Christmas Ideas for the RetroSkier

If you’re reading this, chances are that you have one or more RetroSkiers on your Christmas list. What do you plan to get them? Well, here are some suggestions.

Freedom Found by Warren MillerNumber one on my list is “Freedom Found: My Life Story” by Warren Miller. The book just came out this summer. Warren uses his own inimitable style to tell his progression from ski bum to one of the most respected names in skiing. I’m not sure if this is available locally, but it is online.

Tracking The Wild Coomba by Robert CocuzzoAnother new book with 5-star reviews is “Tracking the Wild Coomba”, the story of extreme skier Doug Coombs, written by Robert Cocuzzo. RetroSkiers can appreciate a skier that pushed the limits. That book is available at the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum.

Retro-Ski Book CoverOf course I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug my own book, “Retro-Ski: A Nostalgic Look Back at Skiing”! Definitely a good gift for any RetroSkier.

Some other ideas from the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum include DVDs such as “Legends of American Skiing”, “Fire on the Mountain”, or “Passion for Snow.”  There are also old issues of skiing magazines that are available for sale. Every now and then you find an issue that triggers great memories from the past – the skis you loved, the ski trip you took, or that one-piece, fluorescent ski-suit you wore!

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Portillo 1966 Follow-up

I received a nice note from Rebecca Armstrong, Marketing Manager for Ski Portillo. She mentioned the special video that Portillo produced for the 50th anniversary of the 1966 World Championships.

Documentary Portillo 1966 / The 50th years Anniversary from on Vimeo.

I heard from Ruben Macaya who competed in those 1966 World Championships. He was the youngest member of the Argentinian ski team and Portillo was his first international competition. He recalls sitting next to then Erika Schinegger at the pool. Ruben mentioned that the book written later by Erik Schinegger (My Victory over Myself: The Man Who Became a Female World Champion) was a good read. Ruben now resides in the Sun Valley, Idaho area.

I also heard from fellow Stowe Host Willie White who visited Portillo in 1968, which was a bad snow year there. Willie’s wife Tanya went to the Cornell School of Hotel Administration graduating in 1959 and then went on to work for the Hilton hotel chain. Somewhere along the line she met and got to know Henry Purcell. Sometimes the skiing world is amazingly small and connected.

As for who was pictured in that U.S. Ski Team poster for Portillo, David Smith says it is Dennis “Poncho” McCoy. So that makes at least two of us who think it’s McCoy. David Smith was a ski racer who trained summers in Portillo starting in 1968.

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Trivia 2017 Week 4

1937 Stowe Rope TowThe first ski lift on Mount Mansfield was a rope tow located in what is now the Toll House area. It began operation in December of 1936 making this season the 80th anniversary of lift-served skiing on Mount Mansfield! However that specific rope tow had been in operation somewhere else the year before. So this week’s trivia question is:

Where did the first rope tow on Mount Mansfield come from?

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FIS Portillo 1966

Where were you during the summer of 1966? I was looking forward to my junior year in college and was in the early stages of my obsession with alpine skiing. Even though it was summer, I was looking forward to winter.

In early August I was surprised to turn on the TV and see coverage of a ski race. It was not just any ski race either, but part of the FIS World Championships. How could that be?

Hotel Portillo and Ski AreaThat “could be” because the World Championships of 1966 were held in Portillo, Chile. Chile is in the southern hemisphere where summer is winter and winter is summer. Or actually, their winter is our summer hence skiing in August. Those 1966 World Championships were the first, and remain the only, international-level ski races held in the southern hemisphere.

The first correct answer for last week’s trivia question came all the way from Saint Augustine, Florida. Long-time friend Pat Ostrowski identified Portillo as the site of the 1966 World Championships. Pat didn’t start skiing until after 1966 when he moved to Vermont, but he associated the Portillo races with the emergence of Jean Claude Killy and the French ski team.

FIS 1966 Poster in Parker Riehle's OfficeParker Riehle, President of Ski Vermont, also had the right answer. He has a U.S. Ski Team Poster from Portillo 1966 hanging in his office and sent along a picture of that poster. A great trivia question would be who is featured in that poster, but I’m not sure I know the correct answer.

Portillo is the oldest ski area in South America tracing its roots way back to the late 1800s. Much like the United States, skiing’s popularity grew in Chile during the 1930s. World War II interrupted that growth, but it resumed after the war as skiing entered the lift-served era.

