Waterville Valley

The 1966-67 ski season was the first for the Waterville Valley ski area and I was a junior at the University of New Hampshire. My first visit to the new area made a big impression on me because everything was new! The relatively few ski areas I had visited were old and their facilities looked it. However at Waterville Valley everything was new: the base lodge complex was new, the lifts were all new, the staff uniforms were all new, even the access road was new.

Waterville Valley Base LodgeI remember going into the Waterville Valley base lodge which had carpeted floors – not common at that time in base lodges – and chairs more like you’d find in somebody’s dining room. We felt uncomfortable putting our ski boots on in such nice surroundings.

Waterville Valley is situated on 4000-foot Mt. Tecumseh. In 1934 the CCC built a ski trail on the mountain. This trail would be refined by the CCC in later years and become a popular race trail in the 1940s. As lift-served skiing became popular, the inn at the base of the mountain added a small rope tow.

Tom CorcoranHowever the development of Mt. Tecumseh into the Waterville Valley ski area would have to wait for Tom Corcoran. Corcoran was a Dartmouth educated ski racer who raced for the United States in two Olympics. He finished just out of the medals in fourth place in the Giant Slalom at the 1960 Squaw Valley. It wouldn’t be until 2002 that an American male skier would have a better Olympic GS result. Corcoran would get an MBA from the Harvard Business School and then go to work for the Aspen Ski Corporation. There he became friends with the Kennedy family and particularly Robert F. Kennedy. In 1965 with the Kennedy’s backing, Corcoran was able to obtain financing to develop the Waterville Valley ski area.

Corcoran would remain true to his racing background and make Waterville Valley a popular race destination. Waterville would host 10 World Cup races under his leadership. That included the 1969 World Cup finale where the overall World Cups were awarded to Karl Schranz and Gertrud Gabl.

I was a gate-tender at that 1969 World Cup finale. Waterville had a program with the UNH Outing Club to get volunteers to be gate keepers. Not just for World Cup races, but for all the races they hosted. For every day you gate-tended, you got a voucher for another day of skiing. In 1969 I was working at IBM in Burlington, but still had enough UNH connections to land a gate-tending spot. It was special to see the great racers of that era close-up and personal.

Another aspect of skiing at Waterville was the opportunity to “celebrity watch” – particularly the Robert F. Kennedy family and their various guests. Bobby Kennedy was a respectable skier and didn’t like to stop. I don’t know if that was to keep unwanted paparazzi away or not. However it did present a challenge to his many kids who tried to keep up with him. The older ones could almost keep up, but the smaller ones were scattered along the trail. More than once we had to help a small Kennedy get their equipment back on and point them down the hill. I still highly value the thank you I received from Bobby for helping the kids. After his untimely death in 1968, the area added Bobby’s Run in his memory.

Waterville Valley also played an important part in the development of freestyle skiing. In 1969 the area was the first to offer a freestyle program and in 1970, Tom Corcoran would help organize the first National Open Championships of Freestyle Skiing.

Posted in Columns | 1 Comment

Trivia 2016 Week 14

The current Waterville Valley ski area was founded in 1966 and next season will be its fiftieth. However their ski club, the BBTS, dates back to 1934.

What does BBTS stand for?

Posted in Trivia | 3 Comments

1969 World Cup

Karl Schranz with World CupIn a column last season I mentioned that the 1969 overall World Cup trophy won by Karl Schranz somehow ended up in a barn in Hinesburg, Vermont! I promised a future column explaining how that came to pass.

“Ski Racing” journalist Bill McCollom who is also a board member of the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum heard about the trophy and began an investigation. He got in touch with European ski journalist Patrick Lang. Patrick Lang is the son of Serge Lang who was the driving force behind the FIS World Cup. Patrick immediately contacted Karl Schranz to ask about the trophy. Schranz assured him that his World Cup trophy was securely on display in the St. Anton hotel that Schranz owns and runs. So instead of answers, there were more questions.

The FIS World Cup started in 1967 and the French mineral-water company Evian was the chief corporate sponsor. According to Patrick Lang, Evian had the crystal trophies made and apparently would order extra trophies each year in case of loss or breakage. Evian would make sure trophies were available to be awarded at the final World Cup race of each season wherever it was held.

Karl Schranz and Gertrud Gabl World Cups at Waterville ValleyThe 1969 FIS World Cup season wrapped up at Waterville Valley in New Hampshire and the overall men’s trophy was presented to Karl Schranz there. Rather than figure how to get the fragile, but heavy trophy back to Europe, Schranz left the trophy with Jerry Depot who was the general manager of Volvo of America Recreational Products. At that time the company distributed ski equipment here in the United States including Kneissl skis that sponsored Schranz. Jerry was friends with Karl and took care of his arrangements and promotional activities in this country. The assumption was that eventually Schranz would claim the trophy and arrange to have it shipped to St. Anton, Austria.

