Trivia 2015 Week 10

Who broke his back on the Wildcat trail in New Hampshire and then started the Eastern Slope Ski School to help others avoid such accidents? That ski school would later become the Hannes Schneider Ski School.

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Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole

Organized skiing in the United States began in the 1930s. Here in Stowe that was driven by Roland Palmedo and the Amateur Ski Club of New York. As I wrote last week, falling in those days was an integral part of skiing and inevitably some falls resulted in injury. As the number of skiers increased, Palmedo became very concerned about insuring their safety.

Mt Mansfield Ski PatrolWhile skiing at Parsenne Switzerland, Palmedo was impressed with the Swiss Army Ski Rescue Unit that looked out for skier’s safety. So when the Mount Mansfield Ski Club was incorporated on January 16, 1934, Palmedo made sure it included a committee responsible for the safety of its members. This was the start of the Mount Mansfield Ski Patrol, the oldest, still-operating ski patrol in the United States.

Charles Minot DoleCharles Minot Dole whose friends called him “Minnie” was a New York insurance broker and member of the Amateur Ski Club of New York. On New Year’s 1936 Dole, his friend Franklin Edson and their wives came to Stowe to ski. January 2nd was a drizzly day, but the two couples started up Toll Road anyway. As soon as they started down, Dole fell and broke his ankle. While there was a Mount Mansfield Ski Patrol, it did not include organized patrol activities to spot accidents. There were usually some volunteers around who, if notified, would help an injured party. The two wives set off to find some help.

It was literally hours before the women returned with a couple of volunteers and a piece of corrugated tin roofing to be used as a toboggan. The roofing was not long enough to support all of Dole’s body so they used it to support the broken leg while Minnie dragged his butt in the snow. It was after dark before they got down to where he could be transported to the hospital.

Minnie Dole would be laid up for 15 weeks recovering from the break. During that time his friend Franklin Edson would enter the Quadrangle Downhill Race held on the Ghost and Shadow trails near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Edson would go off the course and hit a tree suffering a broken arm, fractured ribs, and a punctured lung. Well-meaning volunteers helped him off the mountain and to the hospital, but Edson would die the following day from his injuries. He was 28 years old.

These two incidents would drive Minnie Dole’s interest in improving safety for skiers both in terms of better response time to an injured skier and also better quality care for the injured.

1938 National Ski Championship PosterIn March of 1938 Stowe was hosting the National Downhill and Slalom races. The Mount Mansfield Ski Club asked Minnie Dole to coordinate the safety efforts for the races along with the Mount Mansfield Ski Patrol. They developed a system of stations with toboggans and scheduled volunteers. President of the National Ski Association Roger Langley was so impressed with the system that he asked Dole to become chairman of a National Ski Patrol Committee. Dole said “sure” and according to Dole they sealed the deal with drink of Vat 69!

The National Ski Patrol started in 1938 with Roger Langley as Patrolman #1, Palmedo as #2, and Dole as #3. Despite being #3 Dole would become the head of the National Ski Patrol, a post he would hold until 1950. Today there are approximately 28,000 members of the National Ski Patrol serving over 650 patrols.

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Trivia 2015 Week 9

National Ski Patrol ShieldWhose broken leg on the slopes of Mt. Mansfield led to the founding of the National Ski Patrol?

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The Disappearing Sitzmark!

“Know the Code!” Around most ski areas today you’ll see signs that define a Code of Conduct for skiers and riders. But even before there was lift-served skiing there was a Code of Conduct for skiers. Some of the elements of the original code are still present in today’s code such as “the person ahead of you has the right-of-way”. However one item in the old code that’s no longer with us is “always fill in your sitzmark!”

Skier in a "sitzmark"It’s probably obvious, but a “sitzmark” is the German/Austrian term for the hole or depression you make in the snow when you fall. Or maybe I should say when you fall in soft snow!

Sitzmarks take us back to a time when there were few skiers and lots of snow! A fall could make a large crater in the snow. If not repaired, the next skier along could have their skis dive into the hole producing another fall which might result in injury, broken skis, or an even bigger sitzmark. The equipment and ski-technique of that era did not provide enough control to avoid such hazards.

Correct answers for last week’s trivia came from several sources. On my blog Joan Laundon was the first although she had a typo in the spelling. Lyndall Heyer provided the correct spelling. Roger Mason, Frank Kinslow, and Glen Findholt responded via Facebook. Ken Duclos and Art Lloyd provided their answers in person.

