Trivia 2014 Week 17

Sunrise Service Easter 2013When was the first Easter sunrise service held atop Mount Mansfield?

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Bota Bags

Spring skiing always brings back memories from past springs. Last week’s trivia question took us back to a warm day of spring skiing in the early 1970s in some huge bumps on Liftline. One of the first skiers in our group did a spectacular face plant on the back side of one of those bumps. By the time I got to him there was a growing red stain in the snow, but all the other people on scene were laughing! What really happened?

Bota BagBob Stewart was quick with the correct answer: “Oh no! He ruptured his bota! A terrible injury, especially on a sunny spring day.” Will Spalding also recognized the situation that I described.

A bota or wineskin is a leather bag used to hold wine – well, any liquid, but wine was usually the choice. The spout has a cap that can be removed for filling and the cap contains a nozzle with its own stopper that is used to dispense the wine. The bota originated in Spain where it was made of goatskin. Evergreen pitch was used to seal the seams on the inside. These original botas had to be conditioned so that the wine didn’t pick up the taste of the pitch. The modern bota is available with latex or plastic liners which require no conditioning.

I’ll follow Bob’s lead and use the term bota rather than wineskin. There is a whole new generation who think Wineskin is a software wrapper that allows them to run Microsoft-based games on their Apple computers!

Botas became very popular during the early 1970s as the United States began to discover wine. They were particularly popular on the ski slopes where the carrying cord could be slung around your neck and the bag carried under your parka.

A bota was something to be shared so there was a proper way to drink from one. Putting your mouth directly over the spout identified you as a novice and made you the target of ridicule. So how did you drink from a bota? I brought one along so you could try it out.

So, first hold the spout with one hand and support the bag with the other hand. Now tip your head back with your mouth open, lift the bota toward your mouth, and squeeze the bag to squirt the wine into your mouth. Whoops! You probably shouldn’t have worn that white turtle neck to try this. Well you can always wear a sweater over it. Yes, it takes a little practice to get this right.

The mark of an expert bota user was that once he or she started drinking, the bota would be moved to arms-length while still drinking! You want to try that? Just remember you’ll have to increase the pressure as you move the bota. Whoa, not that much pressure! Here’s a tissue, you’ve still got some wine on your nose. Yes, this is a lot of work to just get a drink of wine.

I used to have a bota, but it got lost somewhere along the line. My favorite wine to put in the bota was Mateus. A Portugese wine in a Spanish bota, how cosmopolitan! Whatever happened to Mateus anyway? It was very popular in the early 70s, but I don’t see it on the shelves these days, at least not in the old distinctive bottle. I’m sure some of you remember those bottles which made great candle holders.

Since we’re talking about 1970s wine, I somehow feel the need to mention Boone’s Farm. No, I never put it in my bota, but I did drink it from other people’s botas. Boone’s Farm had flavors like Strawberry Hill and Apple, all very tasty, plus you could drink a lot due to the low alcohol percentage. I believe today Boone’s Farm isn’t even classified as wine, but a malt beverage due to its low alcohol content.

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Trivia Week 2014 Week 16

It’s a warm spring day in the early 1970s and by the afternoon the spring bumps on Liftline have gotten huge! One of the first skiers in our group does a spectacular face plant on the back side of one of those bumps. By the time I get to him there’s a growing red stain in the snow, but all the other people on scene are laughing! What really happened?

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Where Did You Learn to Ski?

Where did you first learn to ski? Not the first place you skied, but the place where you really learned. For a majority of Retro-Skiers the answer will be some small, family-friendly area that probably no longer is in business.

After the first U.S. rope tow was built in Woodstock, small ski areas popped up around New England. Jeremy Davis, founder of the New England Lost Ski Area Project (NELSAP), has identified 608 “lost” ski areas in New England with 119 in Vermont. Visit their website at and check out the list. If you have memories associated with any of those lost areas, they encourage you to share them.

1937 Stowe Rope TowOne of the lost Vermont ski areas was the Glen Skiff Farm located on Route 15 between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. Wesley Pope built a 1000 foot rope tow powered by a Cadillac engine for the 1935-36 season. It was just his luck that it was a bad snow year so the area never opened. However for the following season Craig Burt offered to pay Pope to move that rope tow over to Stowe. So in the fall of 1936 Wesley Pope supervised the moving and installing of what would be Stowe’s first rope tow. The tow officially opened on February 7, 1937, as chronicled in Patricia Haslam’s Ski Pioneers of Stowe, Vermont. MMSC Historian Mike Leach was the first correct responder and Jim Pease also had the correct answer.