However in May of 1969 Evian presented Schranz with another World Cup trophy at a celebration in St. Anton. That’s the trophy that is on display in the Hotel Karl Schranz. Undoubtedly it was one of those extra trophies Evian had made.

Darrel Depot with World CupEventually back in the United States the Waterville Valley trophy would end up with Jerry Depot’s son, Darrel, who now lives in Hinesburg. Darrel has made several attempts to get the trophy back to Schranz, but Schranz hasn’t shown much interest. So last spring, Darrel loaned the trophy to the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum where it remains on display today.

So if Karl Schranz won the 1969 World Cup for the men, who won it for the women?

That would be Gertrud Gabl, daughter of long-time Stowe ski instructor Pepi Gabl! Steve Dever from Morrisville correctly identified Gertrud as the World Cup winner. Steve was a junior racer for the MMSC and says: “In 1969 there were two Austrian men in the Stowe Ski School who had relatives racing for Austria – Pepi Gabl from St Anton who had a daughter Gertrud Gabl and Bernt Hecher who had a sister Traudl Hecher.”

Gertrud Gabl and Karl Schranz with World CupsAlthough she would compete for several more seasons, the 1969 World Cup would be the high point of Gertrud Gabl’s ski racing career. Gertrud would die tragically at age 27 in an avalanche while freeskiing on St Anton’s Rendl North Face in 1976.

Today you’ll find 1969 women’s World Cup trophy on display in the Chalet Gertrud Gabl in St Anton. The chalet is owned by Gertrud’s daughter Barbara and is available for your next visit to St Anton. It is located not far from the Hotel Karl Schranz so both 1969 World Cup trophies ended up as neighbors.

Posted in Columns | 1 Comment

Trivia 2016 Week 13

What woman with ties to Stowe won the overall 1969 FIS World Cup for women?

Posted in Trivia | 3 Comments

Art Furrer

All through my college years I skied on wooden skis, Northlands to be precise. That was an economic decision based on what I could afford and the fact that a neighbor worked for Northland in their Laconia, New Hampshire, factory. However I dreamed of being able to afford my dream ski: the Hart Javelin! Today it’s hard for me to recall all the reasons I wanted Javelins, but one of the reasons was Art Furrer.

Art Furrer“The Incredible Skis” was a ski movie sponsored by Hart skis that came out in 1967. It featured Roger Staub and Art Furrer on Hart Javelins. Furrer played a computer nerd who comes up with the perfect ski that skis itself. Furrer didn’t have to do much to look the part of the nerd since he actually wore horn-rimmed glasses. Furrer was a clown-prince on skis and the movie highlighted some of his trademark tricks on skis. There was the Charleston, the Reuel (Royal) Christy, the Butterfly, the step-over, and the Javelin turn. All of these were done on 205cm or longer skis, of course. Plus there were plenty of scenes with powder and glacier skiing. In the credits at the end of the movie it identifies the skiers as Roger Staub of Vail and Art Furrer from Bolton Valley, Vermont!

Art Furrer Bolton Valley Ad SKI Spring 1967That’s right, Art Furrer was the first ski school director at Bolton Valley. There is even one scene in “The Incredible Skis” filmed at Bolton Valley (that scene also included Rudi Wyrsch who was at Bolton Valley at that time.) No one correctly identified Art Furrer in response to last week’s trivia question. It was actually quite a coup for Bolton Valley to land one of the more recognizable names in skiing at that time.

Art Furrer grew up in the Swiss Alps. He was a promising ski racer as a youth, but his family couldn’t afford the expense ski racing entailed. Instead by the age of 18 he was a professional ski instructor helping to support the family. Art had always liked fooling around on skis and he factored it into his ski teaching. He would wear a clown suit and demonstrate the wrong way to ski while other instructors would demonstrate the correct way. Art Furrer at age 21 would become the youngest examiner in the history of the Swiss Ski Teaching Association.

However Art’s antics on skis would get him into trouble with the Swiss Ski Teaching Association. He felt that balance over the turning ski – whether it was the outside ski or the inside ski – should be taught. So Art Furrer was way ahead of his time. Today’s slope style skiers have taken that concept even further: it doesn’t matter whether you ski forward or backwards, or which ski is weighted, as long as you’re balanced correctly. Anyway, that concept wasn’t popular with the Swiss Association which dropped Furrer.

