New school ski-builders: Amalgam Ski Company

In the past few years there’s been a resurgence of ski manufacturing in Maine. Yesterday I visited Amalgam Ski Company in Freeport, an exemplar of this new trend.

Maine was once home to numerous ski manufacturers, but by 1965 they had either gone out of business or at least ceased making skis. See the little feature story on Paris Manufacturing Company on WoodenSkis.com.

So the recent resurgence is very encouraging to. History repeats itself. But not really.

These companies combine old-fashioned passion for the sport with a distinctly new school approach to materials, construction and marketing.

Amy and Phil Taisey are the principals of Amalgam Ski Company in Freeport, Maine

Amy and Phil Taisey are the principals of Amalgam Ski Company in Freeport, Maine

Amalgam was founded in 2012 by the husband-wife team of Phil and Amy Taisey, who boast strong, lifeliong connections to Sugarloaf. Amy is also a 2002 graduate of Carrabassett Valley Academy, an anchor of Maine’s skiing culture.

For the first few years, the Taiseys focused on design work and building a shop in the basement of their home, which now includes a computer numerical controlled jig, a heated ski press and a tuning machine. Plus raw materials and a tiny inventory of finished products.

This past season was the first for sales. An encouraging 20 pairs were sold, mostly to members of the Sugarloaf community.

I talked about the Ski Museum of Maine‘s upcoming project and exhibit, which will feature half a dozen of our state’s ski and snowboard builders, and Phil and Amy were eager to participate.

[In expanded form, this article will soon be published in the Ski Museum of Maine’s quarterly journal, Snow Trail.

Aspen Highlands, CO 4-10-16

Yesterday was the “official closing day” at Aspen Highlands. That’s traditionally meant partying.

The weather wasn’t promising to start. When I rode up the Exhibition quad, I unloaded in dense fog and spitting snow at the Merry-go-round mid-mountain area. But by noontime most of the clouds had disappeared and the brilliant Colorado sun dominated the mountainscape.

A lady in purple tutu swigs champagne at Aspen Highlands on the official closing day

A lady in purple tutu swigs champagne at Aspen Highlands on the official closing day

I took the pic above at Picnic Point, one of the most scenic spots on the hill. A party was going on, and the lady in purple tutu swigging champagne from the bottle was emblematic of the day’s festivities.

In the pic above, Pyramid Peak is seen to the right of the guy in the pompom hat, and the twin peaks of the Maroon Bells are seen underneath the lady’s elbow. All are Colorado Fourteeners.

I put the term “official closing day” in quotes because Aspen Highlands will actually be open for the next two weekends. But by then it’s likely that snow conditions will have deteriorated and fewer skiers and snowboarders will be in the mood to party.

 

Aspen/Ajax, CO 4-7-16

Yesterday was my first-ever day at Colorado’s Aspen/Ajax, the first of four adjacent mountains that were developed for skiing in the once-decrepit mining town that is now world-renowned as a mecca for winter sports.

Scott Andrews on top of Aspen/Ajax summit

Scott Andrews on top of Aspen/Ajax summit

The annual gathering of the International Skiing History Association began two nights ago, and IHSA members were out in force on the mountain. I bumped into ISHA president Seth Masia at the Sundeck Lodge on the summit, and he took the picture of me above.

Sometime later I also bumped into Suzy Chaffee, the former glamour girl of American skiing, a lady who was an outstanding competitor in alpine racing and subsequently enlarged her legend after switching to freestyle. Suzy was a major driving force in promoting women’s participation in skiing from the 1970s to the present. She was the first woman to serve on the International Olympic Committee and she was a force to be reckoned with in lobbying campaign that resulted in the passage of Title IX in 1972. (Click here to see her bio in the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.)

Scott Andrews and Suzy Chaffee at the summit of Aspen/Ajax

Scott Andrews and Suzy Chaffee at the summit of Aspen/Ajax

We took a few runs together and chatted about a few ways that the ski world could (and should!!!) honor women — especially non-athletes who built the sport and industry. Suzy was quite interested when I told her about Sisters of Skade: Women in Maine Skiing 1870-2016, a program that I created for the Ski Museum of Maine. We exchanged ideas on how such a concept could be expanded to become national in scope.

I referred Suzy to the Ski Museum of Maine’s latest issue of Snow Trail, which contains two major articles devoted to women in skiing history.

