If you’ve skied Stowe on a Friday in midseason, then at lunchtime you have probably witnessed the arrival of several yellow school buses. Some of the buses have attached ski racks with skis sticking out at all angles, others are towing trailers containing equipment. The buses disgorge their load of kids who promptly throw their backpacks in an arbitrary pile and then somehow locate their equipment. It’s the Stowe Friday Program!
All Stowe school students from elementary to high school get the option of participating in various activities on Friday afternoons. By far the most popular option is to go skiing or riding at the mountain. So when did this program for Stowe school kids start?
Carol van Dyke had the answer to last week’s trivia question. What we call the Friday program started in the 1951-52 ski season! So this year marks the 70th anniversary of the program!
It began as the Junior Ski Program organized by the Mount Mansfield Ski Club (MMSC). Prior to the 1951-52 season, the club formed a Junior Skiing Committee headed by John Spasyk who was a coach at the Stowe High School. The goal was to get more kids skiing. The first step was to gain support of the local schools for some kind of program. Despite having John Spasyk leading the effort, it apparently took some school board action to convince the schools that it was a good idea.
The MMSC realized that many local kids did not have ski equipment or adequate winter clothing for skiing. The club did some fundraising to purchase equipment for those who didn’t have any. The skis were made in Bill Mason’s Derby & Ball ski factory in Waterbury, then lacquered in a dark green color by Howard Shaw at the Stoware factory with a MMSC insignia applied by Charles Daly. Suitable clothing was contributed by local merchants and club member Jules Andre’s New York sport shop.
Sepp Ruschp who was managing the resort was totally supportive of the program. Sepp felt that every kid in a mountain town should learn to ski. So the resort provided free skiing and initially Sepp provided instructors from his ski school.
From the beginning, the program was more about having fun than rigorous teaching or training. Frank Springer-Miller documented in a 1965 MMSC newsletter some of the fun games they used, such as skiing on one ski, skiing in a “snakeline” holding onto the kid in front of you, and skiing with a hat held between your knees. Hey, I used to do that last one! While the goal was to introduce kids to skiing as a life-long sport, some went on to become successful competitive skiers such as Marvin Moriarty, Billy Kidd, Erica Skinger, and Ron Biedermann.
The program continues today much the same as when it began. Instruction is now done by volunteers, although the resort still offers free clinics for the volunteer instructors. If your kid is lucky, he or she will end up with Lew Coty as their instructor. Lew will show them every trail on Mansfield that isn’t on any trail map!
A personal note, my first lift-served skiing was in a similar school program in Conway, New Hampshire. During the winter on Wednesday afternoons, we could take a bus up to Cranmore for an afternoon of skiing and instruction. However I never made it through an entire season of the program! I had a habit of breaking skis, not at the ski area, but on the hills and trails near my house, which forced me to drop out of the school program.
MMSC Historian Mike Leach also had the answer to last week’s trivia. I actually got the idea for the question from the historical timeline that Mike has on the MMSC website (https://mmsca.org/). I was using the timeline to look up something else when I noticed that this was the 70th anniversary of the Friday program. Mike has also digitized most of the old MMSC newsletters and put them online. Much of the content I used for this column came from those MMSC newsletters. Thank you, Mike!