Betsy Snite

On Saturday February 20, 1960 my family was huddled around our black-and-white TV to watch the women’s downhill at the Squaw Valley winter Olympics. I say huddled around because the reception for the CBS channel was pretty bad and made it look like they were skiing in a blizzard. (For the record, it was not snowing in Squaw Valley, just our TV!) As loyal New Hampshire-ites we wanted to watch Penny Pitou, a local skiing star that was a favorite to win.

As the race unfolded, it was the course that became the focus. The “Airplane Turn” near the bottom of the course was taking a toll on the racers. In fact, 14 out of the 41 racers failed to negotiate that turn! Apparently a warm day followed by a cold night had iced the corner more than the racers had seen during their practice runs.

Betsy SnitePenny Pitou did survive the Airplane Turn and ended up with a silver medal. However another United States racer did not fare as well. Betsy Snite from Vermont lost her right ski in the Airplane Turn. The ski cartwheeled, striking her in the helmet hard enough to leave a dent. It stunned Snite and there are pictures of her being unceremoniously dragged off the course by course workers. Obviously in 1960 the attention to possibly injured athletes was a lot different than today!

Six days later Vermonter Betsy Snite would redeem herself with a silver medal in the slalom.

Betsy Snite grew up in Norwich, Vermont. Her father had her on skis when she was only one-and-a-half years old. By age 11 she was winning races usually against the boys. Then in 1955 at age 16 she won the United States slalom champion beating none other than Andrea Mead Lawrence for the title!

All this success led to her being named to the United States Olympic team for the 1956 Olympics. At those Olympics she had a disappointing result in the GS and then tore knee ligaments practicing for the downhill.

In 1958 Betsy Snite and Penny Pitou basically became ski bums in Europe. They had realized that to beat the Europeans you had to learn from the Europeans. So they worked during the week, raced on weekends, and “accumulated European boyfriends.” Betsy found that skiing with the boys “you learn to ski fast or spend a lonesome winter.”

Betsy Snite on the cover of Sports IllustratedAnd it worked. Betsy began to win races on the European circuit including the prestigious Arlberg Kandahar slalom in both 1958 and 1959. In the build up to the 1960 Olympics, Betsy Snite and Penny Pitou were dominant and favorites for Olympic medals. Betsy’s success led to Sports Illustrated naming her “Sportsman of the Year” in 1959.

Betsy Snite was a beautiful woman. Sports Illustrated put Betsy on the cover of its issue before the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics. Andrea Mead Lawrence said that Betsy was “the best looking woman skier I’ve ever seen.” In the 1959 off season, Betsy was a model for a San Francisco fashion firm. She loved clothes and at one time had a dozen pair of stretch pants. Her time in San Francisco led some to question her training regimen which she herself described as “dating, dancing, and learning to sail and drive a sports car.”

Despite her fall in the downhill, Betsy Snite still had a successful 1960 Olympics finishing fourth in the GS as well as the silver medal in slalom. She would retire from racing at the end of the 1960 season after a final appearance at the American International race in Stowe.

Betsy would stay involved in fashion becoming a rep for Bogner and eventually DuPont. In 1964 she married Mount Mansfield Company marketing manager Bill Riley and settled in Stowe. In 1977 she opened an exclusive skiwear boutique, Betsy Snite Sports, on the Mountain Road here in Stowe.

Betsy Snite Riley died in 1984 from cancer at age 45, way too young. Her ashes were spread on the trails of Mount Mansfield.

Tim Griffin and Norma Stancliffe both identified Betsy Snite as the Vermont silver medalist in slalom. Norma knew Betsy and in fact was present with Bill and Betsy at the Mary Fletcher when Betsy passed away. Norma says that Betsy’s motto was “it’s not over till it’s over and fight to the end.”

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Trivia 2018 Week 7

What Vermont woman won a silver medal in Slalom at the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics?

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Mel Dalebout’s Daleboot

Mel DaleboutMel Dalebout got hooked on skiing in the late 1940s while he was an engineering student at the University of Utah. He became proficient enough that he raced nationally within the United States.

With the advent of plastic ski boots in the 1960s, Dalebout decided to apply his engineering to advancing ski boots. He first experimented with foam-fit liners. You would put your foot in the liner, foam would be injected into the liner, you’d wait for the foam to firm up, and voila! You had a liner custom fit to your foot! Sounds good, but we’ll come back to that later.