Glen Skiff Farm is the ultimate lost ski area since it never really opened! But many of us have fond memories of the lost areas where we learned to ski. For me it was the Intervale ski area located just outside North Conway, New Hampshire.

Fred Pabst, Jr. built Intervale in 1936 installing one of his new J-Bars. In the mid-1930s Pabst ran a company called Ski Tows Inc. The company built 17 ski areas located in 6 states plus Canada. Pabst invented the J-Bar which he propagated to those areas. Eventually Pabst realized that it was difficult to make money on the small areas so after World War II he began selling them off and consolidating his resources at Bromley in Vermont. Pabst sold Intervale in 1947 to New Hampshire local Dick Stimpson, but Pabst took the J-Bar back to Bromley!

Intervale Ski Area expanded in 1963I started skiing at Intervale in the 1960s. By that time they had an 2400 foot Poma lift serving about 400 feet of vertical. The skiing consisted of a wide open slope and one trail through the woods. My cousin patrolled at the area so he could get me in for free. The area had been popular with ski clubs, but by the 1960s there were less ski club activities and most skiers were drawn to the larger areas. So for me that meant no lift line and lots of skiing! It was at Intervale that I would successfully learn how to make parallel turns. After that, I sought the challenge offered by bigger more developed ski areas, but will always have fond memories of Intervale. Intervale closed in 1976 and today, as reported by NELSAP, no visible evidence remains of the ski area.

Unite We SkiThe importance of small, family-oriented ski areas to the ski and snowboard industry cannot be overestimated. To a great degree the industry still relies on a core set of skiers that got hooked on skiing at small, lost ski areas. A remarkable movie, United We Ski, brings home this point better than I can. I say remarkable because it was done by two young brothers recently graduated from UVM. Elliott and Tyler Wilkinson-Ray grew up in Richmond, Vermont, and got hooked on skiing at Cochran’s. Their film documents three small, family-oriented ski areas that are still operating: Cochran’s, Hard’ack, and Northeast Slopes. The DVD makes a wonderful RetroSki gift and is available from the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum or via the T-Bar Film website (

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Trivia 2014 Week 15

Who built Stowe’s first rope tow?

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Northland Skis

My junior year in high school my parents bought me a pair of skis. As I’ve chronicled in this column before, buying me a new pair of skis was an annual event since I couldn’t seem to make it through a season without breaking a pair of skis. These particular skis were a pair of Northland Commanders, an entry level wooden ski with screwed-on steel edges and a Ko-Fix base (think P-Tex.) A neighbor of ours had gone to work for the Northland factory in Laconia, New Hampshire, so my parents were able to get a good deal on the skis and bindings.

These skis would be different for me not just because I couldn’t break them, but because they would be the skis with which I made my breakthrough to parallel skiing and they would be the skis that would hook me on the life-sport of skiing. Sadly I did not give them the respectful ending they deserved: I left them in the furnace room of my fraternity when I graduated from college. I had a good job lined up that would allow me to afford far more state-of-the-art skis for the next season.

Northland Ski Company LogoNorwegians had a long history of handcrafting wooden skis so it isn’t a surprise that they also were the first to manufacture wooden skis. In the late 1800s Norwegian immigrants to the United States brought their ski making skills with them. Many of the first U.S. ski companies such as the Strand Ski Company in St Paul, Minnesota, were started by Norwegians. Ole Ellevold worked for Strand, but thought he had a better way of making skis so in 1912 he left Strand and started the Northland Ski Company in St Paul. A fellow Norwegian, Christian Lund, was also making skis in nearby Hastings, Minnesota. He recognized the merits in Ellevold’s approach and became a major stockholder in Northland. Eventually in 1916 Lund would force Ellevold out and merge the companies in St Paul, but maintain the Northland name. By the 1930s, Northland was the largest producer of wooden skis in the world.

Lund and Northland realized that skiing was really a new sport in the United States. As part of their U.S. marketing they produced some very detailed “How to Ski” brochures. In the 1940s these brochures featured Hannes Schneider, arguably the most famous skier of that era, demonstrating his Arlberg technique. Willie White of Waterbury Center has several of these brochures which had been his father’s.

