The 2018-19 Season Wrap Up

Looking down High RustlerFirst, some follow-up on a topic I wrote about a few weeks back. I had recounted our experience in Utah during January and February with traffic-related problems. On April 15th Michael Maughan, President and General Manager of the Alta Ski Area, issued a post on the Alta blog entitled “Little Cottonwood Canyon Traffic Solutions.”

In that article he says:

“From our perspective, we have had more traffic congestion and delays in the canyon this season than in the past 30 years and they have magnified in intensity. … Given the expected growth of the population in the Salt Lake Valley, the growing popularity of multi-resort pass products and the continual growth of tourism in Utah, I believe that we are at a tipping point and need to make significant improvements.”

His main point was to make people aware that the Utah Department of Transportation is accepting public comments on proposed solutions to the canyon congestion and Maughan was encouraging people to input their opinions. (See entire Alta blog post.)

We complain a lot during the ski season about our traffic/parking problems here in Stowe, but our problems are far less than those in the Utah canyons. However in both cases the solutions will involve actions from the resorts, the government, and the individual. In other words, we can’t look solely to the resort or state for a solution. We may have to modify some of our habits also.

Enough about traffic and parking! This season was a great snow year. For a while it was on a record pace to challenge the 1968-69 season. As you’re probably tired of hearing, that winter was my first in Vermont.

The winter of 1968-69 started early and just kept getting better.  The first major snowstorm was on November 7-8 allowing ski areas to open early.  This was before any Northern Vermont ski area had significant snowmaking so it was all Mother Nature!  Even though I was a working man, I had 6 days of skiing before Thanksgiving!

Mount Mansfield received 60 inches of snow in November 1968 and followed it with 72 inches in December.  There was a thaw near the end of January that lowered the amount at the stake, but after that it kept going up. The record depth of 149 inches was set on April 2, 1969.

As good as the winter of 1968-69 was here in Vermont, it was even better in New Hampshire – the state I moved from to be in Vermont!  A big storm from February 24-28 set records around New England, but really nailed New Hampshire.  Mount Washington received a record 97.8 inches during that storm! By the end of the 1968-69 season Mount Washington set its all-time snowfall record with 566 inches.  Of course all that snow blew right into Tuckerman Ravine where skiing continued well into July! I skied the ravine on the 4th of July that year!

So how much snowfall did we get this season? The Stowe Mountain Resort page says 308 inches which is quite comparable to the 1968-69 total of 317 inches. However we only need to go over the ridge to Smugglers Notch who reported 370 inches. And of course Jay reported 405 inches (some things never change!)

I was really rooting for this winter to break the record depth at the stake. That may seem strange, but I wanted to believe that even after 50 years, it was possible to have a record-setting, old-fashioned, natural snow winter. Then there might be somebody 50 years from now writing about their first winter at Stowe that set the record!

This brings to a close another RetroSki season. Many thanks to all my readers and particularly those who answered trivia questions. You keep me going!

I’ve read somewhere that real friends are the people you may not see for years, but when you do see them, it’s like you’ve never been apart. Fifty years have shown me that skiing makes for real friends! I’m going to finish with something they may not be interesting reading, but I feel compelled to do it. Here’s a list of the friends I skied with 50 or more years ago. Some no longer ski, some have passed away(*), and some I still ski with:

Frank Kinslow, Roger Mason, Bobby Andrews, Paul Pelton, Clark Marshall, Glen Findholt, Mike Weisel, Pat Weisel, Bob MacEwen, Clint Demeritt, Dick Jonis, Jerry Gates, Bob Penniman, Pat Ostrowski, Lucy Ostrowski, John Fox*, Ken Hildick*

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Trivia 2019 Week 20

What is the record snow depth set in the 1968-69 season at the Mount Mansfield stake?

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Alta at 80

High Rustler at AltaI’m heading for the High Traverse at Alta. It hasn’t snowed in a while so I have a choice of several traverse lines. I take the low one since I’m going all the way to the end. The lack of recent snow also means the traverse is just one long series of bumps, like small waves. I’m trying to maintain some speed so they’re a real pain. There are two reasons for my need for speed. One, I’d like to make it to where the traverse crosses over to the east side of the ridge without having to walk. Two, veteran traversers are notoriously short of temper with amateurs in their way.

