Trivia 2017 Week 9

In the early 1970s some of the establishments in Stowe competed for apres-ski skiers by offering free hors d’oeuvres. So this week’s trivia question is:

What did the Shed offer as a free apres-ski appetizer in the early 1970s?

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The Red Onion

If you used to spend your winter vacations at ski areas rather than tropical destinations, you may be a RetroSkier! And I don’t mean just long weekends. I mean if you only got two weeks of vacation a year and you’d use at least one week of it for a “ski trip!”

Little Red Ski Haus in AspenMy first ski trip was to Aspen in February 1969. There were four of us on the trip: myself, fellow IBMer Clint Demeritt, fraternity brother Mike Weisel, and Mike’s girlfriend Pat Wigg (who is now his wife). We stayed at the Little Red Ski Hostel which in those days was a dorm style inn with separate bunk rooms for men and women. Actually I think the women’s accommodations were in smaller rooms with only 3-4 to a room, but the men’s was an actual bunk room.

To show how Aspen has changed since those days, today it is a luxury ski house called the Little Red Ski Haus that went on the market this year for $11.8 million dollars.

In the men’s dorm we met Fritz, a Dartmouth grad who was working in Des Moines, Iowa, as a grain futures trader. Fritz knew his way around Aspen both on the hill and in the town so he was a big help to us newbies.

As it turned out, in the women’s rooms there were five stewardesses. And in those days they were stewardesses and not flight attendants, if you know what I mean (wink, wink.) Anyway, one night Fritz returned from dinner and said he was going to the Red Onion with the stewardesses. Since he was outnumbered, Fritz asked if any of us wanted to join him. I volunteered.

Red Onion The Red Onion can trace its beginning back to 1892, long before anybody was skiing at Aspen. That was during the silver boom and Aspen was a mining town. The bar was initially called “New Brick Saloon” since it was new and yes, made of brick. However locals nicknamed it the Red Onion.

Fast forward to 1947 when the silver mines were gone, but Aspen had started to be a skiing destination. A 10th Mountain Division veteran, Johnny Litchfield, bought and remodeled the bar. He also changed the name to be officially the Red Onion.

Red Onion in 1962

As its popularity grew, the bar would expand to become a restaurant and nightclub. In the 1950s and 60s it attracted name performers such as Billy Holiday and Louis Armstrong. The apres-ski atmosphere at the Onion set the standard for Aspen right into the 1980s. Financial difficulties would affect the overall business although the bar area remained a popular place. Finally in 2007 the Red Onion closed and a gasp could be heard from RetroSkiers everywhere. But in 2010 the Red Onion was resurrected under new ownership and is again the popular apres-ski and nightspot that it once was.

Gil LeBlanc was the first to identify Aspen as the home of the legendary Red Onion. He says he went there several times during the 1970s and 80s.

Bud Kassel also identified the Red Onion as a downtown Aspen landmark. Bud says, “When I first visited, in perhaps 1960, it was the favorite apres-ski water hole for real skiers, as opposed to the Hotel Jerome for the martini drinking types.”

I also heard from Peter Lawlor who first visited the Red Onion in 1967 when he “was only middle-aged.” By the way, Peter began skiing at Stowe in 1943! He’s currently rehabbing from a medical procedure so we wish him a speedy recovery so he can return to the slopes.

Meanwhile back to the stewardesses. You didn’t think I was just going to leave you hanging, did you?

When Fritz and I and the stewardesses arrived at the Red Onion we somehow got great seats in the “Beer Gulch” area near the front window, probably thanks to our stewardess companions, and began drinking Coors drafts. I mention Coors because at that time it wasn’t available in the east. That made Coors an exotic treat whenever easterners traveled to Colorado. And that night the Coors was going down easy, too easy! Sometime during the evening I remembered that alcohol affects you more at altitude, but I wasn’t feeling any effects.