The 1950s and 1960s saw the introduction of new materials in ski manufacturing. The Head metal skis took the world by storm and then fiberglass became a popular choice. Northland had difficulty keeping up with these changes even though they tried. They experimented with metal skis. From the same neighbor that provided the Commanders, I got a pair of demo metal skis. These did everything but turn, and boy, were they heavy! Granted they were seven footers, but really that wasn’t an unusual length in those days. I don’t think Northland ever brought them to market except maybe as boat moorings.

Ad for Northland Ski's Stein Eriksen Model

Ad from Ski Magazine November, 1969

In the late 1960s, Northland hired Stein Eriksen to not only lend his name to some Northland models, but design a composite wood/fiberglass ski. But it was the Jean Claude Killy era and Stein didn’t carry the influence that he once did. The skis didn’t sell and in 1970 Northland went out of business.

Bob McKee and David Carter correctly identified Northland as the company even Stein couldn’t save. Bob says he believes he had a pair of Northlands and broke them! Despite my good luck with the Northland Commanders, wooden skis were still wooden skis and prone to breaking. Oh, and the real wooden skis also wore out quicker than most of today’s skis. By wore out I mean they lost their camber. When I abandoned my Commanders, they had no camber – when you put the skis base-to-base there was no visible space between the skis! Which does bring up a question about the new skis: if old skis lost their camber, do new skis lose their rocker?

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Trivia 2014 Week 14

What former ski company known for its wooden skis went out of business even though Stein Eriksen designed some of their skis?

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“Volkl, mit ein Umlaut!”

What ski company made the Zebra-Ski? There were many readers who knew that it was Volkl that introduced the Zebra-Ski in 1967. The first person to post the correct answer on my blog was regular RetroSki contributor Gary Tomlinson from Fernie, British Columbia. A close second was Bill Hays who pointed out that it’s “Volkl, mit ein umlaut!” Jeff Waxman also posted the correct answer.

Others chose to respond in person. I saw Bob Stewart when I arrived at the ski area Friday and his first words were “It’s Volkl.” I should have expected Bob would know the answer since his e-mail username is Volkl2Man! Friday evening when my wife and I entered Gracie’s for dinner, Archie Archdeacon greeted us with “It was Volkl that made the Zebra-Ski, wasn’t it?”

Volkl Zebra-SkiThe original Zebra-Ski, as the name implies, had stark black and white stripes making it very distinctive. SKIING magazine called it “the most way-out looking ski of the season.”  The cosmetics may have drawn the attention, but it was a quality ski that incorporated state-of-the-art features such as both bottom and top cracked edges. Those cracked edges allowed the ski to flex more freely and gave the ski a reputation for holding very well on ice. I never skied on the Zebras, but I remember that it was the first Volkl ski I had ever seen. While Volkl was known in Europe, I believe it was the Zebra that established the Volkl name in the United States.

Volkl Celebrates 90 Years of Making SkisThis year Volkl is celebrating its 90th anniversary in the ski industry making it one of the oldest ski companies still in operation. Georg Volkl was a cartwright in Straubing, Germany. The company he started in the late 1800s made wagons and carriages. In the 1900s, Georg’s son, Franz, diversified the company to make other wood products. In 1923, Volkl produced their first ski, the Vostras.

Since introducing the Zebra-Ski, Volkl has been known for engineering advancements in ski design. They followed the Zebra with the Renntiger (Race Tiger), an all metal ski. Then Volkl produced the first all carbon fiber ski. In subsequent years, Volkl ski technology would blend metal, fiberglass, and wood to produce skis that attracted both recreational skiers and racers.

Volkl Power SwitchOne of their recent features was the Power Switch series which allowed you to change the ski flex with a two-setting switch. Other ski manufacturers had tried to achieve similar results with adjustable weights, but Volkl used an internal spring mechanism controlled by the switch. There was the Power (Stiff) setting and the Cruise (Soft) setting. I can attest that the switches did make a difference. I got a pair of Tiger Sharks with the Power Switch technology and after my first day on them, I wasn’t totally happy. I should say that at that time I’d already been skiing on Volkls for twelve years and was a big fan. So what was the story with these? I checked the switches and found one ski was set to Power while the other was on Cruise! Once both skis were on the same setting – either Power or Cruise – the skis were great. I always liked the Power setting better since I felt quicker, but that was based solely on perception.

