Last season I wrote a column on Stowe hosting the 1952 U.S. National Championships. C. V. Starr arranged to have top International skiers come to the U.S. such as Stein Eriksen to make the event even bigger. The races were a big success drawing an estimated 20,000 people to Stowe! The International stars dominated on the men’s side, but Vermonters dominated the women’s events. Andrea Mead Lawrence won both the Downhill and Slalom, but Lena Gale from Stowe would finish third in the Downhill and second in the Slalom!
After that column last year I received a note from Tamara Allen of West Dover, Vermont, who is the daughter of Lena Gale! She came across my article and wanted to let me know that her daughter, Elaina Krusiewski, was carrying on the Gale tradition. Elaina is 17 and a member of the United States Freeski Team. At last year’s USASA National Championships Elaina placed first in the Rail Jam and second in the Half Pipe!
Lena Gale was the first daughter of Charles and Ruth Gale of Stowe born in 1928. Charles was a farmer who ran the Gale Farm, which is now the location of the Gale Farm Center on the Mountain Road. Charles and his father handmade Lena’s first pair of skis when she was 5 years old with bindings made from Mason jar rubber gaskets.
Lena would be introduced to lift-served skiing when her cousins took her skiing at the Toll House rope tow (~1937). Her cousins would also provide her with real alpine skis and bindings.
Lena’s skiing took a giant step forward when Erling Strom became the Gale’s neighbor in 1940. You may remember Strom would figure in starting the Stowe Derby with Sepp Ruschp. Strom bought what is now the Blue Donkey next to the Darkside and ran a lodge catering to skiers. Strom built a rope tow on the hill behind the lodge where he would teach his guests how to ski.
An article in the Mount Mansfield Ski Club newsletter from December 1952 quotes Strom as saying: “We had a rope tow on the hills behind our lodge and Lena got more use out of that tow than any three others in Stowe. I used to show her many of the little things that I had picked up during a lifetime of skiing and racing. She was an apt pupil.”
Lena began racing with the Stowe High School ski team which also included the Shaw sisters Marilyn, Ann, and Barbara – a pretty good women’s team! She would continue racing on the UVM Ski Team and that 1952 article quotes her as saying: “When I told my parents that I had made the Ski Team, it seemed more satisfying to me than any reports of scholastic accomplishments that I brought home.”
After completing UVM Lena returned to Stowe and worked at a ski shop spending any spare time training for ski racing. The 1951-52 season was her breakthrough. Before her impressive results at the U.S. Nationals, she won a GS race in Pittsfield, Mass., placed first overall at the Ladies Combined International Team Race in Canada, and then swept the Eastern Championships winning the Downhill, Slalom and Combined! She would wrap the season up with a second place finish at the Sugar Slalom.
So when was the first Sugar Slalom? According to Charlie Lord, the first Sugar Slalom was held on April 30, 1939. It had been a good season and the general feeling was that there should be a special event to mark the season’s end. If it was going to be a race, then somehow it had to be different than the other races held during the season. Roland Palmedo came up with the name “Sugar Slalom!”
But let’s get back to Lena Gale. After her impressive 1951-52 season, C.V. Starr sponsored Lena to go to Europe for the 1952-53 season. There she would be under the tutelage of some of the best European coaches and race against the best women skiers in Europe. She competed in places like Kitzbuhel, Garmisch, and St. Moritz!
In 1955 Lena married Monroe Allen of Burlington. Monroe was a skier, an accomplished sailor, and an iceboat racer. He also made great Bloody Marys … by the gallon! But that’s a story for another time.
Today Lena Gale Allen is 94 years old and lives in Florida.
Many thanks to Mike Leach historian of the Mount Mansfield Ski Club for finding the 1952 article on Lena!