Trivia 2019 Week 3

What ski area hosts the James Moore Tavern?

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Glen Ellen

In the past two columns, I’ve been fondly remembering the great early start to the 1968-69 season, but this season has blown that one away! The Mount Mansfield stake set an all-time record for November hitting 46 inches on the 29th! The conditions have been so good that it’s difficult to find the right words. You just had to be there! Of course as I’m writing this on Sunday the rain is pouring down, so we’re still in Vermont and the season will go on!

Back to 1968: Sugarbush was the first area I skied that season. And while I would ski Sugarbush several more times, its neighbor, Glen Ellen, would become a more regular part of my skiing schedule in that season. As a working person with no vacation, I could only ski on weekends and Sugarbush’s popularity led to long lift lines on the weekends. The lift lines at Glen Ellen were shorter plus its lift layout helped distribute the lines somewhat. I’ll talk a little more about that last point later.

Glen Ellen was founded in 1963 by Walt Elliot. Elliott was an engineer working at an acoustic tile company in New York City. He was also a skier and had been involved in building and running a ski lodge at Killington. But in 1961 he made the decision to change careers and build a ski area.

No one identified Walt Elliott as the founder of Glen Ellen. I knew it was a tough question, but just wanted to see if anyone remembered a fellow that probably deserved more credit than he ever received.

Elliott found Mount Ellen and felt it had great potential. He bought the land at the base and arranged financing by selling shares for $1500 that included 20 years of free skiing. He retained Bud Lynch who had been at Stratton to do the original Glen Ellen trail layout. Elliott struck a deal with local loggers to clear the trails in exchange for the lumber. Glen Ellen opened in December 1963.

Elliott must have been of Scottish descent which led him to name the area Glen Ellen. Most of the trails had names with Scottish ties: Bagpiper, Black Watch, Inverness, Royal Tartan, and of course, Low Road and High Road! I was unable to confirm if this Walt Elliott was the direct descendant of an important Scottish politician with the same name, but there was definitely a connection with Scotland.

Elliott’s goal was to make Glen Ellen a “family” area in contrast to his glitzy neighbor Sugarbush. The original base lodge which still serves the area was designed to be a no-frills facility. However it did house all the needed services including the Golden Thistle bar on the second floor.

And despite Elliot’s goal of making it a family resort, many of the stories from the early years involve afternoon champagne parties and Sunday brunch buffets. For example, there was a cow bell in the Golden Thistle. At the champagne parties if you could open a bottle of champagne and hit the bell with the cork, your drinks were free!

Sugarbush Archive Photo

There are a couple of traditions which can be traced back to Walt Elliott that I believe still carry on at Sugarbush today. There was a gelandesprung contest every year and a pond skimming contest. Walt Elliott was a big guy, over six feet in height, and apparently made a big splash in the pond!

I mentioned the lift structure earlier. The 6250 foot long base chair did not go all the way to the top of Mount Ellen. There was a separate Summit chair that continued to the 4036 foot peak. That allowed Glen Ellen to boast the largest vertical drop of any eastern area for a few years. The two lifts also broke up the lift lines. In the morning you’d ski the Summit chair until the line built up and then return to the base where the line was shorter by then.

Elliott faced ever increasing financial problems at Glen Ellen that were exacerbated by a bad lift accident in 1972 when the brake failed on the base chair. He sold the resort in 1973. Walt Elliott died in a sailplane accident in 1978, a year before the area became part of Sugarbush.

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Trivia 2019 Week 2

Who was the founder of Glen Ellen ski area?

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Sugarbush Celebrates its 60th Season!

For me the beginning of the ski season in 1968 was the weekend of November 9th when Sugarbush opened. Remember that was before any areas had significant snowmaking so that early opening was based on natural snow. The only lift running was the old Valley Chair. I was skiing with one of my roommates, a native Vermonter who had gotten sucked up in my skiing enthusiasm. He bought all new equipment and I’m pretty sure he felt the equipment and my enthusiasm were the answer for him to be a better skier.

The only lift open was the Valley Chair so up we rode. When we got off the chair I was so excited to try my new Hart Javelins that I started down Snow Ball immediately. I don’t know how long a burst I skied, but the Javelins were awesome! I finally stopped and waited for my roommate….and waited….and waited. Apparently the new equipment hadn’t been the answer after all. We actually would go skiing together a lot that first season, but we found we were happier if we each went our own way once at the area.

Sugarbush in 1968 was just Lincoln Peak. It did have a three passenger gondola or the “Ménage à Trois” as it was called. And of course, the Castle Rock chair was already there – I swear they still have that original chairlift today! The area opened on Christmas day 1958 which makes this year its 60th anniversary!