By 1960 the Chilean government was running Portillo and it was losing money. Chile offered the hotel and ski area to the highest bidder. The story goes that American financier Bob Purcell put in a bid on sort of a whim. His bid turned out to be the only bid so he was suddenly in the skiing business.

Bob Purcell would recruit his 26-year-old nephew Henry Purcell to run Portillo. Henry was a graduate of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration and had been working for the Hilton hotel chain. He took over the reins of the Portillo hotel and skiing operation in 1961.

Early in his tenure at Portillo, Henry Purcell realized he needed to host an international event to bring attention and business to his part of the skiing world. He lobbied the FIS heavily and eventually landed the 1966 World Championships. However the FIS wanted Portillo to host a pre-event in 1965 to demonstrate their ability to handle a World Championship.

That event was a disaster in the truest sense of the word. A Pacific typhoon hit, dumping tons of snow. Avalanches literally wiped out whole ski lifts and stranded would-be competitors for days. Despite that less-than-successful test, Purcell convinced the FIS to stick with Portillo for the following year. During that year they would redesign and rebuild the Portillo lift structure.

The 1966 World Championships had excellent weather and snow conditions rewarding Purcell’s persistence. The event was a coming-out party for the French ski team! They would win 16 of the 24 medals awarded, including all the golds except the men’s slalom. Jean Claude Killy won the Downhill and Combined, Guy Perillat won the GS, Annie Famose won the women’s slalom, Marielle Goitschel won the GS, Combined, and eventually the Downhill. The French obviously enjoyed racing in the southern hemisphere while Karl Schranz perhaps best summed up the other nations opinion: “Summer is no time for downhill racing.”

1966 French Men's Team 1966 French Women's Team

You may notice that I said Marielle Goitschel “eventually” won the Downhill. I think it wasn’t until the 1980s that the victory was given to Goitschel. If you found a results sheet from 1966, it would say that Austrian Erika Schinegger won the women’s downhill. So what happened to Erika?

Marielle Goitschel and Erik Schinegger

Marielle Goitschel and Erik Schinegger in later years

The 1968 Olympics required gender testing for eligibility. That testing discovered that Erika medically was a man not a woman! Erika would undergo hormone treatments and surgery to become Erik Schinegger. Erik would go on to race as a man, but without the same level of success. He became a father of two and is a successful restauranteur in his hometown of Agsdorf, Austria.

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Trivia 2017 Week 3

Where were the 1966 FIS World Championships held?

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Vermont World Cup Races & The Mahre Brothers

Mikaela Shiffrin Celebrating with her Nana!The women’s World Cup ski races held in Killington will certainly become a great chapter in Vermont’s ski racing history! Mikaela Shiffrin came through under enormous pressure to win her sixth consecutive World Cup slalom. That pressure included her 95-year-old grandmother who had never seen Mikaela race in person before. All-in-all the event was a big success for Killington, for Vermont, and for New England skiing.

Phil MahreBack to 1978, Bob McKee called with the correct answer to last week’s trivia question identifying Phil Mahre as the winner of the men’s GS held at Stratton. Bob McKee knew the answer because he was in those 1978 World Cup races! Bob was skiing for the Irish Ski Team at that time.

Bob’s main memory from those races was the bitter cold. He often trained with the Italian ski team and it was so cold for the GS that many of the Italians weren’t going to race. But then they went into a Stratton ski shop and bought the shop’s whole stock of face masks. Many of the Italians wore those masks for the GS race.

Bob also remembers the snow that fell before the men’s slalom. The course was relatively flat and despite the efforts to remove the snow from the course, it was slow. Bob says that the racers had to skate to get across the finish line.

One thing Bob didn’t remember from 1978 was that the women were also racing there at Stratton. The events were on separate days with the women’s GS on Thursday, the men’s GS on Friday, the men’s slalom on Saturday, and the women’s slalom on Sunday. But the women were definitely there! Maybe it was the Irish ski team’s rigorous training regimen that prevented Bob from knowing the women racers were there also.

Both Bob McKee and Gary Fletcher recalled that Phil Mahre won the GS and his brother Steve won the slalom, a good family weekend for the Mahres. In both cases they beat the favored Ingemar Stenmark who finished third in the GS and second in the slalom. Both Bob and Gary also mentioned that Vermonter Cary Adgate had a very respectable seventh place in the GS.

