Adieu to the 2015-16 Ski Season and to Gracies!

The ski season is down to its last gasp. Of course for many the season ended a month or more ago. This winter’s weather and lack of real snowstorms had left most people ready to move on to summer activities. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been getting a lot of “you can’t still be skiing” comments from even my skiing friends!

However this past week the remaining diehards were treated to some really good spring skiing! Congratulations to the Stowe snowmaking and grooming crews for providing good conditions throughout the season and allowing us to enjoy some spring rewards.

The end of ski season provides an interesting mix of emotions. There’s the happiness of tailgate gatherings with friends and there’s some sadness knowing that it will be several months before skiing returns again.

Gracie's RestaurantThis season there’s at least one more reason for mixed emotions: Gracie’s, a Stowe landmark for almost 25 years, will be closing on April 23rd. “Archie” and Sue Archdeacon have decided to take a well-deserved retirement.

Stowe has always been fortunate that many people who initially came here for the skiing have stuck around to become great contributors to the community. So it was with Archie and Sue.

Sue came to Vermont for college, graduating from Johnson State in 1971. She fell in love with the area and decided to stay. Paul, aka “Archie”, came to Stowe for the 1972-73 ski season, working as a dishwasher at the Stowehof to support his skiing. After a winter of ski bumming, he was supposed to return to Massachusetts to pursue a teaching career. But instead Archie decided to stay in Stowe.

Archie and Sue’s paths would cross when both of them were working at the Partridge Inn during the 1973-74 ski season. They would get married in 1980.

There were no correct answers to last week’s trivia. Both Lyndall Heyer and Jean Santa Maria thought it was the Stowe Away, but according to an article published in the August 2009 issue of Business People, it was the Partridge Inn.

Archie and Sue worked in several Stowe restaurants and inns. Archie became manager of the Matterhorn in 1977. During the 1980s, Sue would be manager of Ye Olde England Inn. It would be July 1991 when they finally opened their own restaurant, Gracie’s!

There’s a lot that goes into creating a successful restaurant. It takes even more to run a successful restaurant for twenty five years. Congratulations, Archie and Sue for twenty five years of success!

Paul "Archie" and Sue ArchdeaconAs I write about Gracie’s, the theme from Cheers keeps running through my head: “Where everybody knows your name.” You felt more like a friend than a customer. And it wasn’t just the locals. Tourists making return visits would quickly become friends as well. Gracie’s loyal staff helped reinforce this friendly atmosphere.

This column is about memories. Thank you Archie, Sue, and the entire Gracie’s staff for countless memories through these 25 years!

This wraps up another RetroSki season. Thank you to all my readers. Particular thanks to those who have shared their memories and trivia answers via blog posts, e-mails, and in person. I really appreciate your input as it keeps me going.

I look forward to next season. Hopefully Mother Nature will be a little more cooperative. Have a great summer!

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Trivia 2016 Week 19

At what Stowe restaurant did Paul “Archie” Archdeacon meet his wife Sue?

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Joe Dodge – “The Mayor of Porky Gulch”

When I was growing up, my family always ate breakfast together on weekday mornings. While we were having breakfast, we listened to the local Conway radio station, WBCN, primarily for the daily weather forecast. That forecast was called into the station by Joe Dodge. Joe combined the forecast with a savings program since the sponsor was a local bank. Joe rated each day on a scale from one cent (the worst) to fifty cents (the best.) I didn’t understand why my parents put so much faith in Joe’s weather forecasts, but I was too young to appreciate who Joe Dodge was.  I do remember my parents were surprised that Joe could suppress his use of profanity on the radio broadcasts.

Joe DodgeSo who was Joe Dodge?

Here’s what Dartmouth said about Joe Dodge when it awarded him an honorary Masters of Arts in 1955:

“Onetime wireless operator at sea, longtime mountaineer, student of Mount Washington’s ways and weather, you have been more than a match for storms, slides, fools, skiers, and porcupines. You have rescued so many of us from the harshness of the mountain and the soft ways leading down to boredom that you, yourself, are now beyond rescue as a legend of all that is unafraid, friendly, rigorously good and ruggedly expressed in the out-of-doors.”

Interestingly, Joe received his honorary degree at the same commencement that Robert Frost received an honorary Doctorate. Dartmouth considered both New Hampshire institutions. One who specialized in making language colorful while the other specialized in colorful language!

In 1922 Joe came to the White Mountains to work for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) as the Pinkham Notch hutmaster. In those days the road through Pinkham Notch was not winter-maintained so this was a summer job. However in 1926 the AMC decided to keep the Pinkham Notch center open year round and Joe was their man.