With the beer and the good company I lost track of time so I’m not sure when we decided to leave the Red Onion, but it was late! Stepping outside into the cold, crisp Colorado air seemed to trigger the alcohol’s effect. It hit all of us – me, the stewardesses, and particularly Fritz. He fell down on the sidewalk and couldn’t get up. One of the stewardesses and I were trying to remember how to do some kind of a carry, but it was way beyond our coordination at that point. Somehow we were able to get Fritz on his feet and took turns supporting him on the walk back to the Little Red Ski Hostel. Once back at the hostel I wrestled Fritz into his bunk, thankfully it was a bottom bunk!

Fritz immediately fell asleep, but I had to share my drinking prowess with Mike and Clint who were soundly sleeping. I shook them awake saying something like “guess how many beers I had!” They weren’t that interested, but one of them asked “How many?” I didn’t know! They didn’t find that amusing.

As soon as I got into my top bunk, the room started to spin and I ended up in the john throwing up. This happened a couple of times before the room stopped spinning and I was finally able to get to sleep.

The next morning Mike and Clint got even by shaking me awake for breakfast. They had this funny smirk on their faces. I told them I’d better skip breakfast, but I’d be ready to go skiing when they got back. And I was!

It probably wasn’t my best day of skiing, but I survived and I felt better as the day progressed. Fritz never made it out to ski that day. I learned later that the stewardesses finally made an appearance around lunch time, but only two of them ever made it to the ski slopes.

So to summarize what I learned from my first visit to the Red Onion.

  1. I learned that Coors beer was very easy to drink.
  2. I learned that drinking alcohol at an elevation of 8000 feet affects you more than at sea level.
  3. I learned it’s difficult to carry a six foot, 200 pound man with only stewardesses to help.
  4. I learned that stewardesses like partying more than skiing.
  5. I learned that I could not ski hard AND party hard.
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Trivia 2017 Week 8

Where is the legendary Red Onion located?

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Mount Whittier

“If you can ski [ski area name], then you can ski anywhere!” I’m sure most of us have heard someone make that claim. Maybe you’ve even made that claim about a ski area. I know I have! In my case the ski area was Mount Whittier in New Hampshire.

Mt Whittier Trail Map 1967-68

Trail Map from NewEnglandSkiHistory.com

Mount Whittier was a relatively small area located on the main route to the larger, more recognizable ski areas in the Eastern Slopes region of New Hampshire. It was actually a good location since everyone driving to Cranmore, Wildcat, or Attitash had to drive right by it.

When I first skied Mount Whittier in the early 1960s, it had a collection of T-Bars. The main T-Bar was 2100 feet long and served a steep open slope. The slope was steep enough that I learned a new word that I’d never heard before: “mogul!” And my first exposure to Mount Whittier was not love at first sight.

I remember getting off the top of that long T-Bar for the first time. I started a traverse across the moguls and began a conversation with myself:

“I’m going to turn on this first bump.”

“No, no, the next bump looks better.”

“Whoa, that one’s even worse! I think my best chance is a couple bumps ahead.”

Eventually I got to the opposite side of the slope never having made a turn. I did a kick-turn – does anybody remember how to do a kick-turn today? – and then traversed the slope again repeating the same conversation with myself!

Many traverses and conversations later I got to the bottom and retreated to the shorter T-Bar that served the intermediate slope.

I did not learn to appreciate Mount Whittier until I was in college. By then I had made my breakthrough into parallel skiing and Mount Whittier offered a couple of advantages: a $25 college season pass and it was one of the closest areas to UNH!

Mt Whittier Base LodgeOh, the moguls were still a challenge, but I was ready for the challenge. Mount Whittier had added a gondola that opened more steep terrain which meant more moguls. I skied Whittier for the 1966-67 and 1967-68 seasons, probably averaging 50 days a season. I graduated in 1968 with a degree in mathematics from UNH and a degree in moguls from Mount Whittier!