Sugarbush was founded by Damon and Sara Gadd along with 10th Mountain Division veteran Jack Murphy. Both the Gadds and Murphy had run ski lodges at Mad River Glen. The Gadds had very influential contacts within the New York City “beautiful people”. These included Oleg Cassini, restauranteur Armando Orsini, and orchestra leader Skitch Henderson. There was even a chartered bus, the Sugarbus, that ran from Park Avenue on Friday evenings and returned Sunday evening. Passengers could party all the way to Sugarbush, ski and party all weekend, and then party all the way back! Soon the area earned its nickname Mascara Mountain.

Sugarbush Apres Ski in 1960sAll kinds of correct answers last week. Steve Edwards identified Sugarbush as Mascara Mountain and says that he and his wife Dorrit skied there in the 1970s. I also heard from Glen Findholt, a long-time skiing buddy of mine dating back to our college days! Glen shared a memory from his first time at Sugarbush when he was skiing with me and our “usual posse” which included Bob Penniman. As Glen tells it, “At some point we were synchro skiing in a line and I caught an edge and fell. Penniman was right behind me and rather than lose his cadence he pole planted right in the middle of my chest!” Glen went on to say that he had the scar right through the end of that season.

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Trivia 2019 Week 1

What ski area was known as “Mascara Mountain?”

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Remembering 1968

Wow! About a week ago I wouldn’t have thought that the ski season was going to start on schedule, but what a great start!

This season is special to me as it marks my 50th year as a “Vermont skier!” I moved to Vermont in July of 1968 so my first season was the winter of 1968-69. Throughout this RetroSki season I’ll often be sharing memories from that first season . That’s good news for me since I will probably be repeating stories I’ve used before. So it may be bad news for readers who’ve heard them before!

At the beginning of 1968 I was a senior at the University of New Hampshire majoring in engineering math and minoring in skiing. Some of my classmates might say it was the other way around. Anyway, thanks to a summer job, I knew I wanted to be a computer programmer!

Now I feel I have to explain how different 1968 was from current times. There were way more jobs than there were college graduates. We were all confident we’d get a job and in fact, we would have a choice of jobs. Oh, you’d also receive rejections, but they were nothing to get depressed over. In my fraternity it was common practice to paper your walls with the rejections. And of course there was the competition over who got the best salary offers. I probably should remind everyone that 1968 was a peak time in the Vietnam War so a job with a draft deferment could trump a higher salary offer.

IBM Advertisement from January 1968 SKI MagazineSometime in the January/February timeframe I was reading an issue of SKIING magazine and came across an ad that in effect said “Do you like to ski? Come work at our Burlington, Vermont site. There are four major ski areas within an hour’s drive!” The company was IBM, of course. I immediately went to the UNH placement office, found when IBM would be interviewing on campus and signed up.

Some luck entered into the equation since the IBM interviewers all came from Burlington and really were only recruiting for Burlington. I was among kindred spirits. A girl in my class with a much higher accum than mine and also interested in computer programming interviewed with IBM, but wanted Poughkeepsie………No offer! (Later in my IBM career after many visits to Poughkeepsie, I think they did her a favor! Besides, she settled for a job at Bell Labs!)

I did get an offer from IBM Burlington and while it was a good offer, it wasn’t my highest offer. So I chose a job with a side benefit of skiing over a job with a higher salary.

I moved to Burlington in July of 1968 to begin my career with IBM. I was surprised that most of my fellow new hires weren’t skiers. I assumed that skiing was a prime motivator to come to Burlington. However many of my fellow new hires were liberal arts majors who had never seen a computer and they took the job because it was the best offer they received.

hart javelins

hart javelins

By autumn my anticipation of the ski season was building and there was one important item of business to take care of. I had left my beat-up pair of wooden Northland Commander skis in the furnace room at the fraternity so I needed a new pair of skis! I walked into Chuck and Jann Perkins’ Alpine Shop on Williston Road and bought a pair of 205 Hart Javelin GS skis. I paid full price, $200! That was the first time and the last time I ever paid full price for a pair of skis.

I was ready and anxious to ski. Mother nature didn’t disappoint as the season came on early and hard. The season started in early November and by Thanksgiving I already had 6 days of skiing! And that had to be on weekends since I had no vacation as a new employee.