Sitzmarks in actionHere in the United States early skiers also referred to sitzmarks as “bathtubs.” That seemed to be the popular term here in Stowe. Frank Springer-Miller in an early-1940s letter to Sepp Ruschp recommended adding signage on the single chair lift towers which would include “Fell in Someone’s Bathtub. Think I’ll Fix Mine From Now On!” Other documents from the early days mention that “bathtubs” on the Nosedive remain a problem – we’ll talk more about that later.

Bruise

But first, whatever happened to sitzmarks and bathtubs? Grooming, snowmaking, and heavy skier traffic have produced a surface that is pretty much impervious to sitzmarks. Falling today on the slopes rarely dents the surface. However it may leave a dent in you! So now a sitzmark is probably that black-and-blue bruise on your hip from falling on Nosedive!

Going back to those early days before lift-served skiing, skiers used intentional falls to avoid worse situations. As I mentioned, equipment and technique had not advanced to allow the control we have today. Trails were narrow and contained Skiers on old Nosedivesharp turns. Throwing yourself down into soft snow was far better than taking on a maple tree. Some skiers used this technique for the seven turns on the old Nosedive much to the consternation of better skiers. Hence the concern about too many bathtubs on the Nosedive. Another sign Frank Springer-Miller suggested was “Do I Really Belong on the Nosedive?”

Falling is a part of skiing. That first time you put on skis there’s the fear of falling. You click into your bindings and ka-thump – well, that wasn’t too bad after all. Usually during the learning process there are a lot of falls, but few injuries, and the fear subsides. Next is the counting-falls stage where how many times you fall in a day becomes a measure of progress. We’ve all heard the proud cries of “I only fell twice today!” Then there’s the rationalization stage: “If you’re not falling, you’re not advancing.”

For those who persevere and become expert skiers, falls become rare, but they still occur. One thing I have noticed as a “mature” expert skier who doesn’t fall often is that some of that fear of falling creeps back in. When I get in dicey situations, I feel myself tensing up just like those beginners. I have to force myself to stay loose and handle the situation. For those who witnessed my bad fall earlier this season, I didn’t have time to tense up which was probably a good thing!

Spectacular FallAnother aspect of falls or near-falls is that they provide the memorable moments that we can re-live at après-ski or even years later. We may not remember the perfect turn we executed on the early morning corduroy, but we remember the yard sale under the Warm Springs lift at Sun Valley.

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Trivia 2015 Week 8

From the old Skiers Code of Etiquette complete the following phrase:

“Please fill in your __________________”

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Ski Cars: The Saab

Last week I talked about the challenges of winter driving in the RetroSki era and the merits of the much-maligned Corvair. I received more Corvair responses after the paper’s deadline last week as Larry Heath and Bill Kornrumpf joined the list of correct answers. Bill added that he used to do some ice racing with his more traditional rear-wheel-drive car and “could never touch the Saabs and Corvairs!” Which brings us to this week’s column.

1956 Saab 93The Swedish company Saab originally designed and built airplanes. After World War II the company diversified and produced their first automobile in 1949. That was the Saab 92 which featured a two cylinder, two-cycle engine. The first Saab automobile imported into the United States was the Saab 93 in 1955 which had a three cylinder, two-cycle engine with only seven moving parts!

Once again this week there were lots of correct answers identifying the Saab 93. J.B. McKinley, Jack Pickett, William Hays, Ken Duclos, and Richard Story all recognized the Saab engine details.

Rick Franklin pointed out that the German Wartburg had an engine with the same characteristics and apparently it was imported into the states at some point. But the Wartburg certainly didn’t catch on like the Saab did. The Wartburg had another similarity to the Saab in that it was an ugly car. The old Humpback Saab was designed for good aerodynamics, but it wouldn’t win any beauty contests.

William “Shakey” Hays did some ice-racing with Saab 93s. He says he went through three of the cars during one racing season! However he said is all-time favorite ski car for winter driving was a Porsche 911 that he used commuting between New York and Killington. He had to give that car up when he went to work for the Mountain Company here in Stowe in 1968.