I mentioned the gondola which was New Hampshire’s first four passenger gondola. Whittier chose a gondola to attract summer visitors as well as skiers in the winter. They located the gondola base across Route 16 over a quarter mile away from the base of the ski area. There was a separate skier loading platform at the bottom of the slope.

Mt Whittier Gondola Skier Loading StationI don’t know how much summer business the gondola generated, but it wasn’t a good choice for a ski lift on such a small mountain. If you noted who was at the back of the line when you got on the gondola, you’d see they were still in line when you finished your run! That meant that on a busy day the gondola line just kept growing. We usually would switch to the T-Bars when the line got long and only return if the line got shorter.

Mount Whittier ran into problems in the 1970s when real snowfall became less reliable. Its relatively southern location and low elevation made Whittier more susceptible than areas further north. Plus its financial situation wasn’t strong enough to invest in snowmaking. After years of on-again-off-again operation and changes in ownership, the area closed for good in 1985.

I just drove by Mount Whittier this past Sunday. The trails and slopes are grown over and only those of us who skied there can really pick out where they were. The gondola line is still very visible since they keep it cleared for the electric lines to the cell towers atop the mountain. And the gondola towers and cable are still going over Route 16 even though the gondola hasn’t run in 30 years.

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Trivia 2017 Week 7

Gondola Towers on Rte 16 West Ossipee, NHIf you drive up Route 16 in New Hampshire, in West Ossipee you will still see lift towers and a cable going over the road.  That used to be the gondola for what now-defunct New Hampshire ski area?

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Stowe’s First T-Bar

When did the original Mount Mansfield T-Bar begin operation?

Mt Mansfield T-Bar

Photo courtesy of Greg Dirmaier

Mike Leach provided the correct answer as the T-Bar went into operation for the 1946-47 season. So this season is the 70th anniversary for that lift. Actually there is more significance to that anniversary than just celebrating a now-defunct lift.

By the mid-1940s Stowe had a single chair owned by Roland Palmedo’s Mount Mansfield Lift Company plus a collection of rope tows owned by Sepp Ruschp’s Mount Mansfield Hotel Company. Sepp had a strategy to replace the rope tows that were on Mount Mansfield above the Toll House, but needed financial backing to afford a more modern lift – a T-Bar.

C. V. StarrEnter Corneilius Vander Starr, founder of American International Group (AIG). Starr had been introduced to skiing in New Hampshire via Hannes Schneider and had also visited Sun Valley to take ski lessons there. Starr came to Stowe to take private lessons from Sepp and was appalled to find out that as instructor and student, they could not cut the lift line on the single chair. That was because the chair lift was owned by a separate corporation from Sepp’s Ski School.

Starr expressed an interest in investing in Sepp’s plans for a new lift. First, to extend the T-Bar beyond the existing rope tows meant obtaining 400 acres of land owned by Craig Burt. Burt also owned 3000 acres on the Spruce side and he was only willing to sell “everything or nothing.” Starr purchased the land while reserving the timber rights for the Burts’ lumber business.

A new corporation was formed for the T-Bar with Starr as the majority investor. The T-Bar was built and opened for the 1946-47 season.

Jackie Kennedy Riding Mt Mansfield T-Bar 1964

Photo courtesy Greg Dirmaier

This would be the beginning of Starr’s and AIG’s involvement with the Stowe ski area. By the 1950s Starr was able to obtain majority ownerships of the various corporations: the Mount Mansfield Lift Company, the Mount Mansfield Hotel Company, Sepp’s Ski School, the Lodge, and the T-Bar. These were consolidated into the Mount Mansfield Company with Sepp as General Manager.

Of course today the Mount Mansfield Company is one of the many corporations that comprise Stowe Mountain Resort. These still operate under the ownership of AIG.

In effect this season we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of Stowe and its relationship with AIG! So the next time you ski Starr or T-Line, remember they mark a relationship that has benefited Stowe and skiing on Mount Mansfield for the past 70 years.