1968 was before any areas had significant snowmaking so that early skiing was all on natural snow. It was the beginning of the season that still holds the record for snowfall and snow depth on Mount Mansfield. The stake topped 100 inches by Christmas, dropped some after a thaw, and then went on to a peak of 148 inches. I had chosen a great job and was in skiing heaven!

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The New Season!

RetroSki columns will begin Thanksgiving week for the 2018-19 season! It’s snowing as I write this so the ski season should be off to a good start! So dust off those 205’s, lace ski boots, and stretch pants for another year of skiing memories!

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Apres-Ski at the End of the Season

Bob Beattie with Billy Kidd and Jimmy Heuga 1964 OlympicsI begin with the sad news of Bob Beattie’s death on April 1st at age 85. Beattie was a Middlebury College graduate who was better known there for playing football than his skiing. However in 1956 as a post grad he filled in for Bobo Sheehan as the ski coach. His success led to a job as head ski coach at the University of Colorado in Boulder where he built a powerhouse team with such skiers as Billy Kidd and Spider Sabich. Beattie went on to coach the United States Ski Team with many of the same athletes he had coached at Colorado. Beattie made many contributions to alpine ski racing, but perhaps one of the most significant was the influence he had on making the FIS World Cup a true “World” cup. Alpine skiing had been very Euro-centric, so when Serge Lang was developing the idea of a World Cup, Beattie made sure the cup would include races in North America and around the world. Bob was an outspoken influence on ski racing in the U.S. and he will be missed!

Next, I have two random observations from my recent ski trip to Whistler which have more to do with current times than skiing history.

Ski Essentials WebsiteWhenever we mentioned we were from Stowe, we were really surprised how familiar people were with Stowe, including the fact that we’d been getting all that good mid-March snow! It turns out it is due to the popularity of Ski Essential’s Chairlift Chats. They feature Stowe in their ski reviews/tests which include videos. It has also made Jeff Neagle who is featured in the videos an Internet personality as we were asked if we knew him. I do not know him, but he is to be complimented not only for his ski knowledge, but as an ambassador for Stowe!

We also observed a very large number of Spanish speaking visitors at Whistler. In asking a couple from Mexico why they chose Whistler, they replied that they would not come to the United States as long as Trump was President. I know that’s a small sample, but it looks like Trump’s wall is already working – and he hasn’t even built it!

Now on to this week’s column: For some reason as the ski season winds down, my thoughts turn to après ski celebrations. Maybe it’s all the tailgating going on in the parking lots, but whatever it is, my memories are drawn back to some of the après ski stops from days gone by. So last week’s trivia question asked about four of those establishments.

Horst Thomke and the Chez MoustacheThe Chez Moustache was on the Smuggs Mountain Road as you headed back to Jeffersonville from the ski area. It was run by Horst Thomke who hailed from Switzerland. Horst also ran a crêperie in the warming shack atop Sterling. Appropriately there’s a Thomke ski trail near the top of Sterling in memory of Horst. The Moustache was a great stopping place on the way home whether you just wanted some drinks or stayed for dinner. The Moustache building had previously hosted another bar, Mateymuckers, which would have made an even more obtuse trivia question. Horst’s untimely death in 1981 led to the restaurant eventually changing hands. Somewhere I still proudly own a Chez Moustache knit ski hat.

Three Green Doors in StoweThe Three Green Doors was located here in Stowe on the site where the Blue Donkey now resides. It was one of our favorite après ski stops because it was usually uncrowded and they had great hors d’oeurves! You could make a meal out of them. The Green Doors played a part in some of the tradition that Stowe continues to honor. The July 4th Stowe Marathon resulted from a bet who could make it from the Whip to the Doors the fastest! Obviously alcohol was involved, but the 1.7 mile “marathon” is still part of Stowe’s 4th celebration.

Sherm’s was located on the road from Jay Peak down to Montgomery Center. Actually there is still a bar/restaurant there called The Belfry. Sherm was Sherm Potvin who was a friend of one of our regular skiing crew. Sherm would go on to start The Abbey in Enosburg Falls.

The Blue Tooth was on the Sugarbush access road when Sugarbush was, well, just Sugarbush! The Tooth was both an after ski watering hole and a night spot a la the Rusty Nail. There’s no sign of the old Tooth as I believe the building was torn down and now there’s a small condo or apartment development where it was located.

Norma Stancliffe got three out of the four correct. She worked for Horst Thomke at the Moustache in 1975. She also worked at the Three Green Doors when Herb O’Brien owned it. And she partied at the Blue Tooth in her “younger days.”

Bob Curtis also was familiar with the Tooth as it was just up the road from where he met his wife. He says he came back to ski Sugarbush last year and while the skiing was good, the off-the-slopes scene was nowhere as good as the days of the Blue Tooth.