On the women’s side, Hanni Wenzel of Lichtenstein won the GS at Stratton and would go on to win the women’s 1978 overall World Cup. Perrine Pelen of France won the slalom. The best American woman was Cindy Nelson who finished sixth in GS and fifth in slalom.

The Stratton results were the harbinger of things to come for the Mahre brothers. Phil and Steve are fraternal twins and Phil was born four minutes ahead of Steve. That difference in timing seemed to carry over to their skiing as Phil’s results usually were slightly better than Steve’s, but both were capable of winning as demonstrated at Stratton.

The Mahre TwinsPhil would win the 1981 overall World Cup with Steve finishing fourth overall. In 1982 Phil again would win the overall and this time Steve placed third. Phil won his third consecutive overall World Cup in 1983, but that year Steve slipped to twelfth. The twins would cap their careers in 1984 by winning gold and silver in the slalom at the Sarajevo Olympics. And yes, Phil got the gold and Steve the silver!

The brothers’ relationship often confounded the Europeans. For example, at a 1981 race Phil was in a position to clinch the overall World Cup, but Steve came down and beat him. The Europeans couldn’t understand why a brother would do that. Phil did clinch the overall at a subsequent race.

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Trivia 2017 Week 2

Who won the men’s GS held at Stratton in March 1978? (Hint: He would go on to be the next three-time overall World Cup winner after Stenmark.)

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Stratton 1978

Do you remember 1978? Just to refresh your memory: “Saturday Night Fever” was in the movie theaters, “Happy Days” was on TV, and Garfield made his debut in the comic strips. Gas was 63 cents a gallon and the Federal Reserve Rate was 11.75% (it’s less than 1% today!) Illinois Bell introduced the first Cellular Mobile Phone system although it was little noted at the time.

In March 1978 there were 90 inches of snow atop Mount Mansfield, Ingemar Stenmark was well on his way to his third consecutive FIS overall World Cup, and Stratton Mountain hosted Vermont’s first World Cup races!

Stratton LogoGary Fletcher correctly answered last week’s trivia question and he was there in Stratton in 1978! Gary was at UVM at the time and went with a group of UVMers to be course workers for the races.

Unlike this weekend’s races in Killington, both men’s and women’s World Cup circuits descended on Stratton from March 2-5, 1978 for slalom and GS events. However much like the Killington World Cup, it took a couple of years of planning and work for Stratton to acquire the World Cup races.

International Paper owned Stratton in those days. In January 1977 they donated over 1023 acres of land to the United State Ski Education Foundation, the fund-raising arm for the U.S. Ski Team. Stratton management made it clear they were interested in hosting a World Cup event. Add to the mix that the coach of the U.S. women’s team was Hermann Goellner, a longtime Stratton instructor and coach. (By the way, Hermann Goellner should be the subject of a future RetroSki column since he figures prominently in both racing and freestyle disciplines.)

Thanks to the relationship with the U.S. Ski Team, Stratton got an invite to host an event during the 1977-78 World Cup season.

Modifications were made to several Stratton trails including North American and Slalom Glade to facilitate the events. Local race officials travelled to Europe to study how the World Cup races were run. In addition to running the races, Stratton needed to plan for adequate food service, crowd control, transportation, and safety. For example, to provide on-slope safety, Stratton’s ski patrol for the event was expanded by 100 volunteers from around the east. Stratton also arranged with the Army National Guard to have a helicopter in case an air evacuation was needed.

Excerpt from Stratton The First Fifty Years by Hubert SchrieblWhen the week of the event came, over three hundred competitors, coaches, and support personnel arrived. Then there were about an equal number of the U.S. and world-wide media. It took every bed on the mountain to house the competitors, media, and race officials. That meant spectators would have to stay some distance away. About 7000 spectators would take in the events. That was below Stratton’s anticipated number, but the lodging situation may have influenced it.

CBS sports was there to provide TV coverage with a definite Stowe twist. Ken Squire headed the CBS crew while Billy Kidd and Betsy Snite Riley provided expert commentary. CBS did not provide live coverage, but it did broadcast a 24 minute segment in its Sports Spectacular show the following weekend. That segment drew an estimated 6 million viewers. Part of the segment featured footage of Billy Kidd forerunning the slalom course with a helmet-mounted camera – a GoPro before there were GoPros!

