Fred Harris

Harris Hill JumperDid you know there’s a 90 meter ski jump in Vermont? And this year it celebrates its 95th anniversary!

The Harris Hill Ski Jump in Brattleboro was built in 1921 and hosted its first jumping competition in February of 1922. That first event drew a crowd of 3000 people. Ski jumping was an extremely popular spectator sport during the early 1900s fueled by the influx of Norwegian immigrants who brought their jumping skills to America.

Fred HarrisThe Brattleboro ski jump was the idea of Fred Harris and subsequently the jump was named after him. However Fred Harris’ accomplishments extend way beyond a ski jump.

Harris was born and raised in Brattleboro. He would go to Dartmouth graduating in 1911. While at Dartmouth he founded the Dartmouth Outing Club in 1909 to answer his own question of “What is there to do at Dartmouth in the winter?”

Harris also organized the first Dartmouth Winter Carnival in 1910. He based the carnival on the first winter carnival in the United States which was held the year before at Vermont Academy. There were snowshoe races, cross country ski races, and possibly even some ski jumping. It wouldn’t be called a “Winter Carnival” until the following year when social events were added and women were invited to attend. By the way, the tradition that Fred Harris started will continue February 9-12 this year at Dartmouth.

In 1921 Harris would return to Brattleboro and start the Brattleboro Outing Club with the same goals as the Dartmouth Outing Club, including sponsoring a winter carnival.

Stowe Reporter editor Tom Kearney was quick to identify Fred Harris. Tom says his parents rented an apartment in “Fred’s snazzy neighborhood in Brattleboro.”

Ken Strong called in his answer. Ken also has Brattleboro ties and remembers Fred Harris as a very generous man. Other correct responses came from Bill Leonard and Chuck Perkins.

Fred Harris from the Brattleboro ReformerBack in 1921, Fred Harris financed, designed, and built the ski jump that now bears his name. It cost him $2200. To put that in perspective, the average annual income in the U.S. at that time was about $3000. The first jumping event was held on February 4, 1922 and drew about 3000 spectators. The proceeds from that event paid Harris back for the jump.

Fred Harris would turn control of the jumping hill over to the Brattleboro Outing Club. The club organized and ran jumping events from that time until 2005. They hosted five United States National Championships. The last one held in 1951 had 168 competitors and drew a crowd of 10,000 spectators.

Ski jumping began to fade in popularity and the Harris Hill Jump began to show its age. The Outing Club did its best to repair the structure, but in 2005 they knew it was no longer safe and too expensive to repair. So the jump had to be closed.

Harris Hill Ski Jump TodayBut the good people of Brattleboro decided that Harris Hill was worth saving! They did it in a way that would have made Fred Harris proud – they raised the money and did the rebuild themselves. It took several years and while their fundraising came up short, a guardian angel called the Manton Foundation took notice of the community effort and provided the funds needed to close the gap. In February 2009 the only 90 meter ski jump in New England reopened to host jumpers literally from around the world. Cutting the ribbon that day on the Harris Hill Jump was Sandy Harris, Fred’s daughter.

Harris Hill Poster for 2017 EventThe jump is now run by Harris Hill Ski Jumping, Inc., a non-profit and totally volunteer organization. This year’s event will be on February 18th and 19th. There are actually two competitions: on Saturday is the Pepsi Challenge and on Sunday the Fred Harris Memorial Tournament.

While Fred Harris may be memorialized by ski jumping, he was also an alpine skier. He recorded first ski descents on both New York’s Whiteface and Mount Washington making him an early “extreme skier.” He was cofounder of USEASA (United States Eastern Amateur Ski Association) and a Winter Olympics official at three Olympics. Oh, and it wasn’t just in winter sports Fred Harris excelled. He was a world-class sailor and an accomplished tennis player, winning the Vermont state championship thirty times and the New England title four times.

