather had forced him to abandon the attempt. However on that day in June the weather and snow conditions cooperated to produce a successful descent. Briggs says he was never worried about skiing down, but the climb was the challenge. He says that like all major mountaineering expeditions, planning was the key.

Briggs Route on the Grand TetonDespite the fact that Briggs wasn’t worried about skiing down, anyone who has looked at the Grand Teton can see there isn’t a connected path of snow from top to bottom. Instead there is a collection of steep snowfields and couloirs connected by cliff bands. Much of the terrain is fall-and-you-die territory. Briggs actually rappelled down one cliff with his skis on to get to the next skiable section! And snow conditions were variable – from wind crusted powder to spring corn to what Briggs described as “frost feathers.”

After successfully completing his descent, Briggs returned to Jackson only to be faced with a lot of doubt from the locals. He contacted the Jackson Hole News. Virginia Huidekoper, founder and owner of the paper, and photographer Roger LaVake, went up in a plane the next day and took pictures of Briggs’ tracks down the Grand! My understanding is that you can still buy a poster of that picture.

Skiing the Grand Teton was not the biggest challenge Bill Briggs ever faced. Briggs was born in Maine in 1931 missing one hip socket. When he was two years old, surgeons were able to etch out a socket in his pelvis to act as a joint. While his participation in sports was limited by the hip, Briggs did take up skiing at an early age. Most of his skiing was done on a slope near his house using his father’s skis.

Briggs went to Philips Exeter Academy where he met a mentor that would shape his life. A teacher at the school, Bob Bates, was an accomplished mountain climber and had been part of the K2 expedition headed by Fritz Wiessner (aren’t connections like that amazing?). Bob Bates was also an inspirational teacher and Briggs decided to follow in Bates’ mountaineering footsteps.

Philips Exeter also encouraged Briggs to continue skiing. Every Sunday he would take the ski train to North Conway, New Hampshire, for a day of skiing. On the return train trip, Briggs loved singing ski songs with the other skiers. Music would become Briggs’ second passion. He taught himself to yodel, something he demonstrated at the Hall of Fame gala here in Stowe!

Briggs went on to Dartmouth in 1953 where he immediately joined the Outing Club. Through this he extended both his skiing and mountaineering experience. Skiing Tuckerman Ravine introduced him to steep skiing and he developed his own style for the steeps. One companion described Briggs as “the most concise and controlled skier” he had ever seen.  In the first summer with the Outing Club, Briggs was introduced to climbing in the Tetons and Canada’s Bugaboos, places that would become integral parts of Briggs’ life.

Briggs left Dartmouth before graduating and chased his dreams of skiing, climbing, and music. During the rest of the 1950s, Briggs would move around as a ski instructor, from Franconia in New Hampshire to Aspen and eventually to Woodstock, Vermont. It was from Woodstock that Briggs planned an expedition that many might consider more of a challenge than skiing the Grand. He and a bunch of his former Dartmouth Outing Club buddies would climb and ski a traverse of the Canadian Bugaboos in 1958!

Briggs Playing the BanjoBy the 1960s, Briggs’ hip became a problem and he had it fused. His initial rehab did not go well and he became worried that he might never be able to ski or climb again. Briggs credits his conversion to Scientology for his physical and mental recovery that allowed him to resume skiing and climbing. In 1966 Briggs was named ski school director at Snow King Mountain in Jackson, Wyoming.

Bill Briggs still lives in Jackson and if you drop into the Virginian Bar at the right time, you’ll find Bill holding court and maybe doing a little singing.

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Trivia 2018 Week 14

Who was the first person to ski the Grand Teton?

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Man For All Mountains

What does a wooded trail network on conserved land in Stowe have in common with a peak in British Columbia’s coastal range? Both Wiessner Woods and Mount Wiessner carry the name of one of the greatest mountain climbers of the 20th century.

Fritz WiessnerFritz Wiessner was born in Dresden, Germany in 1900. He became an accomplished climber by the age of 18. Wiessner was influenced by the Dresden climbers who emphasized free-climbing – climbing without aid whenever possible. In his twenties he recorded first ascents on some of Europe’s most challenging cliffs.