Joe would be the Pinkham Notch hutmaster for thirty years. During that time he would oversee the maintenance and construction of the AMC’s eight huts throughout the White Mountains. Joe built a bigger-than-life reputation for accomplishing almost anything and on a bare-bones budget. He developed a loyal following from all the hut men and women whom he had supervised. Many of these were Ivy Leaguer’s who were taking profanity-laced orders from a guy who dropped out of high school.

Mount Washington ObservatoryJoe was one of the co-founders of the Mount Washington Observatory in 1932 using a $400 grant. The Observatory at the top of Mount Washington monitored some of the most severe weather ever recorded including a 231 mile-per-hour wind gust on April 12, 1934. Joe was the Observatory’s managing director for the first few years and then became its treasurer, a post he held until his death in 1973.

Joe was a skier although he would admit he wasn’t a very good skier. As Tuckerman Ravine became a more popular skiing destination Joe organized a volunteer ski patrol. He also used his ham radio skills to develop a timing system for ski races held on Mount Washington and Wildcat in the early years.

Joe’s biggest contributions to skiing were his two children: Ann and Brooks. Both were skiing over the headwall by the time they were ten. As a teenager, Brooks would pioneer many extreme routes in Tuckerman Ravine.  Later Brooks would ski in two Olympics for the United States.

Joe left an impression on everyone he met.  He was bigger-than-life. The Mount Washington Observatory logbook entry for October 28, 1973 reads “The Observatory, the whole North Country, will never be as it was; Joe Dodge died today.”

Joe Dodge Lodge LogoToday the AMC’s Pinkham Notch center is officially the Joe Dodge Lodge.

Joe had nicknames for everything: people, places, and things. The Pinkham Notch center was “Porky Gulch”; New Hampshire was “Cow Hampshire”; latrines were “crappertories”; and every hut man and woman got an assigned nickname. A Saturday Evening Post article about Joe in March 1949 was entitled “The Mayor of Porky Gulch”, a title he cherished.

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Trivia 2016 Week 18

Who was known as “The Mayor of Porky Gulch?”

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Kastle Skis

I started skiing in the 1950s which meant I started on wooden skis. I’ve written about Northland skis and how Northland became the largest ski maker in the world. Their hickory skis combined relatively good performance and durability for a reasonable price. But they weren’t the “racers’ choice” as far as wooden skis. In the 1950s the most sought-after ski for racing was the Kästle.

Original Kastle LogoAnton Kästle was an Austrian woodworker who started making skis in 1924. During World War II Kästle provided skis for the German army, building up a production capability. After the war, Anton Kästle became intrigued with the emerging sport of alpine ski-racing. His goal was to make the best racing skis in the world.

Kästle’s success in achieving that goal was due to a fortuitous combination of the materials he had to work with and evolving ski techniques. By the 1950s, the wedeln technique caught on with racers allowing them to make quicker and more controlled turns. Slalom courses became tighter and more challenging; Giant Slalom was added as an event at the 1950 World Championships. The technique and courses demanded a softer, responsive ski to give the performance racers were seeking.

At that time most wooden skis were made of hickory, but in post-war Europe the only hickory available had to be imported from the United States, an expensive proposition. To reduce the cost, Kästle used an ash core which produced a lighter, softer ski – just what the racers wanted! The skis were more fragile than their hickory competition, but racing success overcame any durability concerns.

1950s Kastle LogoKästle skis helped fuel the success of the Austrian ski team during the 1950s. Othmar Schneider, Anderl Molterer, and Toni Sailer all skied on Kästles. Sailer won his three gold medals at the 1956 Olympics on Kästles. But even more impressive was Sailer’s string of 25 consecutive GS wins, all on Kästles!

Austrians weren’t the only ones to benefit from the Kästles’ performance. Andrea Mead Lawrence won her gold medals at the 1952 Olympics on her Kästles. By 1956 the entire American ski team was on Kästles including names like Buddy Werner, Tom Corcoran, and Brooks Dodge.

Billy Kidd skied on Kästles and in fact, won his 1964 Olympic slalom silver medal using wooden Kästles! Historically this figures as the last major ski race won on a pair of wooden skis. Those skis now reside in the Colorado Ski Museum located at Vail.

Unlike Northland, Kästle would successfully make the transition from wooden skis to the modern combinations of wood, metal, and fiberglass. In 1966 Kästle introduced the first of its CPM (Compound-Plastic-Metal) series.