Posted in Columns | Leave a comment

Trivia 2017 Week 10

Who founded the Dartmouth Outing Club and also the Brattleboro Outing Club?

Posted in Trivia | 1 Comment

Apres-ski

Après-ski: “the social activities and entertainment following a day’s skiing.” That’s the dictionary definition, but somehow the definition doesn’t seem to do it justice. Après-ski is an integral part of the ski day, a chance to relive the highs and lows of the day with friends. And yes, “reliving” the day usually is better with adult beverages.

You only need to drive down Harlow Hill after 3:00pm on weekends to know that après-ski is alive and well in Stowe! Quite often the Matterhorn creates a mini traffic jam all on its own. And it’s been doing that since about 1950.

Stowe has always had a lot of après-ski options, more than most eastern ski areas. The late John Fox had been a ski patroller at Glen Ellen before joining the Mount Mansfield Ski Patrol in the 1970s. He said he had a difficult time explaining to his wife why it took him so much longer to get home from Stowe than Glen Ellen.

Competition for the après-ski business led establishments to offer free hors d’oeuvres or appetizers in the early 1970s. Our favorite was the Three Green Doors which had multiple offerings – Swedish meatballs, Vienna sausages, and pot stickers, for example! In effect you could have a free meal from what they offered.

But what did the Shed offer? Willie White of Waterbury Center was quick with the correct answer. The Shed had a communal bowl of cheese fondue.

Cheese FonduePat Ostrowski of Saint Augustine, Florida, also had the right answer. He says, “They kept a big kettle of fondue along with chunks of bread right by the front door. Some more efficient après skiers would grab a handful of bread, dump it in the fondue, use the wooden skewers to pick it out and head for the bar or a table.” Pat and I shared some of that cheese fondue back in the day!

Now some catch-up items from earlier columns.

I wrote about the first T-Bar on Mount Mansfield. Brian Lindner points out that the 1946 version of the T-Bar only ran up to the “Sunspot.” For those unfamiliar with that term, it’s the area where North Slope, T-Line, and Standard come together and Gulch begins. Then for the following year it was extended up to the flat spot where Christiania, T-Line, and Standard come together and Tyro begins.

Bob Burley says he logged many miles on the T-Bar since it served the old Stowe Standard Races. He believes it was a Roebling T-Bar. Roebling was a New Jersey company that got into the ski lift business with the first U.S. T-Bar at Pico. Roebling also built the old Big Spruce chairlift, may it rest in peace.

Bob recalled that it was a cable-release T-Bar versus a spring-loaded steel tube. He claims the cable provided a smoother take-off and release. Personally I liked the steel tube T-bars like they had at Mount Whittier because they gave you more to hang onto.

Speaking of Mount Whittier, it also generated some follow-up comments from readers. Both Gary Fletcher and Barb Puddicombe recall driving past Mount Whittier when they were young headed for resorts further north with their families. Barb said it’s a bittersweet memory since it’s associated with her father who recently passed away.

Brian Lindner’s wife, Ann, had ties to Mount Whittier. Her family owned a chalet near the base of the mountain and her father was a ski patroller there. She still has some of the resort’s symbols that once adorned the old base lodge. Brian says the New Hampshire Historical Society has thousands of feet of old home movie footage of the area. I’d love to see some of that!

I also heard from Rob Palmer who told me about a Facebook group called “Former Skiers of the Old Mt Whittier.” The group has over 160 members who share memories and some great old pictures.

Posted in Columns | Leave a comment

Trivia 2017 Week 9

In the early 1970s some of the establishments in Stowe competed for apres-ski skiers by offering free hors d’oeuvres. So this week’s trivia question is:

What did the Shed offer as a free apres-ski appetizer in the early 1970s?

Posted in Trivia | 2 Comments

The Red Onion

If you used to spend your winter vacations at ski areas rather than tropical destinations, you may be a RetroSkier! And I don’t mean just long weekends. I mean if you only got two weeks of vacation a year and you’d use at least one week of it for a “ski trip!”