Dalebout also designed a new ski boot to go around his custom fit liners and founded Daleboot in 1969. The first model was made of magnesium, that’s right, magnesium! Bet you didn’t get those too close to the fireplace! The boot also introduced another new concept – the three-piece ski boot.


Daleboot on Display at Inner Bootworks Stowe Vermont

Conventional two-piece ski boots have a shell and a cuff. Three-piece boots have a shell, a cuff, and an external tongue. With the three-piece approach, the cuff and shell don’t have to overlap making them easier to get into. Plus the external tongue provided more uniform pressure when the boot was buckled. Typically three-piece boots only need two or three buckles to secure them to your foot.

Bill Kornrumpf took time out from staying warm last week to answer the trivia question. He knew Daleboot was first with the foam-fit liners. He went on to say “sometimes the boot fitter actually got it right. Sometimes they were really overfilled and were painful.”

When the foam-fit craze really took off in the early 1970s, I had a friend who tried the process. Much like Bill indicated, my friend didn’t make it through a whole day of skiing due to the pain. He actually went through the process twice before returning to conventional liners.

One smart thing Mel Dalebout did was to patent the foam-fit concept. When European ski boot makers infringed on his patent, he sued and the resulting settlement funded Daleboot getting into the plastic ski boot business!

Daleboot is still in the ski boot business located in Salt Lake City. They still use the three-piece structure, but they don’t use foam-fit liners. However they do use “heat fit” liners. I assume you heat the liner up, put your foot in it and let it cool. They advertise that you can repeat that process if your feet change.

Mel Dalebout sold his company in 2007 and passed away in March of last year at age 86.

Unlike rear-entry boots, three-piece ski boots are still available. Dalbello and Full Tilt provide three-piece models in addition to Daleboot. They are popular with freestylers and some extreme skiers.

Advocates highlight the ease of getting in and out versus conventional two-piece boots, but the main reason cited is the added forward flex that the design offers. While racers want a stiff forward flex, mogul skiers, park skiers, and skiers who regularly ski on gnarly surfaces appreciate a little more forgiveness.

Raichle FlexonsThe most popular three-piece was the Raichle Flexon which was actually popular with both racers and freeskiers. American Bill Johnson won downhill gold at the 1984 Olympics in a pair of Flexons. The boot first came on the scene for the 1980-81 ski season and quickly grew in popularity to the point where Raichle had difficulty keeping up with the demand.

As the company changed ownership in the 1990s it ran into financial difficulties. By 2001 the Flexon was gone. But much like the Salomon rear-entry boots, the fans of the Flexon turned to eBay to repair or replace their Flexons.

K2 acquired the Flexon molds in 2004 and now uses them in their Full Tilt ski boot line. Bill Kornrumpf used to ski in the Raichle Flexons, but now swears by his Full Tilt three-piece boots!

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Trivia 2018 Week 6

What concept in ski boot design did Daleboot introduce in the late 1960s?

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Die Hard Rear-Entry Boots

Salomon SX91 on Display at Alf Engen Ski MuseumLast winter while Meg and I were in Utah, some Vermont friends came out to visit and ski. One of those friends was Ed Trottier who was skiing in 25 year old Salomon SX-91 boots! We had a laugh since literally the day before we had visited the Alf Engen Museum in Park City and saw a pair of the same boots on display. We accused Ed of robbing the museum to get his ski boots.

The fact is the Salomon SX-9x series still has a dedicated following. Last week’s trivia question asked what was so unique about those boots to create such a loyal following? They were the best rear-entry ski boots ever made.

Robert Pandaleon was the first with the correct answer. He actually skied on some Salomon SX-3s which also were rear-entry. He says his wife called them his “Star Wars boots.”

Marc Girardelli and Salomon SX91Glen Findholt also had the correct answer and pointed out that the SX-9s were even used by some racers. Indeed, Marc Girardelli had success on the World Cup in a pair of SX-90s.

Glen also had a great story about one of his fellow Smuggs instructors who had a pair of SX-91s. In an attempt to make the boots even lighter, the instructor had replaced the metal screws with nylon screws. On a particularly cold morning – not unlike those we’re having right now – Glen was walking behind the instructor and watched as parts began falling off the boots! Apparently metal and nylon have different contraction coefficients in cold weather.

Lyndall Heyer was another racer who had success with the rear-entry SX-9s. She won races on the women’s pro race circuit using a pair of SX-91 Equipes. You can see the actual orange Equipe boots she used on display at Inner Bootworks here in Stowe. Lyndall says “Salomon was thrilled with the women racers on the pro tour who won on their boot.”