I survive the bumps and dodge some rocks. Even with 400 inches of snow, there are still some rocks showing in the well-worn traverse. They even put down some mats to help cover rocks where you cross the ridge. I do make it to the east side without walking. From there it’s a short way to the end of the traverse.

On my left is Alf’s High Rustler which I skied earlier. Straight ahead is Eagle’s Nest and on my right is Greeley Hill. I start down toward Greeley Hill which is a wide open slope, but my skis are leading me left toward the trees. Despite no recent storms, the snow seems to get softer, deeper, and quieter so I head into the trees. The large evergreens are sparsely placed so there are many choices of line. The powder has been tracked, but it still skis like powder. The turns are easy and smooth. I’m not wasting energy. The pitch gets steeper, but I just sink a little deeper on each turn to check my speed. I have to choose between two paths and I choose the one on the right. I’m smiling because I made a good choice. The powder is deeper with fewer tracks.

Eventually the pitch becomes less steep and I develop a bouncing rhythm in the fall line. I see the arrows leading me to the exit traverse. My smile gets bigger as I relish another memorable Alta run. I have already forgotten about the damn High Traverse. Later I check the trail map and find out that what I skied is called “High Nowhere”.

That’s how you become an Altaholic. They even joke about it by saying Alta stands for “Another Long Traverse Across!” But all it takes is one memorable run to make you forget the traverse that got you there.

Alta, Utah, began as a silver mining town in 1865.  At its peak in the late 1800’s it had an estimated population of 8000 and about 180 buildings – 26 of which were bars.  Apparently the Utah liquor laws were different back in those days.

East Castle at AltaBy the 1930s the mining boom was over and most of the buildings had been destroyed by a series of avalanches.  Adventurous skiers had begun hiking up Little Cottonwood Canyon to enjoy what is now the Alta ski area.  In the winter of 1935-1936 the United States Forest Service retained a professional ski jumper, Alf Engen, to examine potential sites for ski areas and Alta was one of the sites Engen visited.  In 1937 based on Engen’s recommendations, the Forest Service obtained surface rights to 1800 acres from George Watson who had purchased most of the mining property in the canyon.  (The Watson Shelter is named for him.)  The Salt Lake Winter Sports Association raised the money needed to convert an old mining tramway into a chairlift and on January 15, 1939 the original Collins lift went into service.

So this season marked Alta’s 80th as a lift-served ski area. I can tell you from first-hand experience that it’s still going strong at 80!

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Trivia 2019 Week 19

The lift attendants manage every lift line at the resort with the call of “front row!” What ski area is it?

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Getting There Is None of the Fun

STowe Base Lodge and Single Chair 1940-41The Mount Mansfield single chair began operation in December 1940. In conjunction with the construction of the chairlift, the state of Vermont had expanded what was then known as the Nose Dive parking lot and enhanced the State Shelter which now forms part of the Mansfield Base Lodge. (An historical accuracy note: the state agency that actually managed the state’s interests on Mount Mansfield was the Vermont Department of Forest and Parks. I’ve simplified it to just say the “state of Vermont!”)

However the demand created by the new chairlift meant the state had to enlarge the parking lot the following year! To help defray the cost, the state instituted a parking charge for what is now the Mansfield lot. So what did the state charge for parking?

Kenmore Commoss and Norma Stancliffe both had the answer that parking cost 25 cents per car.

Claude Adams at Parking Booth

Photo Courtesy Brian Lindner

I also heard from local historian and Mount Mansfield Ski Patrol member, Brian Lindner, who has an unfair advantage. Brian’s father was the state employee in charge of the Mount Mansfield State Park and their family lived in what is now the Mansfield Base Lodge. From 1945 to 1960 Brian’s grandfather, Claude Adams, staffed the toll booth and collected the parking fees.

Norma Stancliffe’s family was close friends with the Lindners so she spent a lot of time in the base lodge. She remembers as a kid in the 1950s helping Brian’s grandfather count the quarters at the end of the day.

So when did they take away the parking fee? Kenmore says they were still charging in 1965 when he started skiing Stowe. He says there was usually a discussion in the car about who paid the fee last time, and whose turn it was this time.

Photo Courtesy of Brian Lindner

Mount Mansfield Ski Club historian Mike Leach routed me to some of the old MMSC newsletters that are available online at the club’s website. The February 1966 issue had a column indicating that the toll booth had been removed and the state would no longer charge the fee. The state had been receiving as much as $15,000 a year from parking! In lieu of that, the Mount Mansfield Company agreed to pay the state a percentage of the gross revenue from ticket sales.