Little Red Ski Haus in AspenMy first ski trip was to Aspen in February 1969. There were four of us on the trip: myself, fellow IBMer Clint Demeritt, fraternity brother Mike Weisel, and Mike’s girlfriend Pat Wigg (who is now his wife). We stayed at the Little Red Ski Hostel which in those days was a dorm style inn with separate bunk rooms for men and women. Actually I think the women’s accommodations were in smaller rooms with only 3-4 to a room, but the men’s was an actual bunk room.

To show how Aspen has changed since those days, today it is a luxury ski house called the Little Red Ski Haus that went on the market this year for $11.8 million dollars.

In the men’s dorm we met Fritz, a Dartmouth grad who was working in Des Moines, Iowa, as a grain futures trader. Fritz knew his way around Aspen both on the hill and in the town so he was a big help to us newbies.

As it turned out, in the women’s rooms there were five stewardesses. And in those days they were stewardesses and not flight attendants, if you know what I mean (wink, wink.) Anyway, one night Fritz returned from dinner and said he was going to the Red Onion with the stewardesses. Since he was outnumbered, Fritz asked if any of us wanted to join him. I volunteered.

Red Onion The Red Onion can trace its beginning back to 1892, long before anybody was skiing at Aspen. That was during the silver boom and Aspen was a mining town. The bar was initially called “New Brick Saloon” since it was new and yes, made of brick. However locals nicknamed it the Red Onion.

Fast forward to 1947 when the silver mines were gone, but Aspen had started to be a skiing destination. A 10th Mountain Division veteran, Johnny Litchfield, bought and remodeled the bar. He also changed the name to be officially the Red Onion.

Red Onion in 1962

As its popularity grew, the bar would expand to become a restaurant and nightclub. In the 1950s and 60s it attracted name performers such as Billy Holiday and Louis Armstrong. The apres-ski atmosphere at the Onion set the standard for Aspen right into the 1980s. Financial difficulties would affect the overall business although the bar area remained a popular place. Finally in 2007 the Red Onion closed and a gasp could be heard from RetroSkiers everywhere. But in 2010 the Red Onion was resurrected under new ownership and is again the popular apres-ski and nightspot that it once was.

Gil LeBlanc was the first to identify Aspen as the home of the legendary Red Onion. He says he went there several times during the 1970s and 80s.

Bud Kassel also identified the Red Onion as a downtown Aspen landmark. Bud says, “When I first visited, in perhaps 1960, it was the favorite apres-ski water hole for real skiers, as opposed to the Hotel Jerome for the martini drinking types.”

I also heard from Peter Lawlor who first visited the Red Onion in 1967 when he “was only middle-aged.” By the way, Peter began skiing at Stowe in 1943! He’s currently rehabbing from a medical procedure so we wish him a speedy recovery so he can return to the slopes.

Meanwhile back to the stewardesses. You didn’t think I was just going to leave you hanging, did you?

When Fritz and I and the stewardesses arrived at the Red Onion we somehow got great seats in the “Beer Gulch” area near the front window, probably thanks to our stewardess companions, and began drinking Coors drafts. I mention Coors because at that time it wasn’t available in the east. That made Coors an exotic treat whenever easterners traveled to Colorado. And that night the Coors was going down easy, too easy! Sometime during the evening I remembered that alcohol affects you more at altitude, but I wasn’t feeling any effects.

With the beer and the good company I lost track of time so I’m not sure when we decided to leave the Red Onion, but it was late! Stepping outside into the cold, crisp Colorado air seemed to trigger the alcohol’s effect. It hit all of us – me, the stewardesses, and particularly Fritz. He fell down on the sidewalk and couldn’t get up. One of the stewardesses and I were trying to remember how to do some kind of a carry, but it was way beyond our coordination at that point. Somehow we were able to get Fritz on his feet and took turns supporting him on the walk back to the Little Red Ski Hostel. Once back at the hostel I wrestled Fritz into his bunk, thankfully it was a bottom bunk!