So what happened? If these boots were so popular with both racers and recreational skiers, why did Salomon discontinue them?

Jackson Hogen looked into this in a recent article on his website. Hogen notes that this season marks the 20th anniversary of Salomon’s decision to get out of the rear-entry boot business. The underlying story goes something like this: Salomon’s success with rear-entry boots forced its competitors to join the market. However Hogen says the competitors’ boots were “inferior when they weren’t hysterically awful!” So competitors began to disparage rear-entry boots as being for “losers.” This campaign was so successful that Salomon management felt the rear-entry boots were hurting its credibility in the ski and binding business as well. Thus the decision to abandon rear-entry boots.

Hogen is amazed that no one has picked up the rear-entry concept at least for rental boots where they could help make that initial skiing experience easier for both rental staff and the skier!

Another reason Hogen was writing about rear-entry ski boots is that he feels they could provide help for aging skiers. Despite the improvements in conventional ski boots, they still aren’t that easy to get on and off. I’d add my note that this cold weather makes taking them off particularly challenging! Hogen believes that at some age point, the difficulty in getting in and out of conventional ski boots can affect how often you ski.

George Jedenoff Skiing on his 100th BirthdayI’ll add plaintiff’s evidence #1 for Hogen’s case: George Jedenoff celebrated his 100th birthday on July 5th, 2017. George is a Snowbird skier who didn’t start skiing until he was 43 years old, but has skied in every season for the last 57 years. Granted, last season he only logged three days. Snowbird went out of their way to allow George the opportunity to ski on his 100th birthday. The area got some great media coverage of the event and in the pictures of George skiing you can clearly see his Salomon SX-91 Equipe ski boots!!

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Trivia 2018 Week 5

What was so different about the Salomon SX-9x series of ski boots?

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How Many People in the U.S. Skied Last Season?

If you’re reading this column, then you’re probably one of the top 1%! I’ll explain more about that later.

SIA - Snowsports Industries AmericaSnowsports Industries America (SIA) is a non-profit trade association representing suppliers of snowsports.  Snowsports in this case being alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. The organization started as “Ski Industries America”, but changed its name if not its initials to be more inclusive of the sports it represents.

One of the missions of SIA is research to help its members better understand the snowsports market. The data they collect used to be hard for the general public to access, but thanks to the web, now it’s easier to see. Some of their research remains for “members only” or can be obtained for a fee. However the free, publicly available data available in the “SIA Snow Sports Industry Insights Study” makes for some interesting reading.

Let’s start with how many people in the United States actually participate in Snowsports. In 2016 11.857 million people went downhill skiing, 7.557 million snowboarded, and 5.059 million went cross-country skiing. The downhill skiing numbers crept up a little from the previous season while snowboarding held about even. Cross-country numbers have seen the only significant increase (>20%) over the last three seasons.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the downhill skiing numbers. Skiers are an aging group. If I define RetroSkiers as those 55 or older, we went from being 7% of downhill participants up to 11%! As I mentioned, downhill saw only a small increase in total participation so that means there was actually a decrease in some of the younger age brackets.

Alpine Ski Particpants Age Trends

The increase in participation by those 55 and older is not a surprise. The changes over the last 20-30 years in ski equipment, snowmaking and grooming, and lifts have all favored senior skiers. Would as many of us still be skiing if we were on 210’s, dealing with ungroomed slopes and long lift lines?

So we have about 12 million skiers in the United States. How often do they go skiing? I was shocked to find out that according to the SIA data, 23% only skied one day last season! In other words, about one in four skiers logged just a single day – sure hope it was a good day!

No correct answers to that question last week, but I really didn’t expect a big response. I’m betting many of you are as surprised as I was at the actual percentage.

Going back to the numbers on how often people ski, the data indicate that 77% of skiers skied eight or less days last season. That figure obviously includes the single day wonders mentioned earlier. While I’m not as shocked by that figure, it still is amazing that the “typical” skier makes the big investment in equipment, tickets, lodging, and food for basically a week of enjoyment. I think it also may reveal some of the thought behind the pricing of Epic passes.

I know that many readers of this column fall into the as yet unmentioned category of those who ski nine or more days a season. In fact a lot of you probably accumulate way more than that! So that puts you in a very exclusive group.