So let’s talk about parking today. Simply stated, on busy days here at Stowe, we run out of parking.

We are not alone. My wife and I spent January and February in Salt Lake City, Utah, primarily skiing Snowbird. That meant traveling Little Cottonwood Canyon on an almost daily basis. Every Saturday and powder day both Snowbird and Alta ran out of parking! That was also true for the areas in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Brighton and Solitude!

Snowbird and Alta both have special parking for carpools with three or more people in a car. This year Snowbird debuted a phone app where you could arrange a carpool. The Salt Lake City area has mass transit available that does service the ski areas. Your season pass includes a UTA pass that can get you on the bus and there are several ski bus parking lots. And those lots get filled on the busy days also!

Well, what about a trip over to Park City? The Friday before Martin Luther King weekend was a powder day. Little Cottonwood Canyon was closed due to avalanche control so we headed for Park City. Traffic was backed up three miles from the Park City exit off Interstate 80. Two and a half hours later we got to the ski area where all the parking lots were full! Park City actually has great mass transit and you can park at the high school or other locations and bus your way to the area. By the way, Park City does have some limited paid parking. I’m not sure how that works.

I’ve heard people say Deer Valley has it right in that they limit ticket sales, but they also can run out of parking before they run out of tickets.

What about Colorado? On our drive out to Utah we happened to come through the Interstate 70 Eisenhower tunnel at the end of a sunny Saturday ski day. Traffic on the west side of the tunnel was backed up for six miles! A-Basin has announced that it is pulling out of the Epic Pass next year and the reason is …. you guessed it, parking!

But the problem isn’t really parking. The problem is traffic!

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Trivia 2019 Week 18

In 1941 the state of Vermont started charging Stowe skiers to park in the Mansfield lot. What did the state charge for parking? Bonus points for the year the state stopped charging!

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Stowe 1969

Mansfield Double and Single ChairliftsI’ve reached the point in this ski season that marks the 50th anniversary of the first time I skied Stowe! I didn’t remember the actual date, but some deduction led me to believe that it was on March 29th. I know it was after the Waterville Valley World Cup and before Easter so hence my deduction.

As I have said before, my main reason for not skiing Stowe was its $10 lift ticket when nobody else was charging more than $8! So what changed my mind? Some new skiing buddies!

Earlier in the winter I had been working with a fellow at IBM named Dick Jonis. As I recall, I was skiing Madonna one day and encountered Dick who was also skiing there. After we took a run together he said, “I’ve got some friends you’ve got to meet!”

Dick eventually set up a skiing “date” where he introduced me to Bob Penniman and Jerry Gates. And the location was to be at Stowe!

The weather on Saturday March 29, 1969 was spring-like with a dense cloud covering the mountain all the way down to the top of Pitch 13. The cloud was so thick that as you rode up the chair you could not see the chair ahead! Skiing an area for the first time with skiers who are familiar with the area always puts you at a disadvantage. However skiing an area for the first time with skiers familiar with the area when you can barely see ten feet in front of you is really challenging!

I was worried about getting separated from my new skiing companions so I felt I had to ski close enough to keep them visible. The National in those days included what’s now called the National Drop-In. When we headed down the National I was skiing so close to Bob that when he had to bail out on a mogul I ran right into him! Great way to make a first impression.

I lost track of what trails we skied. I knew they seemed steep, but I was so focused on keeping up that it all became a blur. I know I was tired at the end of the day.

Mt Mansfield LiftlineI actually came back the next day on my own. Sunday was a clear day and I just had to see what I had missed. In some respects I was glad that my first day had gone the way it did. Because of the limited visibility and my narrow focus on keeping up, I hadn’t been intimidated by the terrain. This helped me on Sunday when I could see, since I knew I’d handled it under much more difficult conditions. I loved the sustained steep bumps and there were so many of them! No grooming on Liftline or Nose Dive or any trails for that matter so you had to work all the way down.

Those two days convinced me Stowe might be worth $2 more a day.

Dick Jonis, Bob Penniman, Jerry Gates, and I became regular skiing buddies. In the following years, we not only skied Stowe and other Vermont areas, but would end up taking ski trips to areas in the West and Europe.

