Mount Snow

Tom Watson Jr.'s House on Little Spruce

Tom Watson Jr.'s House

I’ve always said that my motto is “don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story!” However I would like to go back and set some facts straight about which Watson owned which house on Spruce. It turns out that the house that I always thought was Tom Watson Jr.’s was his brother’s, Arthur “Dick” Watson! That’s the house located between Easy Street and Big Spruce Road with the sculpted white chimney. Tom Watson Jr.’s house was the one on the other side of Little Spruce located near the Home & Garden Dream House.

Arthur Watson House on Spruce Peak

Arthur Watson's House

Thanks to Peter Van Raalte for setting the record straight. Peter moved to Stowe in 1975 and “took pride in knowing every house on Spruce and who it belonged to.” He went on to add “Their sister [Jeannette Watson] Irwin owned the last house on Big Spruce Road above the club. It’s still owned by her son John. Kids of all three Watsons still use those 3 homes.”

I also need to apologize to Tish Vredenburgh who correctly answered the trivia question that it was Arthur Watson who owned the house I described. Tish and her family now live in Connecticut, but she grew up skiing at Madonna. The family now skis at Stowe and gets the Reporter by mail.

So on to this week’s column: Last Friday you could buy an all-day lift ticket at Mount Snow for $12 as the area marked its 60th year! The area first opened on December 12, 1954, with two rope tows, two chair lifts, and seven trails.

Walt SchoenknechtMount Snow was the dream of Walter Schoenknecht who I’ll refer to as Walt since it’s much easier to type. You may remember his name from earlier RetroSki columns as he founded Mohawk Mountain, Connecticut and oversaw the installation of the first commercial snowmaking system in 1951. Walt dreamed of creating a larger ski area north of the snow line (so that he wouldn’t need snowmaking), but still as close as possible to the major population centers. He found what he was looking for with Mount Pisgah in southern Vermont. Farmer Reuben Snow who owned the land at the base of Mount Pisgah died in 1953 and Walt purchased the Snow farm. Walt would rename Mount Pisgah to Mount Snow both in honor of Reuben Snow and because it is a much more marketable name.

Right from the start at Mount Snow Walt proved himself an innovator and inventor. The first chairlifts were chain-driven mono-rails run by conveyor belts on the towers. They had a capacity of 1200 skiers per hour while most other chairs of that era only achieved a maximum of 600 skiers per hour. He cut the trails wider than other areas and made them concave so they would hold snow better. Both of these innovations would be adopted by other areas. Later Walt would add other lift “firsts” to Mount Snow:  Plexiglas bubbles on chairs to protect you from the elements (not good on windy days), and a two person gondola where you could leave your skis on (a good idea)!

Mount Snow Air CarWalt became “the Walt Disney of Vermont” with some of his other innovations. Walt realized that it was the entire experience that would bring guests back and not just the skiing. He built a skating rink inside the base lodge and the first outdoor swimming pool at an eastern ski area. In 1962 Walt built a hotel, the Snow Lake Lodge, with, of course, a man-made lake. So how do you get guests over the lake to the lifts? With the strangest UFO-looking gondola anyone had seen! The gondolas were called “Air Cars” and I think that they inspired the Jetson’s vehicles or vice versa.

Mount Snow Fountain MountainIn 1965 Walt visited Lake Geneva in Switzerland and saw a large fountain. He came back and added a fountain to Snow Lake – a fountain that sent water 350 feet in the air! The fountain ran year round so in the winter the ice would build up and form a mountain – a Fountain Mountain!

Bob Parrish and John Rose both named Mount Snow as the home of the Fountain Mountain. John says “they would open it up for fun climbing, skiing, horsing around later in the winter!” And indeed they even held ski races on it in the spring. Some years the ice “mountain” lasted until June.

John also talked about the demise of the fountain:

“That fountain also became famous for one day spewing up sewage. That was the year that the Deer River “ran red” and that resulted in Vermont shutting down that fountain and also introducing some of the strictest restrictions for building above certain elevations.”

So not all of Walt’s ideas worked out. That includes his idea about using an atomic bomb to create a crater at the base of Mount Snow to increase its vertical. It’s still not clear whether Walt was serious about that one or not!

Starting in 1970, financial problems from the rapid development would force Walt into a series of mergers. By 1973-74 Walt would return to his Mohawk Mountain ski area and no longer be a part of his dream resort. Walt Schoenknecht died in 1987, but not before he left his mark on skiing and particularly Vermont skiing!

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2 Responses to Mount Snow

  1. Mrs. Walter E. Schoenknecht says:

    Walter E. Schoenknecht was my husband for 64 years until his death in 2015 and we lived in New Jersey until retirement in 1986 when we moved to Florida…my “Walter” never liked the cold or snow,and once he found out about the sunny life in Florida,planned on moving there when retired….we knew about Mount Snow due to the similarity in name,and was asked a few times if HE were the owner of Mt.Snow….but we never went to see it….it sounded as if the owner of Mt. Snow realized and lived his dream for his life,and so did my Walter, who loved,lived and died in HIS dream..a sunny, warm friendly place in Florida.

    • Skeeter Lansing says:

      I lived in Wilmington, started skiing at Mt. Snow in 1953 ish. My mother worked at the mountain which provided me with access to free lift tickets.

      I also worked as a lifeguard, in the summer, which is where I met your husband and sister in law Carol.

      You don’t happen to have a son, also named Walt, who wrote/writes articles for a broadcast magazine?

      I just came across this article on the internet and thought I would reply.

      Skeeter Lansing

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