Monarch Mountain, CO 4-3-16

Yesterday I skied Monarch Mountain, one of the “gems” of central Colorado.

View of the Sawatch Range from the Sidewinder Trail at Monarch Mountain

View of the Sawatch Range from the Sidewinder Trail at Monarch Mountain

It was an old-fashioned experience. Most of my prior Colorado skiing has been at the big, swanky resorts. Monarch is retro in a very positive way.

Due to its location, entirely on property of the San Isabel National Forest, there’s no base area development. Just a nice lodge plus a few ancillary structures. In that sense it reminds me of New Hampshire’s Wildcat Mountain.

Although skiing at Monarch pre-dates World War II, the present-day development occurred mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, as detailed in the Monarch history page in coloradoskihistory.com.

I was particularly charmed by the trio of Hall chairlifts, which form the backbone of Monarch’s operations. (Click here for a history of this interesting New York company that was so important in developing the American ski industry in the period 1954-1982.)

Sturdiness and simplicity were hallmarks of the Halls. Many survive today, half a century after installation. No other manufacturer of this period has so many lifts still in operation. Three pix of the Panorama lift are included below. Let’s start with two view so the base area. First is a distance shot, setting the scene. Second is a closer view.

The bottom station of the Panorama double chairlift at Monarch Mountain with the Sawatch Range in the background

The bottom station of the Panorama double chairlift at Monarch Mountain with the Sawatch Range in the background

Closer view of the bottom station of the Panorama double chairlift at Monarch Mountain

Closer view of the bottom station of the Panorama double chairlift at Monarch Mountain

Third is the classic unloading scene, which shows the lifts simplicity of design and its signature concrete pillar.

Top station of the Panorama double chairlift at Monarch Mountain

Top station of the Panorama double chairlift at Monarch Mountain

Snow conditions were great, with a reported 76 inches at the base. Being located so high up in Monarch Pass, the mountain relies entirely on natural snowfall. Another retro feature.

One really curious feature is this: Monarch sits on the Continental Divide, with the vast bulk of acreage lying on the Gulf/Atlantic side. The upper terminal of the Panorama lift is located about a dozen feet on the Gulf/Atlantic side. Trails that leave left and right actually straddle the divide.

Snowboarding along the Continental Divide

Snowboarding along the Continental Divide

In the photo above, the little tree island sits astride the Continental Divide. The snowboarder on the left is in the Gulf/Atlantic watershed, while the guy on the right is on the Pacific.

 

 

Ski Museum of Maine at Molly Ockett Day 7-18-15

Yesterday the Ski Museum of Maine made its second annual appearance at Molly Ockett Day, a large community celebration in the town of Bethel.

It rained heavily before the public events got started, and the skies remained leaden-gray all day. But people didn’t stay away from this big annual festival. Many festival-goers visited the Ski Museum’s tent, which was staffed by a number of board members, including myself.

The Ski Museum of Maine's tent at Molly Ockett Day 2015

The Ski Museum of Maine’s tent at Molly Ockett Day 2015

Our tent, pictured above, was centrally located, right next to our friends at the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce.

Brothers Tom and Bob Remington pose with a copy of their book

Brothers Tom and Bob Remington pose with a copy of their book

A special highlight was the presence of Tom and Bob Remington, pictured above, co-authors of We Jumped, a personal memoir that fondly recounts and celebrates the long — but mostly vanished — tradition of nordic ski jumping in western Maine.

The Remingtons grew up in Bethel and together they possess a wealth of knowledge about the final decades of nordic ski jumping in the region. Now thanks to their book, they’re sharing that history with current and future generations.

And to underscore their generosity and spirit of sharing, the Remingtons are donating all profits from the sale of We Jumped to the Ski Museum of Maine. They’ve even included that info in the frontispiece of the book.

And speaking of the frontispiece, click here for a link that displays the first few pages of the book, thanks to the Amazon website.

You can also buy the book through the Ski Museum’s own website. Click here to do that.

Steamboat 4-12-15

Yesterday was Steamboat‘s final day of the 2014-2015 ski year, and the season ended with many happy people enjoying perfect spring weather.

I was one of that happy throng, wrapping up two days of skiing on my first-ever visit to this magnificent mountain in northwestern Colorado. Per my usual, I’ll focus on some historical aspects of my visit.