In 1929 Wiessner moved to New York City and found that climbing in the United States wasn’t as advanced or organized as in Europe. Initially he explored the climbing possibilities near New York City working his way up the Hudson River. Wiessner discovered the Shawangunk Mountains in the New Paltz area making many first climbs. “The Gunks” are now a hotbed of rock climbing and many of the routes still bear the name that Wiessner gave them.

Looking to find more challenging climbs in the Northeast, Wiessner reached out to Robert Underhill, a Harvard professor who was considered one of the best American climbers. Underhill introduced Wiessner to Cathedral Ledge and Cannon Cliff in New Hampshire. On their first visit to Cathedral Ledge in 1933, Underhill showed Wiessner a route that had only been climbed once and represented the most difficult climbs being attempted in America (5.7) at that time. Wiessner led the first pitch with no difficulty, but Underhill wouldn’t attempt to follow Wiessner’s lead. So Wiessner unroped and free-climbed the remaining three pitches with no protection. Underhill knew that American climbing was about to take a major step forward!

By 1936 Wiessner was taking on major North American ascents. He and a team achieved the first ascent of British Columbia’s Mt. Waddington, the highest peak in the Coast Mountains. A month after that success, he was poised to make the first ascent of the North Face of the Grand Teton only to be beaten by hours by another group of climbers. In 1937 Wiessner recorded the first free ascent of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

Fritz Wiessner on K2In 1939 Wiessner led an American Alpine Club expedition to K2 in the Himalayas. They would make it within 700 vertical feet of the summit, but weather and illness forced a retreat and resulted in tragedy with one American and three Sherpas dying. The American Alpine Club placed the blame on Wiessner despite his superhuman efforts to perform a rescue. Experienced climbers of that era disagreed with the club’s assessment, but it still damaged Wiessner’s reputation. Many believe the political climate of the era influenced the club’s findings. Even though Wiessner had become an American citizen, the German connection provided a convenient scapegoat. Many years later (1965) the American Alpine Club would honor Wiessner with a lifetime membership.

When WWII began, Wiessner supported the war effort by providing technical support to the 10th Mountain Division. This included advice on equipment for cold weather and ski wax! Wiessner’s chemical company specialized in ski waxes including Wiessner’s Wonder Wax! After the war Wiessner would set up a factory in Burlington, Vermont, to produce Fall Line ski wax.

Dean Economou, Larry Heath, and Bill Kornrumpf all named Fritz Wiessner as the founder of Fall Line ski wax.

John Dostal also identified Wiessner, but added that it was “crappy wax!”

Pat Ostrowski heard of Wiessner when Pat lived in Dutchess County and hiked in the “Gunks”. Wiessner’s name was, and still is, well known there. The Fall Line connection came when a mutual friend of Pat’s and mine acquired F. H. Wiessner Inc. in the 1970s. Bob Penniman ran the company and kept us well supplied with ski wax!

My experience with Fall Line wax is more favorable than John Dostal’s. Granted, my usage was primarily on alpine skis, but I liked the wax. The Fall Line product in greatest demand was their cold weather wax. When temperatures were below zero, Fall Line outperformed many of the bigger name companies. How appropriate for a wax made in Vermont.

While better known for climbing, Fritz Wiessner was a downhill skier as well. He had started skiing in Stowe even before there was lift-served skiing. In 1952 Fritz moved his family to Stowe. That family consisted of his wife Muriel (better known as Moo-Moo) and their two children, Andrew and Polly. Fritz taught all of them to climb.

Fritz Wiessner climbing at age 86

Fritz Wiessner Climbing at age 86 Phot0 By John Rupley

As he got older, Wiessner became a mentor to many young climbers. He was an equal opportunity teacher who encouraged both young men and young women. He insisted on leading the climbs which struck some as being egotistical, but it still provided a new generation of climbers with priceless experiences. Wiessner continued to climb until he was 87, just one year before he passed away in 1988.

The current Curious & Cool exhibit at the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum includes Fall Line ski waxes and a life-sized painting of Fritz Wiessner! The painting is on loan from River Arts in Morrisville. Drop by the Museum to check it out. After its stay as part of the exhibit, River Arts plans to auction the painting as a fundraiser.

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