Last week I shared the story of how Snowbird was the result of two individuals, one with a vision and one with the resources to make the vision a reality. Much closer to home there’s a resort who is celebrating their 60th anniversary this year with a similar story.
Robert Wright was a ski racer and a 10th Mountain Division veteran who somehow earned the nickname “Rainbow.” He had seen the potential of Stratton Mountain as a ski area and in the late 1950s had surveyed the land, laying out trails.
Frank Snyder was a New York City lawyer who had become head of his family’s pharmaceutical business. He was a skier who skied Stowe regularly in the 1950s. He also skied in Europe and became a fan of all things Austrian. He was interested in creating a ski resort closer to the New York City market and catering to folks willing to pay a little more for their skiing experience.
In 1959 Snyder met Wright and saw the Stratton ski area proposal. Snyder agreed to put up the initial investment if Wright could line up 20 more investors.
One of the investors Wright found was a resident of the town of Stratton, Tink Smith. Smith wanted to see something that would help the town. Stratton had only 55 adult residents at that time and economic opportunities were limited. Once the decision was made to go forward with the project, it would be Smith who drove the actual construction of the resort, putting many locals to work in the process.
Much like Snowbird, Stratton Mountain resort had an aggressive construction plan. The Stratton Corporation was formed in July 1960 and they wanted to open for the 1961-62 season. To hasten the installation of lifts, Smith and Snyder used helicopters to place the towers. That practice is commonplace today, but Stratton was the first to employ it. At the time, it even made the national news!
Stratton Mountain opened on December 29, 1961. The area included three double chairlifts and an Austrian-inspired three story base lodge. As ski school director they brought in Austrian Emo Heinrich who brought with him all things Austrian including the Stratton Mountain Boys.
An aside here, I have only skied Stratton once. It was back in the early 1970s and I really don’t remember anything about the skiing, but I do remember the great Tyrolean music of the Stratton Mountain Boys during après-ski!
The 1961-62 season was a success for Stratton, but one item had not been completed. The access road remained a dirt road for that first season. By the end of the season it had been classified a “tank proving ground” by the press! For the second season it was paved and received much less press!
Stratton is celebrating 60 years this season and they have a lot to be proud of: one of the first major resorts to allow snowboards, hosting the huge Burton Open for many years, offering one of the first freestyle programs, and hosting a World Cup event in 1978.
Lyndall Heyer identified Stratton as the only Vermont resort other than Killington to host a World Cup event. I also heard from some of my old skiing buddies, Pat Ostrowski and Glen Findholt! Pat remembered that the Mahre brothers fared well with Phil winning the GS and Steve winning the slalom. And I’ll add that in both cases they had to beat Ingemar Stenmark to do that!
Ben Brayton pointed out that Stowe used to host International competitions. That was before the World Cup era began in 1967, but not by much! The American International Cup races in March 1966 attracted all the big names of the day including Jean Claude Killy!