So Art Furrer came to the United States in 1959 to be a ski instructor at Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire. He didn’t speak any English so he taught by showing not talking. While at Cannon, Art continued perfecting his skiing tricks which attracted media attention. John Jay and Warren Miller would feature Art in their ski films. Art’s growing fame led to a sponsorship from Hart skis.

Art returned to Switzerland for the 1962-63 ski season. However the opportunity to be a Henke ski boot rep brought him back to the United States in the fall of 1963. By now his English had improved, but Art faced a new challenge. Henke provided him with a station wagon and a map, but Art didn’t know how to drive! Art headed out to sell ski boots with about a half-hour of instruction and a phony driver’s license. Morten Lund tells a great story of how Art came up behind a police cruiser that was stopped at a red light. Art was so nervous that he stepped on the gas instead of the brake and knocked the police cruiser into the intersection. While Art feared the worst, the police took mercy on the foreigner with the strong accent. He ended up buying them some beer and they escorted him to his sales call.

Art came to Bolton Valley in 1966, but it’s not clear how much time he actually spent there. He had a busy schedule with his commitment to Hart, he was also a fixture at ski shows, he appeared on TV shows, and he was featured in some of the biggest ski movies of the late 1960s such as “The Outer Limits” and “The Moebius Flip”. Art Furrer took the money he made in the United States and invested in Swiss real estate where he now owns about a dozen hotels in the Matterhorn region.

Posted in Columns | Leave a comment

Trivia 2016 Week 12

Bolton Valley opened 50 years ago in 1966. Who was Bolton Valley’s first ski school director?

Posted in Trivia | Leave a comment

Centered Skiing

We’ve all been there: standing at the top of some precipitous pitch when that feeling of doubt or maybe even fear creeps over us. It could be the top pitch of Starr or Great Scott at Snowbird or Corbet’s Couloir at Jackson Hole. We can feel our bodies tensing up and we know that we need to relax to pull off the run. But telling yourself to relax usually has the exact opposite result! So what if you told yourself “Don’t Relax!”? That’s one of the first examples used in “The Centered Skier” to introduce the psychological side of skiing.

The Centered SkierTo paraphrase Yogi Berra, skiing “is 90% mental and the other half is physical.” Historically most books on skiing dealt with technique, but few dealt with the mental aspect of skiing. Then along came “The Centered Skier” by Denise McCluggage.

The first correct answer came from an old skiing buddy of mine, Pat Ostrowski, whom I hadn’t heard from in years! He now lives in Florida, but had been a ski instructor at Smugglers. He had a copy of “The Centered Skier” from his ski instructor days. By the way, I think the book is still on the PSIA’s recommended reading list.

Bill Kornrumpf also identified Denise McCluggage and mentioned her auto racing background.

Denise McCluggageDenise McCluggage is primarily recognized as a pioneering woman’s sports car racer and automotive journalist. Denise started racing sports cars in the 1950s when women race-car drivers were barely tolerated. But Denise’s talent, persistence, and intelligence gained her acceptance. Her trademark polka dot racing helmet was seen at races around the world. She won the grand touring category at Sebring in 1961 driving a Ferrari. She won her class at the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964 in a Ford Falcon. She was close friends with such established Formula I drivers as Stirling Moss and Phil Hill. She was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Sports Car Club of America Hall of Fame in 2006.

Denise was a sports journalist who came east from California to work at the New York Herald Tribune in the mid-1950s. Her weekly column “Drive, She Said” would be syndicated to some 90 newspapers in North America. She would go on to be the founding editor of what is now AutoWeek magazine. She would remain a contributor to that magazine right up until her death last year in May at the age of 88. For her work in automotive journalism she would receive the Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award.

Denise McCluggage learned to ski while at Mills College in California. When she came to the Herald Tribune in New York she continued skiing in the east eventually buying a place in Warren, Vermont. Denise also played a part in the beginning of Hunter Mountain ski area. She wrote a column about a group in upstate New York that would give away a mountain to anyone who would develop a ski area on it. That generated interest from some Broadway show people including James Hammerstein, son of Oscar Hammerstein II. With their financial backing, Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl would open in January of 1960.

Centereed Skiing Workshops at SugarbushIn the 1970s Denise became interested in Zen and Taoism and saw an application for some of their concepts to skiing. Jack Murphy, general manager of Sugarbush, approached Denise about developing some workshops with their ski school. Denise met with the head of the ski school, Sigi Grottendorfer, and they worked out a format for ski weeks with morning sessions led by Denise and more traditional afternoon lessons with a ski instructor.  These were called “centered skiing workshops” and became a popular draw for Sugarbush even after Denise moved to New Mexico.