Pirmin ZurbriggenIn 1968 Anton Kästle retired and sold the company to Josef Fischer of Fischer skis. Kästle skis became a subsidiary of Fischer. From the 1970s through the 1980s, Kästle continued to have racing success featuring World Cup winners Andreas Wenzel and Pirmin Zurbriggen. During that same time period Kästle’s recreational CPM line became very popular and still often shows up in people’s “favorite ski” lists.

Kästle did produce a couple of short-lived ski models. One of those was the “Klack”, a metal ski with magnets embedded in each ski. The idea was that you wouldn’t need straps to keep your skis together when you were carrying or transporting them. Just get the bottoms close together and “Klack”, the magnets would hold them tight. I’m not sure how well that worked, but they weren’t around long!

Kastle AsymetricThen there was the “Asymetric”. Yes, I know that’s not how you spell asymmetric, but maybe it is in Austrian. Each ski had one slalom-cut edge and one GS-cut edge. Put the slalom edges on the inside and you had a slalom ski; swap feet and you had a GS ski. I did get a chance to demo a pair of these and I couldn’t really tell the difference. But that was in 1976 and I wasn’t quite as good a technical skier as I am now. However I don’t believe the model was continued the next season so maybe my opinion was correct.

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Trivia 2016 Week 17

What ski brand marketed a model called the Asymetric – each ski had one edge with a slalom side cut and the other with a GS side cut?

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Mad River Glen

Mad River Glen SignA couple of weeks back Mad River Glen announced that it was closing for the season after only 45 days of operation. The sign at the entrance to the ski area said it all in one word: “Uncle!” Yes, it’s been that kind of season. Many skiers and ski areas are looking ahead to next season, or even just summer, to put this season behind them.

The reaction on social media to Mad River’s announcement was almost 100% positive from its loyal fans! Even people who never got to use their passes this season said they consider it a worthwhile “donation” to the area they love. All of this is a fulfillment of the vision that Mad River Glen’s founder, Roland Palmedo, had for the area.

…a ski area is not just a place of business, a mountain amusement park, as it were. Instead it is a winter community whose members, both skiers and area personnel, are dedicated to the enjoyment of the sport.”

Ed Pearson correctly identified Roland Palmedo as the source of Mad River’s vision statement.

Roland PalmedoI have written about Roland Palmedo in previous columns and how he helped establish Stowe as a skiing destination. This included his formation of the Mount Mansfield Lift Company that built the original single chair. Palmedo also gets credit for suggesting to the Mount Mansfield Ski Club that a fun ski race to end the season would be a good idea. The first Sugar Slalom was held in 1939 and that tradition will continue this weekend with competitors of all ages!

Even though Palmedo was a driving force behind the development of Stowe as a ski resort, he wasn’t happy with the direction Stowe was heading. Palmedo was a serious skier who had “earned his turns” before there were lifts. Suddenly Stowe was attracting less serious skiers who wanted more lifts, easier trails, and more nightlife. Palmedo wrote “I can’t see that ski resorts need belly dancers, discotheques, and other side-show attractions.” Hmmm? Belly dancers in Stowe?

World War II intervened and Palmedo, who was a pilot, would serve on the USS Yorktown. But even before he returned from the war, Palmedo had some of his Stowe crew, namely J. Negley Cooke and Charlie Lord, looking for a site for a new ski area.

Mad River Glen Trail Map from 1948They would settle on General Stark Mountain in Fayston. While it was a relatively small mountain, it had a northern exposure, good terrain, the CCC had built a road that would allow access, and most importantly: it was all on private land! Palmedo and Cooke formed the Mad River Corporation and acquired all the land for the ski area as well as adjacent to the area. That way Palmedo could totally control the development. The adjacent house lots were only sold to people who shared Palemedo’s vision of a skiing community.

Charlie Lord helped design the first trails and would become the first area manager. A state-of-the-art single chair was installed which was the fastest in the world at that time. It was scheduled to be completed for the winter of 1947-48, but early snows delayed completion until the following year. The official dedication was on December 11, 1948, although that was a low snow year so no skiing was available until January – sounds familiar, eh?

The area became a success and through the 1950s and 60s, Palmedo oversaw growth in terms of the number of lifts and trails. But the area maintained its personality as a skiers’ mountain with challenging trails and even more challenging tree-skiing not reflected on any trail map.

In 1972 Palmedo sold Mad River to an investment group headed by one of his protégés, Truxton Pratt, a longtime Mad River skier. Pratt would die from cancer in 1975 and control of Mad River would pass to his widow, Betsy. Betsy Pratt would become the sole owner in 1983 and passionately adhere to Palmedo’s vision. In 1995 she would oversee the transfer of ownership to the Mad River Glen Cooperative making it the first cooperatively owned ski area in the United States. Part of the Cooperative’s mission is to “maintain the unique character of the area for present and future generations.”