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Trivia 2017 Week 6

When did the original Mount Mansfield T-Bar begin operation?

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Northeast Slopes

“Keeping Skiing Real Since 1936” That’s the slogan on the ski area’s website. No, it’s not Stowe, but another Vermont ski area celebrating 80 years of continuous lift-served skiing this season. Northeast Slopes in East Corinth, Vermont, installed not just one, but two rope tows for the 1936-37 season.

By keeping it “real”, Northeast Slopes means that those two rope tows are still there! I’m sure they’ve gone through various upgrades over the years, but they still provide a substantial portion of the area’s uphill capacity. Northeast did “modernize” in 2009 with the addition of a T-Bar.

Sue and Greg Dirmaier were quick to identify Northeast Slopes as the longest continuously operating area with rope tows in the United States.

Skiff Farm Rope Toow in Jeffersonville

Photo courtesy of Greg Dirmaier

Greg also provided a great picture of that first Mansfield rope tow when it was operating on the Glenn Skiff farm in Jeffersonville. The picture clearly shows someone riding it, so despite Wesley Pope’s claim of not making a nickel in the 1935-36 season, the rope tow did operate in the Jeffersonville location.

I also received an interesting piece of trivia on top of my trivia from Parker Riehle, President of Ski Vermont. The structure now housing the base of the beginner rope tow at Northeast Slopes was originally built as the covered bridge for the movie Beetlejuice!

Rope Tow Building recycled from Beetlejuice!!You may remember that much of the 1988 movie was shot in the East Corinth area. The movie crew constructed a building to turn a very conventional bridge into a covered bridge. (The bridge plays an integral part in the plot as the young couple swerve to avoid a dog, destroying the bridge and turning them into ghosts!) Apparently after filming, the building was recycled into the lift shack for the rope tow at Northeast Slopes.

Northeast Slopes originated with the Bradford Winter Sports Club which had decided to build a rope tow in 1936. They had targeted a location close to Bradford, but club president George Eaton was driving up Route 25 to Montpelier when he noticed a field in East Corinth that had a lot more snow than the planned location. The field was part of the Eastman Farm and the club was able to strike a deal with the Eastmans for the location of the rope tow.

The Bradford Winter Sports Club actually built two rope tows for that first season: a 1300 foot long main tow plus a shorter beginner tow. The area opened in December 1936. It initially was known as Wes Blake’s Ski Tow since he was the person hired to operate the area.

Starting with the 1961-62 season, operation of the area would change to a corporation, Northeast Ski Slopes Inc., with the corresponding change in the area’s name.

Northeast Slopes LogoIn the 1980s Northeast Slopes, Inc, was formed as a non-profit organization. They purchased the Eastman Farm land and the ski area. They took over operation of Northeast Slopes for the 1986-87 season and have run it ever since as a volunteer-based operation. Today the area is funded from skiing revenues, donations, and some tax dollars from surrounding towns.

In 2004 Northeast Slopes began fundraising to fulfill a dream that had begun in 1972 – to add a T-Bar to the slope. On December 26, 2009, the John A. Pierson, Jr., T-Bar began operation. Pierson had volunteered at Northeast Slopes for 50 years and he had been a driving force behind the T-Bar. Sadly, he did not live to see its completion.

John Pierson Jr. T-Bar DedicationBy the way, that T-Bar had Vermont roots. Northeast Slopes obtained it from Ski Bradford in Massachusetts, but Ski Bradford had originally obtained it from Stratton Mountain!

Northeast Slopes opened this past Monday for its 80th season of skiing and riding. It holds true to its slogan of “keeping skiing real” with a $15 day ticket. A family season pass is $315. They offer ski lessons for all levels and the website says “Please check in with the kitchen staff to sign up!” Oh, and they remind potential visitors that if you plan to ride the rope tows, leather work-gloves are recommended. They have leather gloves available for $8 a pair in case you forget yours or you wear out that $80 pair of modern ski gloves!