Fritz immediately fell asleep, but I had to share my drinking prowess with Mike and Clint who were soundly sleeping. I shook them awake saying something like “guess how many beers I had!” They weren’t that interested, but one of them asked “How many?” I didn’t know! They didn’t find that amusing.

As soon as I got into my top bunk, the room started to spin and I ended up in the john throwing up. This happened a couple of times before the room stopped spinning and I was finally able to get to sleep.

The next morning Mike and Clint got even by shaking me awake for breakfast. They had this funny smirk on their faces. I told them I’d better skip breakfast, but I’d be ready to go skiing when they got back. And I was!

It probably wasn’t my best day of skiing, but I survived and I felt better as the day progressed. Fritz never made it out to ski that day. I learned later that the stewardesses finally made an appearance around lunch time, but only two of them ever made it to the ski slopes.

So to summarize what I learned from my first visit to the Red Onion.

  1. I learned that Coors beer was very easy to drink.
  2. I learned that drinking alcohol at an elevation of 8000 feet affects you more than at sea level.
  3. I learned it’s difficult to carry a six foot, 200 pound man with only stewardesses to help.
  4. I learned that stewardesses like partying more than skiing.
  5. I learned that I could not ski hard AND party hard.
Posted in Columns | Leave a comment

Trivia 2017 Week 8

Where is the legendary Red Onion located?

Posted in Trivia | 3 Comments

Mount Whittier

“If you can ski [ski area name], then you can ski anywhere!” I’m sure most of us have heard someone make that claim. Maybe you’ve even made that claim about a ski area. I know I have! In my case the ski area was Mount Whittier in New Hampshire.

Mt Whittier Trail Map 1967-68

Trail Map from NewEnglandSkiHistory.com

Mount Whittier was a relatively small area located on the main route to the larger, more recognizable ski areas in the Eastern Slopes region of New Hampshire. It was actually a good location since everyone driving to Cranmore, Wildcat, or Attitash had to drive right by it.

When I first skied Mount Whittier in the early 1960s, it had a collection of T-Bars. The main T-Bar was 2100 feet long and served a steep open slope. The slope was steep enough that I learned a new word that I’d never heard before: “mogul!” And my first exposure to Mount Whittier was not love at first sight.

I remember getting off the top of that long T-Bar for the first time. I started a traverse across the moguls and began a conversation with myself:

“I’m going to turn on this first bump.”

“No, no, the next bump looks better.”

“Whoa, that one’s even worse! I think my best chance is a couple bumps ahead.”

Eventually I got to the opposite side of the slope never having made a turn. I did a kick-turn – does anybody remember how to do a kick-turn today? – and then traversed the slope again repeating the same conversation with myself!

Many traverses and conversations later I got to the bottom and retreated to the shorter T-Bar that served the intermediate slope.

I did not learn to appreciate Mount Whittier until I was in college. By then I had made my breakthrough into parallel skiing and Mount Whittier offered a couple of advantages: a $25 college season pass and it was one of the closest areas to UNH!

Mt Whittier Base LodgeOh, the moguls were still a challenge, but I was ready for the challenge. Mount Whittier had added a gondola that opened more steep terrain which meant more moguls. I skied Whittier for the 1966-67 and 1967-68 seasons, probably averaging 50 days a season. I graduated in 1968 with a degree in mathematics from UNH and a degree in moguls from Mount Whittier!

I mentioned the gondola which was New Hampshire’s first four passenger gondola. Whittier chose a gondola to attract summer visitors as well as skiers in the winter. They located the gondola base across Route 16 over a quarter mile away from the base of the ski area. There was a separate skier loading platform at the bottom of the slope.