The population of the United States is approximately 326 million. If I’m very generous and round up, about 4% of that population are skiers. Since less than a quarter of U.S. skiers ski 9 days or more, those who do make up the top 1%! OK, so it’s not the top 1% that you see in the news all the time, but it’s still a point of distinction.

Since I’m on a numbers kick, I did look up some other countries. Germany has the most skiers at 14.6 million. That’s almost 20% of their population! Japan is right behind the U.S. with some 10 million skiers. Japan’s number has actually decreased. At one time they may have exceeded the U.S., but an aging population has reduced their numbers.

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Trivia 2018 Week 4

What percentage of people who skied (downhill) during the 2016-17 season, skied only one day?

0-10%            10-20%           20-30%           30-40%          40-50%

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Tucker Sno-Cats

I skied Cliff Trail for the first time this season on Monday December 11th. It hadn’t been groomed yet, but conditions were still good. There were some small soft-snow bumps plus a few water bars so it was a little more work than usual. I stopped when I got to the Nosedive and was soon joined by a fellow who appeared to be about my age. He commented that he didn’t think he’d ever skied Cliff Trail when it wasn’t groomed.

Well, my memory is better that that fellow! I certainly remember skiing Cliff Trail when it wasn’t groomed on a regular basis. For that matter, I remember skiing when none of the trails were groomed regularly!

Today we are used to finding most trails groomed every night so our first runs are on a smooth, regular surface, a cruiser’s delight. But in the RetroSki days, the morning conditions were typically left over from the day before plus whatever the overnight weather did to them. That meant less cruising and more turning which meant more work! For those who remember last season when they opened Nosedive with all natural snow and no grooming. It was bumps from top to bottom and a real workout. That was the way it used to be every day!

I don’t want to imply that there was no grooming back in the RetroSki days. Ever since skiers started walking up hills to ski down, grooming became part of the sport. In those early days, skiers did their own grooming. Sidestepping up the hill was one of the first things you learned when you put on skis. In the early days of lift-served skiing, you could earn free skiing by helping pack the slopes.

Tucker Sno-CatSome areas began to experiment with various devices designed to groom slopes. First they were towed by skiers, but then the snow-cat came on the scene. Actually I should say the Tucker Sno-Cat came on the scene!

Emmett Tucker was obsessed with creating over-the-snow vehicles. In 1942 he started the Tucker Sno-Cat company in Medford, Oregon. The post WWII boom in skiing sent ski areas looking for mechanical help with grooming and the Tucker Sno-Cat was the popular choice.

The first Tucker in the east was at Big Bromley in 1947. It actually wasn’t initially used for grooming, but for taking sightseeing tourists up the mountain. However by the 1952-53 season Bromley had invested in a fleet of three Tucker Sno-Cats to pull “wide rollers with slats that simulated side-stepping skis.” (Pabst).

Stowe also had an early Tucker Sno-Cat in the 1940s and then expanded to a fleet in the mid-1950s. Stowe used concrete-filled rollers and a chain-link mat for grooming behind the Tuckers. Brian Lindner says Stowe groomed beginner and intermediate trails, but they never groomed Nosedive!

The Tucker Sno-Cat was a fixture at most ski areas. Unlike today’s cats designed specifically for grooming, the Tucker was designed for travelling over snow. It had four sets of treads that sort of acted like wheels. The cab sat much higher than today’s groomers and that led to less stability particularly on steeper slopes.

One of the areas where I learned to ski was Mt. Whittier in New Hampshire. They had a Tucker Sno-Cat and they had some steep slopes. There was only one guy who would drive the Tucker on the steep slopes. He was actually also head of their ski patrol. He loved to give people rides when he was going to groom the main slope. I never knew anyone who went on a second ride with him! The top pitch of that main slope was steep enough that it had to be groomed going downhill. The Tucker would pick up speed, bouncing over the moguls and looking like it would tip over at any moment. It was really an out-of-control freefall until the slope became less steep.

As areas added snowmaking, grooming became a necessity. More specialized groomers replaced the Tuckers. In 1968, “Powder Maker” tillers, invented in Maine, were added to chew up the harder snowmaking surface. In 1989, winch cats were introduced allowing the grooming of even steeper terrain. Tucker still makes Sno-Cats and is still run by the Tucker family. Tucker Sno-Cats may not be as common on ski slopes today, but remember that’s why we still call them “cats!”

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Trivia 2018 Week 3

When was the first snowmaking installed on Mt Mansfield? (Note: the first snowmaking at Stowe was on the Spruce side, but when did it expand to Mansfield?)

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