Pat and Lucy Ostrowski from Saint Augustine, Florida, identified all four après ski spots. But they had a distinct advantage since they probably were at those watering holes with me a few times! Pat says, “Horst & Barbara Thomke were the best hosts of any après ski refuge” at the Chez Moustache. He also pointed out that the Blue Tooth opened a second location on Saint Paul Street in Burlington for a while.

This brings another RetroSki season to a close. Thanks to all my readers and particularly those who participated in the weekly trivia. Have a great summer and I look forward to returning next ski season!

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Trivia 2018 Week 17

For each of the following now defunct Vermont après ski places, identify the ski area associated with it:

  1. Chez Moustache
  2. Three Green Doors
  3. Sherm’s
  4. The Blue Tooth
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Freestyle Mogul Skiing

World Cup Mogul SkiingAlright, I’m going to say it. Today’s World Cup mogul competitions are boring! They’ve become formulaic with two pre-built jumps and machine-made moguls. The top competitors piston their way through the bumps and launch very similar complex jumps. Any slight break in form pretty much eliminates a competitor from the competition. The final scores of those who do complete the course without major form breaks are so close that the average fan may be left scratching their head over what made the difference.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. These are amazing athletes who deserve to be recognized. They bring perfection to a sport that defies perfection. However the sport has lost the connection to its roots.

I’m not the only one who feels that way. One of the pioneers of freestyle skiing who was known for his mogul skiing shares that view. Airborne Eddie Ferguson admires today’s mogul skiers, but feels the sport is missing the “free” in freestyle skiing.

Freestyle skiing’s roots were in the late 1960s.  A group of young skiers were doing amazing things on skis and they were captured on magazine covers and in ski movies. Some of them were even getting paid for their antics.

The first acknowledged freestyle competition was held at Waterville Valley in 1971. This was no amateur event as cash prizes were offered along with a Corvette! Competitors got one run to demonstrate their mogul skiing, jumps, and skiing tricks – all in that one run. This would eventually lead to the three separate events: moguls, aerials, and ballet. But the overall prizes still went to the competitors who did the best over all three events. At some point specialization took over with separate competitions for moguls and aerials with ballet falling by the wayside.

The early mogul competitions were held on natural terrain such as Exhibition at Sun Valley and Bell Mountain at Aspen. When the freestyle circuit came to Stowe, the mogul competition was held on the upper National. The “judging” was somewhat arbitrary, but a run that looked like the skier was on the edge of disaster usually got high points. Recoveries from breaks in form were rewarded not penalized. Even a fall didn’t mean a competitor was out of it as long as they didn’t lose any equipment and finished the run. As I recall, two falls in a run did knock you out of the competition. In general the run that produced the biggest reaction from the spectators received the highest score.

Airborne Eddie FergusonThere were no prebuilt jumps. Competitors found air wherever they could and some spent most of the run in the air! One such competitor was Airborne Eddie Ferguson who definitely earned his nickname!

Ferguson grew up in Idaho skiing at Bogus Basin. By age 14 he had become an instructor and at age 16 he became the youngest certified PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) instructor ever.

Bill Kornrumpf knew that Airborne Eddie Ferguson was the youngest PSIA instructor. Bill says he was just starting skiing when the freestyle movement began and loved the fun approach exemplified by Ferguson and others such as Wayne Wong.

Longtime Smuggs instructor, and personal friend of mine, Glen Findholt also had the correct answer to last week’s trivia.

As mentioned, Eddie Ferguson was a young certified ski instructor which meant he had a strong understanding of skiing basics. But as most teenagers do, he wanted to test the limits. By age 17 he was doing flips and helicopters. Still he stuck with his instructing which helped pay for college and in 1969 he was named to the PSIA demonstration team.

When freestyle contests began in the 1970s, Eddie was a natural. He was a crowd favorite and excelled in moguls. Ferguson attributes his training in basics for allowing him to push the limits, but still keep going. He literally would launch off every mogul doing backscratchers, spread eagles, whatever. He became the World Freestyle champion in 1973 and also received SKIING magazine’s “Hotdogger of the Year” award.

Ferguson would start camps for younger skiers to learn the fun of freestyle skiing. From 1972-79 his camps spread around the United States, Canada, and Europe. He taught and trained an estimated 4000 students passing on freestyle to the next generation. That next generation would see freestyle become a World Cup and Olympic sport.

Airborne Eddie Ferguson is being inducted into the United States Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame class of 2017.

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