Original Four Passenger GondolaOne of the lifts I didn’t ride on that first day at Stowe was the Gondola. The 1968-69 season marked the debut of the first Stowe gondola. It was a four passenger model and originated in what is now called the Midway Lodge.

John Lutz identified the Gondola as the “new” lift for that season. I had the pleasure of meeting John on the current gondola last Thursday. He’s from West Virginia, but is a long time Stowe skier. Regular contributor Gary Tomlinson also correctly answered last week’s trivia question.

The old gondola got off to a rocky start. On December 31, 1968, one cabin detached and fell 20 feet. One person was seriously injured and the three other passengers suffered minor injuries. After repairs and reinspection, the lift reopened on January 8, 1969.

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Trivia 2019 Week 17

What new lift did Stowe install for the 1968-69 season?

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Waterville Valley 1969

This year’s FIS Alpine World Cup Finals are this week in Andorra, wherever that is?. Mikaela Shiffrin took a lot of the drama out of the weekend by wrapping up her third consecutive overall World Cup in advance of the finals. About the only suspense for Mikaela this weekend is to clinch the GS World Cup which she has announced she wants. She has a significant lead and barring an uncharacteristic finish in the final GS, she should achieve that goal.

Her situation is not unlike the situation Karl Schranz found himself in 50 years ago as he went to the 1969 World Cup finals having already clinched the overall World Cup. So where were those finals in March of 1969?

Karl Schranz and Gertrud Gabl World Cups at Waterville Valley

They were held at Waterville Valley in New Hampshire!

Waterville Valley opened for my junior year in college (1966-67). Actually, there had been a small ski area there before that, but Tom Corcoran who had previously managed Aspen saw its potential and developed a major ski resort. Everything was new so it became a favorite place for us college students to ski.

Tom Corcoran had been an international ski racer for the United States so right from the beginning he made sure Waterville Valley supported racing. They hosted many ski races of regional, national, and even international stature. That meant they needed gate keepers regularly and relied on college students like me to meet the need in exchange for free skiing.

So in the winter of 1968-69 I was no longer in college, but working at IBM. When I found out the World Cup finals were going to be in Waterville Valley, I had my friends who were still in college sign me up to gate tend. There was one complication since I had burned a lot of my 10 vacation days on the ski trip to Aspen and Vail. No problem, I just called in sick when the day came. Hopefully my first manager at IBM doesn’t read this column!

I helped with the men’s GS and slalom. It was great to see the big names of the day up close and personal. In fact, I got coached on how to rake the rut on my slalom gate by none other than Billy Kidd.

One of my long-time skiing buddies, Glen Findholt, was also gate tending that weekend. He had a less constructive interaction with the overall World Cup winner, Karl Schranz. In Glen’s own words:

Karl’s teammate Alfred Matt hooked a tip in one of my gates, went down hard and broke his leg badly. I called uphill for them to stop the race but Schranzi had already been started. When he reached my gate and skied out of the course he was pissed and showing no concern for his teammate who was writhing in pain, he took out his anger on me, yelling in German into my astounded face. Ski patrol and race officials arrived and got the situation under control but Karl insisted on a rerun even though he already held a commanding lead for the overall title. We were on the hill until dusk so he could take his last run of the season.”

The American women did very well at Waterville that weekend. Kiki Cutter won the slalom with Judy Nagel finishing third. Marilyn Cochran and Karen Budge tied for second in the GS. Marilyn actually won the GS discipline for that season however they didn’t give out crystal globes to the discipline winners like they do today.

As mentioned, the men’s overall World Cup went to Karl Schranz. The women’s overall was decided at the finals in Waterville Valley. Twenty year old Gertrud Gabl of Austria and daughter of long-time Stowe ski instructor Pepi Gabl had a lead for the overall with only one competitor who could possibly overtake her, Wiltrud Drexel. If Drexel could win the slalom at Waterville, she could beat out Gabl. Gabl helped Drexel out by DSQing in the Waterville slalom, but Drexel finished well down in the results giving the cup to Gabl.

By the way, the 1969 World Cup globe that was presented to Karl Schranz at Waterville is still on display at the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum. You may remember the circuitous story of how that cup ended up in a Hinesburg barn!!

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Trivia 2019 Week 16

Where were the FIS Alpine World Cup finals held for the 1968-69 season?

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