My first exposure to a Saab was in college where a couple of my skiing buddies owned them. I had never heard of front-wheel drive or its advantages in snowy conditions.  I thought my Corvair was pretty good in the snow, but I had to admit the Saabs were even better and they had a better heater! I got to drive one of the Saabs, a Saab 96 model with a four-on-the-column shift, which took some getting used to. Plus you had to remember to add oil to the gasoline for the two-cycle engines, a point mentioned by almost all who answered the trivia question!

1976 Saab 99By the time I moved to Vermont, Saab introduced the Saab 99 with a more conventional four cylinder, four-cycle engine and a much more aesthetically pleasing design. Saab popularity, particularly in Vermont, increased dramatically. While today Subaru claims to be the unofficial Vermont state car, I’m pretty sure Saab could make that claim in the 1970s.

Once again I found myself skiing with Saab-owner friends and when I needed to get to an area on a powder day, we took their cars. I recall one snowy day heading to Jay Peak from the Montgomery side in a Saab. The long climb on that hill was littered with cars that weren’t making it. It took us two tries to work our way past and through those cars and we were close to making it over the top, but lost traction. At that point the hill isn’t as steep so two of us got out, sat on the front fenders and with that added weight over the drive wheels, we made it! During the time it took us to successfully conquer the hill, no other vehicle passed us. Now the downside of that story is that most of the lifts at Jay were closed due to high winds, but we did enjoy the powder off the Jet T-bar!

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Trivia 2015 Week 7

What car featured a three cylinder, two-cycle engine with only seven moving parts?

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Ski Cars: The Chevy Corvair

Powder days and first tracks are a skier’s dream. Getting to the ski area on a powder day can be a skier’s nightmare! Generally the same weather that produces a good powder day also produces miserable driving conditions. Add into the equation that to reach most ski areas involves negotiating at least one hill and the challenge becomes getting to the powder.

This is true today, but it was even more of a challenge during the RetroSki days due to three factors. One, there were more major snow storms during the winters. Two, roads were not plowed as well as they are today. And three, almost all vehicles were rear-wheel drive! On that last point, today the percentages are reversed with most of the cars heading up Harlow Hill being front-wheel, all-wheel, or four-wheel drive.

Corvair ConvertibleHowever there were vehicles that Retro-skiers felt gave them an advantage in those winter conditions. For me that car was the Chevy Corvair. The Corvair was an air-cooled, rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive car. The rear-engine meant there was weight over the drive wheels giving more traction in slippery conditions. And in the case of the Corvair that was a lot of weight! The heavy rear-engine with no front stabilizing bar in the original Corvair led Ralph Nader to dedicate a chapter to the Corvair in his book “Unsafe at Any Speed.” That’s right, it was just one chapter, but somehow the Corvair took the brunt of Nader’s criticism for the entire auto industry.

Wow, lots of correct answers to last week’s trivia! Hank Lunde was the first to identify the Corvair as Nader’s target. Thanks to Hank for his kind words about my column.

Ed Pearson's 1966 Corvair

Photo Courtesy of Ed Pearson

Ed Pearson, Judi Pease, Russ King, and John Lutz were former Corvair owners who also answered last week’s question. Ed sent along some pictures of his 1966 Corvair from when he and Jeannette were on their honeymoon.

Russ King lives near Syracuse, New York, and has been skiing Stowe since 1960! He had a 1962 Corvair and I’m guessing that more than once it got him to Stowe in some bad winter driving. Russ has shared Stowe with his children and ten grandchildren!

1965 Corvair ConvertibleI got a 1965 Corvair while I was in college and it took me and my skiing buddies on many snowy ski trips. I still had it my first season skiing in Vermont which was that record winter of 1968-69. On Friday nights a group of us used to go to Bolton for a social evening of night skiing. On one particular Friday it had snowed all day and was still snowing when we headed up the Bolton access road. As most people know the biggest vertical at Bolton is the access road. My Corvair was one of about four cars to make it up that night. The only problem I had was negotiating my way around cars that weren’t making it up. While Bolton at night isn’t the greatest powder destination, we had the place to ourselves to make fresh tracks all evening in over a foot of fluff.

There were some situations that the Corvair didn’t handle as well. It had low clearance so it could get hung-up on heavy deep snow like the plow leaves at the end of a driveway. More than once I had to shovel the snow from under the car because my attempt to blast through a snow bank fell a little short. Also air-cooled engines have the annoying characteristic of producing lots of heat in the summer when you don’t need it and no heat in the winter when you do need it. I had a convertible which only made the problem worse. On subzero days the temperature inside the car was only a few degrees warmer than outside so you had to wear your full ski outfit.