There were a couple of Vermont touches associated with the event. Every competitor received a bag of goodies including Vermont maple syrup! The trophies were made of Vermont marble by Rock of Ages. However those trophies weighed up to 60 pounds! So winning one included free shipping to the competitor’s home.

The one complication that occurred during the event was that it snowed! For most of us that may sound like a blessing not a complication, but racers prefer a rock-hard surface. Ten inches fell between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. That meant every student at Stratton Mountain School was up at dawn to help clear the snow off the slalom course!

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Trivia 2017 Week 1

FIS 50th YearPrior to this year’s Killington event Vermont had only hosted one World Cup event in the fifty year history of the FIS World Cup! When and where was the other World Cup event held in Vermont?

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Killington Women’s World Cup

Vermont is about to host an event that will add to its skiing history. The women’s World Cup circuit will visit Killington on November 26-27, that’s Thanksgiving weekend! The best women skiers in the world will be here – Lara Gut, Mikaela Shiffrin, Tessa Worley. Lindsey Vonn won’t be racing due to a broken arm she suffered training at Copper Mountain last week.

As I write this column the temperature is in the 50s, not good snowmaking weather! With literally the whole world watching, the pressure must really be on the Killington snowmaking team to have the courses ready for the races!

To emphasize the significance of this event, Vermont has only hosted one other World Cup event in the fifty year history of the FIS World Cup!

It’s very appropriate that it’s the women who will be competing here and that the race is being held at Killington. Well, actually that the race is being held in the Rutland area. The first U.S. woman skier to make a mark in international skiing competitions was from Rutland!

A Young Andrea MeadLong time Stowe Host Bud Kassel remembers in 1946 when he was a teenager and his family came to Vermont for a ski trip. They went to the Pico Peak ski area which featured the first T-Bar in the United States. When Bud approached the lift for the first time, the lift attendant asked Bud if he had ever ridden a T-Bar before. Bud said no, so the lift attendant called out to a young 14 year old girl who was nearby: “Andy, show this young man how to ride the lift.”

“Andy” was the young Andrea Mead who would go on to be the first United States skier to win two Olympic Gold Medals in one Olympics! She was the daughter of Brad and Janet Mead who owned Pico Peak. They had Andy on skis at the age of three and racing by age ten! Her mother, Janet, was captain of the Women’s Eastern Ski Team which allowed Andy to be exposed to some of the best women ski racers in the United States. Andy would be named to the U.S. national team in 1948 at age 15!

1948 was Andrea’s first year competing against international competition. While her results at the Olympics were good for a teenager, she served notice of things to come by finishing third at the Arlberg-Kandahar event.

Andrea Mead Lawrence1951 was a very eventful year in Andrea’s life. Racing in Europe Andrea would win 10 of the 16 races held that season. (She finished second in 4 of the others.) She also married David Lawrence, a skier on the U.S. men’s national team.

So when the 1952 Olympics came along, newlywed Andrea Mead Lawrence was a prohibitive favorite. She would win the United States first gold medal in alpine skiing by winning the Giant Slalom. In the Slalom she fell in the first run, but got up to finish and still be in fourth place going into the second run. Andrea blitzed the field on the second run, winning her second gold by .8 seconds! She was quoted as saying, “When I took off for the second run, I was released as the full force and energy of who I am as a person!”

Andrea Mead Lawrence would mix ski racing and having a family through the 1956 Olympics. In 1955 she competed here in Stowe winning the American International races in both GS and Slalom. Between then and the 1956 Olympics she would have the third of the Lawrences’ five children. While she didn’t win any medals at those Olympics, she did finish fourth just out of the medals in GS.

“You can only be a world class athlete so many years, it is what you do with the rest of your life that counts.”

An older Abdrea Mead LawrenceStarting in the 1960s, Andrea Mead Lawrence would apply her talents to an entirely different field. Living in Mammoth Lakes, California, she became involved in preserving the eastern Sierra from rampant development. She became a national voice for balancing development with environmental concerns. In 2003 she founded the Andrea Lawrence Institute for Mountains and Rivers.

Andrea Mead Lawrence passed away in 2009. There’s a 12,000 foot peak named in her memory in the eastern Sierra, very fitting for a world-class skier and environmentalist.

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