Today even though the company is headquartered in Switzerland, Volkl skis are still manufactured at a plant in Straubing and the company takes great pride in its “Made in Germany” identity. They produce a wide range of skis for all the various skiing disciplines: alpine racing, moguls, aerials, freestyle, big mountain, powder. And Volkl skiers such as Hannah Kearney have had a lot of success including the Sochi Olympics. The current Volkl ski line incorporates all the latest trends in ski design from full rocker to partial rocker to traditional camber. Happy 90th anniversary to Volkl!

Many thanks to David Hatoff for suggesting that Volkl’s 90th would make a good column topic.

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Trivia 2014 Week 13

What ski company made The Zebra-Ski?

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Stowe's Liftline Trail

Stowe's Old Liftline (Photo courtesy of Greg Dirmaier)

Have you ever suffered from chair-anoia? Chair-anoia is the fear of skiing under chairlifts because you think that people are watching you ski – no, make that judging your skiing! If you have ever experienced that fear, you were right: they were watching and judging your skiing ability. I believe chair-anoia is less prevalent today than in the RetroSki days.  I don’t know if we have become a kinder, gentler skiing community or whether high speed lifts have somehow changed the dynamic. When I’m skiing Liftline under the FourRunner quad today, I don’t sense the same peer pressure I felt when it was the old single and double chairs.

Liftline in the single chair days was a real test. There was no snowmaking or grooming so the upper pitch today gives you a flavor for what the whole trail was like. And over your head were some of the best skiers in the east watching your every turn. Certainly some of them were rooting for you to succeed, but there was that feeling that some were just waiting for you to screw up. If you did take a fall – particularly a spectacular fall – those suspicions were confirmed by the audible reaction from the chairs. One of the few places that I suffered from chair-anoia was the old Stowe Liftline.

Mall at Sugarbush

The Mall at Sugarbush

One of my favorite trails under a lift is Mall at Sugarbush which is under the Valley chair. Mall doesn’t get the credit or traffic that its nearby neighbor Stein’s Run gets. That could be because it doesn’t have snowmaking and is narrower, but it could partly be because of chair-anoia. I always liked the moguls better on Mall than Stein’s. And when you had a good run, the audience overhead was a bonus!

The Chute at Mad River Glen

The Chute at Mad River Glen

Another of my favorites is the Chute at Mad River Glen. In keeping with Mad River’s RetroSki atmosphere, the upper Chute is a good old fashioned mogul run. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve skied it, but I’m betting those bumps are still tight. It was particularly fun in the Spring when you could take laps from the mid-station on the single chair. Since all Mad River skiers seem to prefer the woods, it’s hard to tell if chair-anoia is a factor for the reduced traffic on the Chute.

Black Diamond formerly Scotch Mist at Glen Ellen

The trail formerly known as Scotch Mist

While we’re in the Mad River Valley, the Black Diamond trail at Sugarbush’s Mount Ellen is a short, narrow, steep pitch under the summit chair. Back when that area was called Glen Ellen the trail had a different name. Walt Elliot who founded and named Glen Ellen continued the Scottish theme naming the trail Scotch Mist. It surprised me that there were no correct responses to last week’s trivia question. Apparently chair-anoia meant not too many people ever skied that trail.

Whenever I think of chair-anoia, I think of the Limelight run at Sun Valley. Those who have visited Sun Valley lately will say “Wait a minute, Limelight isn’t under a lift.” Oh, but it used to be. And unlike the Chute the bumps on Limelight were big! I was having an epic run down Limelight in eighteen inches of heavy powder and had forgotten completely that I was under a chair. In my euphoric state I launched a jump off a catwalk. When I landed, my skis sank into the powder and I pitched forward to plant my face in eighteen inches of heavy powder. I can still hear the roar from up-and-down the chair over my head.

By the way, in the late 1970s and early 80s, you didn’t want to be skiing on Limelight at about 2:30 in the afternoon, but you might have wanted to be riding up that chairlift. In those days Sun Valley was home to some of the best freestyle mogul skiers in the world and at about that time of day there was an informal gathering on Limelight which of course became an informal contest. It was an amazing show.

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