There are a lot of readers who are saying “wait a minute, everything you’ve said applies to the old VW Beetle which was another good ski car!” That was definitely true and there were a lot more VW Beetles than Corvairs. The VW had more clearance which helped, but its engine was significantly lighter. I did later own a VW Beetle that on one powder day didn’t get me up to Mad River. I had to park at the Mad River Barn and hitchhike with skis in hand. I was pretty sure my old Corvair would have gotten me there.

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Trivia 2015 Week 6

What car did Ralph Nader label “Unsafe at Any Speed”?

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CB Sports

I have written previously about the impact stretch pants had on skiing. In the 1960s they made skiing fashionable and became an integral part of the skiing “uniform”. There were other warmer alternatives, but many of us felt that we skied better in stretch pants – and definitely looked better! Starting with the 1970s function began to win out over fashion and stretch pants gradually disappeared from the slopes (except for racers.) I do notice stretch pants are now making a reappearance for which some of us are thankful. But what triggered that original change that led to most of us giving up our stretch pants?

CB Sports Ski PantsIn my opinion it was the “Super Pant”! The “Super Pant” was insulated warm-up pants that zipped on over stretch pants. Racers loved them and the general skier population followed suit.

The “Super Pant” began in 1969 right here in Vermont as the brainchild of Charles Bird Vaughan, better known as C.B. Vaughan. C.B. and his then-wife Roxanne designed the pants and literally drove around Vermont selling them out of their car. This was the beginning of CB Sports, a name that would dominate the skiwear business through the 1970s and 80s.

CB Vaughan Skiing for Vermont Academy

Photo from Vermont Academy

C.B. Vaughan grew up in Manchester, Vermont, where his parents ran an inn. He loved to ski and he loved to ski fast. His racing for Vermont Academy earned C.B. a scholarship to Saint Lawrence University where he would become captain of the ski team and a member of the United States Ski Team. While skiing collegiately C.B. would meet another college ski racer that liked to go fast, Dick Dorworth. Together they trained for the 1963 world speed skiing competition held in Portillo, Chile. Both men would set a new record of 106.5 miles-per-hour!

Former Stowe-ite Tony Thompson was the only correct responder this week. He now lives out-of-state and gets the Stowe Reporter by mail. He also pointed out that C.B. Vaughan’s first wife was Roxanne McCormick whose family had a place on Cottage Club Road here in Stowe.

Despite setting the world speed skiing record, C.B. Vaughan was not named to the 1964 U.S. Olympic Team. So he moved his racing to the European pro circuit where he would race for money. By 1969 C.B.’s racing career was on the wane, but he wanted to stay in the skiing business. He saw an opportunity in skiwear. In his own words:

”Skiing was very chi-chi, and chic was not appealing to me. I was interested in bringing hard-core, traditional, classic, functional skiwear into the marketplace. I couldn’t accept that just because I was a kid from Vermont, I couldn’t do it.”

CB Sports ParkaFrom the “Super Pant”, CB Sports skiwear would diversify to include parkas, vests, shells, and additional pant styles. These featured common sense innovations such as synthetic zippers, Velcro closures, and high collars – all very popular in cold weather locales such as Vermont. But it wasn’t just function with CB skiwear, it also had a certain fashion. The skiwear was available in a wide range of colors that assured you could be an individual even if there were a lot of CB Sports on the slopes.

Initially C.B. designed the clothes and had them made by other companies, but soon those other companies began to steal his ideas. So C.B. decided to manufacture the clothing himself and the first CB Sports plant was located in an old mill in Bennington. At its peak CB Sports had four manufacturing plants in Vermont and New York employing about 500 people.

The late 1980s brought economic pressures that forced C.B. Vaughan to relinquish control of the company. The CB Sports name would continue under different ownership, but only as retail outlets since the manufacturing units were liquidated. In 2008 the last two retail outlets closed including the one in Bennington.

CB Vaughan in 2013C.B. Vaughan was inducted into the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2013. In his remarks it certainly sounded like he has regained control of the CB Sports name and plans a comeback. An Internet search yielded a CB Sports line of parkas in 2011, but nothing currently in skiwear. For now you’ll have to settle for some vintage CB Sports skiwear in the Slope Style exhibit at the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum.

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