To Roland Palmedo skiing was more than a recreational sport, it was a spiritual endeavor. Skiing was an opportunity to respect nature – the weather and the mountain, not change it. Mad River Glen remains a memorial to his vision of skiing.

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Trivia 2016 Week 16

What ski area founder stated his vision as ” …a ski area is not just a place of business, a mountain amusement park, as it were. Instead it is a winter community whose members, both skiers and area personnel, are dedicated to the enjoyment of the sport.”?

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Warren Witherell

It was in March 1975 that I arrived in Vail for a week of skiing with friends who were “ski bumming” there for the winter. On the first day, one of those friends, Herb, and I rode up the Lions Head gondola out of West Vail. Herb was a ski racer who liked going fast and didn’t like stopping. At the top we stepped into our skis and Herb was off. But he only got about fifty feet before slamming the skis to a halt. He kicked off both skis and muttered “Damn cants!” He quickly put the skis on the opposite feet and then accelerated down the trail arcing big GS turns.

“Canting” is the adjustment to assure that your skis will be flat on the snow when you’re in a neutral stance. That means it will require less effort to get your skis on edge to carve turns. Herb had the kind of cants that were wedges installed between the binding and the ski which made it important to put the skis on the correct feet.

Canting wedges under bindingThe use of cants really caught on in the 1970s and in my opinion that traces back to an article that appeared in the January 1971 issue of SKIING magazine. “If You Can’t Ski Parallel…Cant!” was written by Warren Witherell who was listed as the Director of the Alpine Training Center at Burke Mountain. Witherell made a strong case that any skier trying to make the breakthrough to be an expert should get their stance checked to see if cants were needed. His study had shown that some skiers would never achieve parallel turns without some degree of canting. At the Burke training center they tested every racer and 80% of them required canting.

Mike Leach of the Mount Mansfield Ski Club correctly identified Warren Witherell as the author of the article. Mike also commented on last week’s column that Tom Corcoran who founded Waterville Valley was a member of the Mount Mansfield Ski Club when he raced in the 1960 Olympics. Mike is not sure whether Corcoran actually got coaching through the club or just received financial support through the club. Mike says that Sepp Ruschp and C.V. Starr helped fund some of the United States skiers for those Olympics.

Ed Gill had a unique way of submitting his answer. Ed sent in pictures of his copy of Warren Witherell’s book, “How the Racers Ski”, opened to the chapter on canting!

Witherell was a remarkable athlete who won a world water skiing championship at age 18. At Wesleyan University he played soccer, captained the hockey team, and was an All-American swimmer. After graduation Witherell became an educator who taught English and history.

Witherell actually didn’t start alpine skiing until he was 20, but caught on quickly: “My first instinct was to get the ski to work for me rather than pushing it.” Witherell would become a teacher and successful ski coach at the Northwood School in Lake Placid.

Warren WitherellEventually Witherell ended up at the Alpine Training Center at Burke which was primarily a weekend race coaching program. However a young Massachusetts fourteen year-old, Martha Coughlin, asked Witherell to be her full-time tutor and coach if she could arrange it with her school. In January 1970 Coughlin arrived at Burke with her bags, her books, and her skis. It was Coughlin who put up a hand-lettered sign on Witherell’s door that said: “Burke Mountain Academy – for hungry ski racers and self-motivated students. Warren Witherell, headmaster and janitor.”  Martha Coughlin is still recognized as the co-founder of Burke Mountain Academy.

Burke Mountain Academy was the first skiing-specific academy in the United States. In 1972 Witherell would help bring attention to the Academy with his book “How the Racers Ski” which emphasized carved turns and the importance of canting. But his students would eventually bring more attention to the school with their racing successes, successes that continue to the present day! Burke has helped over 135 competitors make their national teams. There have been 33 Olympians total and 5 at the most recent 2014 Olympics including gold-medalist Mikaela Shiffrin!

Warren Witherell would leave Burke in 1984, but would continue to add accomplishments: he coached the Rollins College (Florida) water skiing team to a national championship, he wrote another influential book on skiing – “The Athletic Skier”, and he helped lead the Crested Butte ski academy out of financial difficulties.

In recognition of his contributions, Witherell was named to the United States Water Skiing Hall of Fame, the United States Skiing Hall of Fame, and is a member of the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum Hall of Fame.

Warren Witherell passed away in May of 2014 at the age of 79.

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Trivia 2016 Week 15

Who wrote an article entitled “If You Can’t Ski Parallel….Cant!”?

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