The most recent message from Jackson Hogen at Realskiers.com brought back some memories.
Jackson wrote about his early years on skis and his first real skis, Rossignol Stratos with Look Bindings. I thought about my first real skis, Paris (what else would a kid growing up in South Paris have?) ridge top hickories, 6 feet long (we didn’t know about centimeters) with cable bindings. My folks, non skiers, didn’t see the need to spend an extra $3 for steel edges. I think the skis cost $14, and a pair of bamboo poles were thrown in.
My outfit was completed with a pair leather Bass boots and a pair of baggy wool ski pants (stretch hadn’t come along either). I don’t remember what I had for a jacket, but I’m sure it was whatever I wore to school or skating, my other winter sport. We also had Speedaway Sleds and a toboggan (also from Paris Manufacturing) for use on the hill behind the house.
Those skis were on my feet when I finally rode a lift, a rope tow in Bethel, either on Vernon Street or at Swan’s Corner, site of the Gould Academy jumps on Sunday River Road.
Our scout troop had been invited to compete against a Bethel troop in a ski meet. Maybe if we hadn’t won we would have been invited back. Those were what we called four-event skis as they were used for slalom, downhill, cross country and jumping. The cables on the bindings had two settings, one held the heel down for alpine and the other allowed heel lift for cross country. Jumping wasn’t part of the meet, but naturally we discovered the jump adjacent to the slope and had to try it. I don’t remember if we were scolded or not.
After graduating from high school we got to ski at Pleasant Mountain, which, at the time, had Maine’s only chair lift, (a slow double) a T-bar and a rope tow. We also made the trip to Sugarloaf, which had nothing but T-bars until the gondola was installed in 1965. That was about the time Mt. Abram got a chair lift and Sunday River had three T-bars. That memorable winter of 1969, just 50 years ago, we had great skiing riding three T-bars.
I had graduated from wood skis to a pair of Fischer Alu Steel and my Raichle Red Boots had buckles. Those were my first skis measured in centimeters (205 is equal to 6 feet, 7 inches). The only snowmaking in Maine at the time was at Lost Valley.
Those were the good old days? Contrast that with what we have today.
With high-speed lifts, we can get in more skiing before lunch than we used to accomplish in a full day. At Pleasant Mountain, we could buy a book of 20 tickets (two for a ride on the chair or one for the T-bar) for $5, or an all-day ticket for $4. We chose the all-day ticket, knowing we would run out of tickets before the lifts closed.
Of course, the speeds at which we skied in order to get in as many runs as possible disturbed the ski patrol. I can remember lift lines from the T-bar extending across the base area past the end of the line for the chair on the opposite side of the main slope. In the 1960s, lines at Mount Abram’s chair lift often exceeded a half-hour wait.
Today, we see what appears to be a huge throng of skiers waiting at Sunday River’s Barker Quad, but in a few minutes we’re on the lift. The ride that used to take 12 or more minutes, now take less than 8 and because these detachable quads come almost to a complete stop for loading and unloading, the lifts rarely stop.
And lifts are only part of the story. How about the quality of the skiing?
Although we have had a lot more snow this year than usual, we have also had significant rain events. Yet we have a lot of terrain open and good skiing on many of the trails. This could not have happened in the “good old days.” Not only was there very little snowmaking, but until Otto Wallingford invented the “Powdermaker” at his Lost Valley ski area, grooming after a thaw and freeze was waiting for more snow.
As to skiwear, with a poplypro underlayer, below warmups, and an added fleece top under a parka, topped by a helmet, skiers today can handle all but the coldest temperatures. Heated boots and gloves can take care of the hands and feet. And we now have goggles that don’t fog.
My everyday ski is a 175 cm GS. It’s easy into the turn, yet with today’s technology it has plenty of stability. The combination of lifts, conditions, equipment and clothing have given us skiing far superior to the Good old days.”
That being said, there is one thing I miss.
In the 1970s, I could walk into the base lodge at Sunday River and know at least half the skiers there. Of course, in those days there weren’t that many skiers. A big weekend would be 1,000 skiers; today it’s 10 times that number. It was also true at Mt. Abram, as most of their skiers were from the Norway/Paris area, which is still true. I always find skiers I know at Mt. Abram. Come to think of it, I still find skiers I know at Sugarloaf, Shawnee Peak and Lost Valley. Black Mountain is another hjill where it’s still easy to run into old friends.
I guess the point of all this is that while nearly everything about skiing today is better than the “good old days,” skiing with friends is still the best part of our sport. And unlike golf, when we gather at the end of the day, there are no embarrassing score cards, just memories of good runs.
See you on the slopes.