Top of Buddy's Run at Steamboat ski area

Top of Buddy’s Run at Steamboat ski area

Buddy’s Run is one of the favorite trails on the mountain, a superb blue boulevard that starts at an altitude of 10,372 feet, near the top terminal of the Storm Peak Express chairlift.

It is named for Buddy Werner, a local boy from the town of Steamboat Springs who was one of the first American skiers to break into the ranks of top international competitors.

Buddy Werner ca 1960s courtesy photo

Buddy Werner ca 1960s courtesy photo

Only a few weeks after retiring from international competition at age 28, he was killed in an avalanche in Switzerland in 1964. Click here for a fine article on his career from the Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame.

Bronze bust of Buddy Werner at top of Buddy's Run at Steamboat

Bronze bust of Buddy Werner at top of Buddy’s Run at Steamboat

Near the top of the trail is a bronze bust of Buddy. Steamboat legend has it that a skier who taps the bronze figure with his ski pole will enjoy good luck. (In the picture above, which I took yesterday, someone has added a string of good luck Mardi Gras beads.)

Although he dominates the skiing history of Steamboat Springs, there are many other luminaries.

Olympians from Steamboat Springs are recognized in two display cases on the second floor of Thunderhead Lodge

Olympians from Steamboat Springs are recognized in two display cases on the second floor of Thunderhead Lodge

These men and women are recognized with an historical exhibit that fills two large display cases on the second floor of the Thunderhead Lodge (upper terminal of the gondola).

The Olympic score currently stands at 88 athletes, many of whom trained with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club — one of our nation’s premier skiing organizations.

Anyone interested in learning more about Steamboat Springs’ winter Olympians should visit the Tread of Pioneers Museum. Located in the historic downtown area, TOP has an extensive collection of the town’s skiing history, very nicely displayed and interpreted.

Katie Adams, curator of Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs

Katie Adams, curator of Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs

Katie Adams, TOP’s curator, is passionate about preserving and presenting Steamboat Springs’ skiing history.

A kindred spirit indeed!

Wachusett Mountain 3-10-15

As a busy ski area that hosts around 400,000 customers yearly, Wachusett Mountain is an exemplar of modernity. But some of its history is easy to find.

That’s what I discovered yesterday when I visited Wachusett, one of New England’s busiest ski areas.

Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, MA, boasts New England's largest night-lighting system

Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, MA, boasts New England’s largest night-lighting system

With three high-speed chairlifts, an exceptionally fine 38,000-square foot lodge and New England’s largest night-lighting system, Wachusett’s outward appearance suggests that it was built from scratch just yesterday — at least metaphorically speaking.

Wachusett Mountain's long history is summarized in an interpretive panel in the base lodge

Wachusett Mountain’s long history is summarized in an interpretive panel in the base lodge

Not so. Wachusett has a long history, and the highlights are summarized pictorially in a prominent interpretive display in the base lodge.

Wachusett’s story began in the 1930s, when legendary skier Charles Proctor and the Civilian Conservation Corps cut the Balance Rock Trail from the mountain’s 2,006-foot summit. The CCC, an agency of the federal government, could legally work at Wachusett because it was (and still is) a state park.

Bullock Lodge in the spring of 1937 as the building was nearing completion

Bullock Lodge in the spring of 1937 as the building was nearing completion

Then the CCC built a base lodge. Called Bullock Lodge, it remains in operation as a snack bar featuring apple products from the Red Apple Farm, which is located a few towns farther west.

Bullock Lodge is one of the few CCC ski buildings that is still in daily use

Bullock Lodge is one of the few CCC ski buildings that is still in daily use

Above is a photo of Bullock Lodge that I took yesterday. It’s one of the few CCC ski structures that’s still in daily use.

Balance Rock Trail, Wachusett’s original run, is still in use — at least partially. Much of the original trail was obliterated when Conifer, a boulevard-style run that roughly parallels the old route, was opened. But several short sections of Balance Rock are still maintained for skiing.

These fragments recall the old-fashioned style of New England ski trails in the 1930s into the 1960s — narrow and winding, with a minimum of bulldozing and grading. In short, they have real character.

A skier heads down the upper section of Wachusett Mountain's Balance Rock Trail, the oldest run at the ski area

A skier heads down the upper section of Wachusett Mountain’s Balance Rock Trail, the oldest run at the ski area

A snowboarder turns into the middle section of the Balance Rock Trail at Wachusett Mountain

A snowboarder turns into the middle section of the Balance Rock Trail at Wachusett Mountain

Above are two pix that I took yesterday showing skiers and snowboarders heading down Balance Rock.