“The Centered Skier” documents many of the concepts included in the Sugarbush workshops. I must plead guilty and say that I have not read the book. A quick scan shows topics like visualization, breathing, and dealing with fear. I have read some of her columns from SKIING magazine which emphasize that an expert skier is in harmony with the mountain. You do not fight the mountain, but use what it gives you. The book is technically out-of-print, but used copies on Amazon are going for $42.

Posted in Columns | Leave a comment

Trivia 2016 Week 11

Who wrote “The Centered Skier?”

Posted in Trivia | 1 Comment

Ski In a Day!

Ski In a Day BookLast week I wrote about Natur-Teknik which promised you could learn to ski in seven days. Well, how about an approach that claimed “you will ski the mountain easily and swiftly – in complete control – your very first day on skis!”

Clif Taylor served in the 10th Mountain Division and earned a Purple Heart during the battle for Riva Ridge. After the War Taylor kept skiing and ended up in 1948 as an instructor at Mad River Glen. There he encountered “goon skis”, a shorter ski with twin tips. That’s right, short, twin-tipped skis in 1948! Taylor and his fellow instructors loved performing tricks using the goon skis. Taylor also observed that some ski schools students who had difficulty learning on long skis succeeded on the goon skis.

In 1955 Taylor married Mary Pratt and moved to Brattleboro, Vermont, where he became an instructor at Hogback Mountain. He began to experiment using shorter skis to teach students before moving them up to more standard length skis. Initially he was using regular skis whose tails had been chopped off to make them shorter, but the success of his approach led him to start Shortee Ski Company. Shortee skis were made in three foot, four foot, and five foot lengths. Students began on the three footers and would move up in lengths as they progressed.

Taylor’s success at Hogback soon gained media attention which attracted some recognizable names to Hogback. One of those was Lowell Thomas. Although Lowell Thomas was a skiing advocate, he had never mastered parallel skiing. After a few sessions with Clif Taylor on various length skis, Thomas was making parallel turns. In 1961 Lowell Thomas provided the foreword to Taylor’s first book, Instant Skiing.

Clif Taylor EndorsementsWith the book and Lowell Thomas’ connections, Clif Taylor’s new method for teaching skiing received coverage in non-skiing publications such as Newsweek, Esquire, and Look. In 1963 Taylor began advertising an innovative promotion in Look magazine: for $8.95 you got one lesson, rental of a pair of three foot Shortees, and a copy of Instant Skiing. He signed up 200 shops and 20 ski areas in the Northeast to support the campaign. Taylor’s approach was beginning to catch on.

One of the ski areas interested in Taylor’s method was Killington. Pres Smith, owner of Killington, felt that to attract new skiers to the sport, the learning process had to be accelerated. Karl Pfeifer was the head of the Killington Ski School so as an experiment Pfeifer ran two full-size, week-long ski classes using the new teaching method. This was the subject of a 1966 SKI magazine article by Morten Lund that first used the term “Graduated Length Method” (GLM) to describe the new approach. The Graduated Length Method succeeded in the experiment. Pfeifer would adopt a 5-day version of GLM at Killington that started students on three foot skis, then progressing to four and five foot skis.

Jack Pickett was the first to correctly identify Clif Taylor as the inventor of the Graduated Length Method. He also recalled that Taylor was at Hogback and called the skis Shortees.

Lew Coty also answered last week’s trivia question. Lew’s father, Victor Coty, took many movies of Clif Taylor and his Shortee skis. In appreciation Taylor gave Vic pairs of the skis which Lew got to use. Lew says it was a good thing the skis were free since he would often break them “like Popsicle sticks” bombing down the Front Four. While Lew loved the skis, others were skeptical and he often heard “short skis suck, long skis truck!” Today with the acceptance of shorter skis Lew says “Now, no one takes notice of the size of my skis. During this transition, countless people would ask me why I had given up my short skis, and I would have to remind them it was their ski length that had changed. “

Clif Taylor and GLM AdvertisementClif Taylor was a tireless promoter of the Graduated Length Method which at its peak was used at over 300 ski areas. He appeared on TV and taught several celebrities to ski using GLM. The list includes Art Linkletter, Jack Paar, and Tim Conway.

Despite the apparent success of the GLM, the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) never really embraced the approach. They adopted a policy that didn’t support using skis less than five feet for learning. Over time United States ski areas dropped the approach, but a few in Europe may still be using GLM.

Clif Taylor was inducted into the United States Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1979. He is also a Vermont Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame member thanks to his service in the 10th Mountain Division. Taylor passed away in 2005 at age 82.

Posted in Columns | Leave a comment

Trivia 2016 Week 10

Who invented the Graduated Length Method for teaching skiing?

Posted in Trivia | 2 Comments