Mt Whittier Gondola Skier Loading StationI don’t know how much summer business the gondola generated, but it wasn’t a good choice for a ski lift on such a small mountain. If you noted who was at the back of the line when you got on the gondola, you’d see they were still in line when you finished your run! That meant that on a busy day the gondola line just kept growing. We usually would switch to the T-Bars when the line got long and only return if the line got shorter.

Mount Whittier ran into problems in the 1970s when real snowfall became less reliable. Its relatively southern location and low elevation made Whittier more susceptible than areas further north. Plus its financial situation wasn’t strong enough to invest in snowmaking. After years of on-again-off-again operation and changes in ownership, the area closed for good in 1985.

I just drove by Mount Whittier this past Sunday. The trails and slopes are grown over and only those of us who skied there can really pick out where they were. The gondola line is still very visible since they keep it cleared for the electric lines to the cell towers atop the mountain. And the gondola towers and cable are still going over Route 16 even though the gondola hasn’t run in 30 years.

Posted in Columns | Leave a comment

Trivia 2017 Week 7

Gondola Towers on Rte 16 West Ossipee, NHIf you drive up Route 16 in New Hampshire, in West Ossipee you will still see lift towers and a cable going over the road.  That used to be the gondola for what now-defunct New Hampshire ski area?

Posted in Trivia | 3 Comments

Stowe’s First T-Bar

When did the original Mount Mansfield T-Bar begin operation?

Mt Mansfield T-Bar

Photo courtesy of Greg Dirmaier

Mike Leach provided the correct answer as the T-Bar went into operation for the 1946-47 season. So this season is the 70th anniversary for that lift. Actually there is more significance to that anniversary than just celebrating a now-defunct lift.

By the mid-1940s Stowe had a single chair owned by Roland Palmedo’s Mount Mansfield Lift Company plus a collection of rope tows owned by Sepp Ruschp’s Mount Mansfield Hotel Company. Sepp had a strategy to replace the rope tows that were on Mount Mansfield above the Toll House, but needed financial backing to afford a more modern lift – a T-Bar.

C. V. StarrEnter Corneilius Vander Starr, founder of American International Group (AIG). Starr had been introduced to skiing in New Hampshire via Hannes Schneider and had also visited Sun Valley to take ski lessons there. Starr came to Stowe to take private lessons from Sepp and was appalled to find out that as instructor and student, they could not cut the lift line on the single chair. That was because the chair lift was owned by a separate corporation from Sepp’s Ski School.

Starr expressed an interest in investing in Sepp’s plans for a new lift. First, to extend the T-Bar beyond the existing rope tows meant obtaining 400 acres of land owned by Craig Burt. Burt also owned 3000 acres on the Spruce side and he was only willing to sell “everything or nothing.” Starr purchased the land while reserving the timber rights for the Burts’ lumber business.

A new corporation was formed for the T-Bar with Starr as the majority investor. The T-Bar was built and opened for the 1946-47 season.

Jackie Kennedy Riding Mt Mansfield T-Bar 1964

Photo courtesy Greg Dirmaier

This would be the beginning of Starr’s and AIG’s involvement with the Stowe ski area. By the 1950s Starr was able to obtain majority ownerships of the various corporations: the Mount Mansfield Lift Company, the Mount Mansfield Hotel Company, Sepp’s Ski School, the Lodge, and the T-Bar. These were consolidated into the Mount Mansfield Company with Sepp as General Manager.

Of course today the Mount Mansfield Company is one of the many corporations that comprise Stowe Mountain Resort. These still operate under the ownership of AIG.

In effect this season we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of Stowe and its relationship with AIG! So the next time you ski Starr or T-Line, remember they mark a relationship that has benefited Stowe and skiing on Mount Mansfield for the past 70 years.

Posted in Columns | 1 Comment

Trivia 2017 Week 6

When did the original Mount Mansfield T-Bar begin operation?

Posted in Trivia | 1 Comment