Yesterday I got a tour of the base facilities by Tom Meyers, Wachuett’s longtime marketing director. The tour ended with a showing of some historic Wachusett photos on Tom’s computer. Some of these he shared with me.

Wachusett Mountain's original ski school operated out of a trailer

Wachusett Mountain’s original ski school operated out of a trailer

A later iteration of Wachusett Mountain's ski school building

A later iteration of Wachusett Mountain’s ski school building

The above two pix show older iterations of the ski school facilities, which today is one of New England’s biggest and busiest.

Wachusett Mountain's ski and snowboard school in winter 2015

Wachusett Mountain’s ski and snowboard school in winter 2015

Above is the current ski and snowboard school, which is housed in a 1960s-era building.

T-bars were the primary mode of uphill transport during state operation of Wachusett Mountain

T-bars were the primary mode of uphill transport during state operation of Wachusett Mountain

If Charles Proctor, the CCC and the 1930s defined the first era of skiing at Wachusett, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and its parks department launched the second, building a modest base lodge and a T-bar, opening for business in 1962. A second T-bar was added later.

After a few years of operation — at a loss — the state wisely realized that it didn’t belong in the ski business and decided to privatize the operation via an operating lease.

Ralph Crowley, a Worcester businessman who owned the Polar Beverage Company, bid $16,002 and won the right to lease the mountain. He and his five children brought Wachusett into the modern era. Click here for Ellen O’Connor’s wonderful account of that story in Vitality Magazine.

Also check out Jeremy Clark’s Wachusett page on NewEnglandSkiHistory.com.

Wachusett Mountain trail map during the years of state operation

Wachusett Mountain trail map during the years of state operation

The 2014-2015 Wachusett Mountain trail map

The 2014-2015 Wachusett Mountain trail map

Above is an interesting past versus present comparison. First is the trail map back in the years when the state operated Wachusett. Next is the current trail map, showing the results of four-plus decades under the Crowley family management. Viva free enterprise!

[Notes on photo sources: Top photo (night scene) is from the photo gallery on Wachusett’s website. All others are by Scott Andrews or from Wachusett Mountain archives.]

Black Mountain 2-18-15

Black Mountain, in Jackson, New Hampshire, is celebrating its 80th year in business this season, and a friend and I skied it yesterday.

With cerulean blue skies and mild temps — 20s at the base — sun-drenched Black was a top choice yesterday. And with all the powdery snow that’s fallen over the past couple of weeks, conditions were superb.

I was disappointed that the iconic J-bar, possibly the oldest operating lift in the region, wasn’t turning. But the double chair, a Mueller that’s been updated with Riblet parts, is also one of the East’s senior citizens among operating lifts.

Cherie Perkins poses near the lower terminal of Black Mountain's double chairlift

Cherie Perkins poses near the lower terminal of Black Mountain’s double chairlift

Above is a pic of the lower terminal of the double, and below is a pic of the lift, taken about halfway up the hill. Note the lattice-work construction of the tower, a hallmark of many chairlifts that date from the 1950s and 1960s.

The double chairlift at Black Mountain, is one of the oldest operating ski lifts in the East

The double chairlift at Black Mountain, is one of the oldest operating ski lifts in the East

The prize for reaching the summit on the double is a drop-dead view of Mount Washington. It’s Black’s most popular spot for taking pictures.

Scott Andrews and Cherie Perkins pose at the summit of Black Mountain in Jackson, NH

Scott Andrews and Cherie Perkins pose at the summit of Black Mountain in Jackson, NH

Above, I’m posing with Cherie Perkins, a longtime ski buddy I know through the Maine Outdoor Adventures Club.

Nashoba Valley 2-12-15

Yesterday I learned that an old “hot dogger” has some new tricks in his ski bag when I visited Nashoba Valley, in Westford, Massachusetts.

The occasion was Wayne Wong’s 41st annual visit to Nashoba Valley — for the purpose of hobnobbing with the media, giving clinics for staff and socializing with customers.

Former Olympic skier (Calgary 1988) Pam Fletcher was the host. Her dad, Al Fletcher, was the principal founder of Nashoba, which opened 51 years ago last month. Last year I posted a piece for this website, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary.

Pam was nine-year-old aspiring skier when Wayne paid his first visit to Nashoba. Today she’s Nashoba’s sales manager and handles events marketing.