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Trivia 2017 Week 5

Other than Stowe, what Vermont ski area is celebrating its 80th anniversary of lift-served skiing this season and claims the oldest continuously operating rope tow in the United States?

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Mt Mansfield’s First Ski Lift

The first ski lift in the United States was a rope tow in Woodstock, Vermont. That rope tow began operation in January 1934. Over the following few years, rope tows would spring up on hills throughout Vermont.

For the 1935-36 season, Wesley Pope of Jeffersonville decided to get in on the action. He built a rope tow on the Glenn Skiff farm which was located between Cambridge and Jeffersonville, just off what is now Route 15.

The hill Pope chose was low elevation and south-facing and the winter of 1935-36 did not cooperate with much snow. In the end it’s not clear that the rope tow ever operated that season. In the book “Mansfield: The Story of Vermont’s Loftiest Mountain”, Pope is quoted as saying:

“It was a slope where there wasn’t any snow and I didn’t take in a nickel! The following spring I rolled up the rope up on a big reel and stored everything away.”

The rope tow would not stay stored for too long. Craig Burt came over from Stowe and offered to buy the tow and associated equipment. They settled on a price of $900.

Rope Tow at Toll House Slope

Photo courtesy of Greg Dirmaier

Pope with help from Craig Burt installed the 1000-foot tow on the Toll House slopes during the autumn of 1936. Pope recalls that they finished the installation in December just before Sepp Ruschp’s arrival in Stowe.

Mike Leach had the correct answer that Stowe’s first rope tow actually came over the mountain from Jeffersonville. Mike, who is the historian for the Mount Mansfield Ski Club, referenced Pat Haslam’s “Ski Pioneers of Stowe, Vermont” which provided the details on that first lift on Mount Mansfield.

The tow was powered by a 1927 Cadillac engine as John Thurgood indicated last week.

Craig Burt had been instrumental in getting Stowe on the map for skiing prior to lifts. For the 1935-36 season, the Toll House opened for the first time in winter with a guest house, snack bar, and sports shop. For the following season, Burt and the Mount Mansfield Ski Club arranged for Sepp Ruschp to come to Stowe from Austria and teach skiing. Burt obviously saw that adding a lift would make the economic opportunities even greater, so he arranged with Wesley Pope to build that first tow.

Rope Tow at Toll House Slopes

Photo courtesy of Greg Dirmaier

Snow was still a problem during that winter of 1936-37 since the tow did not actually begin operation until February 7, 1937. That date marks the beginning of lift-served skiing on Mount Mansfield.

One ride on the rope tow would cost you ten cents. A full day ticket was a dollar and a season’s pass was five dollars! To put that in perspective, a quick math exercise says the season pass would be equivalent to about $150 today. OK, so you get more lifts, longer lifts, and faster lifts for your pass today.

Next time you’re riding up the Quad or Gondola, remember it all began 80 years ago with a basic rope tow. By the way, Stowe Mountain Resort Vice President of Marketing, Mike Colburn, actually has a length of rope from that first tow in his office.

If all this talk of rope tows has some of you RetroSkiers nostalgic for the “rope tow experience”, there are definitely still some areas with rope tows. Granted, most of them are small areas, but the rope tow is still a part of lift-served skiing.

At Ascutney you can even ride the tow for free! As you may remember, the full-blown Ascutney ski area closed in 2010. When the resort land went on the market, the town of West Windsor voted in 2014 to purchase the land and add it to their town forest. A non-profit, Mount Ascutney Outdoors, formed to promote and protect the recreational opportunities of the Mount Ascutney land.

Ascutney Rope TowLast season Ascutney Outdoors constructed an 800-foot rope tow and lift-served skiing returned to Mount Ascutney! The rope tow reopened a week ago and again this season, tickets are free! They do require tickets for liability reasons, but there is no charge. By the way, backcountry skiing on the rest of the former ski area is also encouraged.

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