Yesterday’s media included Moira McCarthy, a prominent ski writer, and me. Wayne’s charming wife Karen joined us for a day on Nashoba’s very, very snowy slopes.

Moira McCarthy, Wayne Wong, Pam Fletcher and Karen Wong at the summit of Nashoba Valley ski area

Moira McCarthy, Wayne Wong, Pam Fletcher and Karen Wong at the summit of Nashoba Valley ski area

Above is a pic I took of the group at the summit. L-R: Moiria McCarthy, Wayne Wong, Pam Fletcher and Karen Wong.

Wayne shot to prominence in the 1970s, beginning at Waterville Valley, where he won the national “hot dogger” championship in 1972 and coached freestyle for four years. He invented a number of memorable freestyle moves, such as the Wongbanger.

He and Karen have lived in Reno, Nevada, for many years.

For background and some nice vintage photos, read this article from Powder, where Wayne reflects on his long career in skiing, both as a top freestyle competitor and (currently) as an ardent ambassador for the sport.

He’s been an ardent ambassador for Nashoba Valley since the mid-1970s. Below are two pix from those days.

Wayne Wong at Nashoba Valley Ski Area mid-1970s

Wayne Wong at Nashoba Valley Ski Area mid-1970s

The first (above) is vintage Wayne.

Eleven-year-old Pam Fletcher, with mom Nancy, is inspired to ski like Wayne Wong

Eleven-year-old Pam Fletcher, with mom Nancy, is inspired to ski like Wayne Wong

This precious second picture shows 11-year-old Pam imitating a Wayne Wong ballet move. (Both these pix are courtesy of Pam and Nashoba Valley.)

Wayne’s latest project is Legend Skis, a new product that’s still in the prototype phase. He and Karen were on Legends and we all tried them out.

The prototypes are currently being produced in Park City, Utah. When rolled out, the idea is to produce several “signature series,” with each model designed for a specific combination of skier and terrain. Pam said that she want’s to be first in line for a signature series when that happy day happens.

Wayne Wong Legend Skis at Nashoba ValleyThe first is the Wayne Wong Legend. Above is Wayne posing with a pair yesterday.

The breakthrough concept is a fiberglass spring that’s part of the integrated binding, seen on the right ski in the photo above. There’s another aft spring, mounted behind the binding. The ski iteself is built flat, and it gets its camber from the two springs.

Wayne Wong explains the concept of the Legend Ski's suspension as Pam Fletcher watches

Wayne Wong explains the concept of the Legend Ski’s suspension as Pam Fletcher watches

Wayne explained that the springs resemble a bow (as in “bow and arrow”) and are purchased from a company that makes hunting bows.

The idea is to cut the chatter on icy conditions and keep the skis in better contact with the snow.

Moira and I tested these skis for about half a dozen runs and we found that they worked exactly as Wayne described.

Wayne told me that Legends Skis’ website is currently under development — thus no link in this post. Ditto his personal website, but click here for his Facebook page.

Loon Mountain 1-21-15

Loon Mountain Resort is still a couple of years shy of its 50th anniversary, but yesterday’s visit spurred some interest in its history.

Nowadays the ski resort, New Hampshire’s busiest in terms of skier visits, is the dominant feature of the former paper mill town of Lincoln. But it wasn’t always so.

A couple of months ago, communications director Greg Kwasnik shared some vintage pix of Loon in several expansion phases.

Yesterday I visited Loon with a longtime ski buddy, Cherie Perkins, whom I know through the Maine Outdoor Adventure Club.

We started yesterday’s adventure at the Octagon Lodge. It’s the original, which was opened for guests in December of 1966. Today it’s part of a large complex of interconnected buildings that includes the ticket office, ski shop, cafeteria, lounge and the Loon Mountain Club — a slopeside lodging establishment.

Back in the day, there were only three buildings: the ticket office (also octagonal in shape), the gondola barn and the Octagon Lodge.

Below is a photo of the construction site sometime in the summer or fall of 1966. As you can see, the ticket office (left) is largely erected, the gondola barn (rectangular box in center) is nearly done but the Octagon Lodge (partially obscured by trees) is still being framed.

Loon Mountain Resort's main base area under construction summer-fall 1966

Loon Mountain Resort’s main base area under construction summer-fall 1966

Next is a pic of the same general area that I took yesterday. The biggest difference over the course of about 48 years is that the ticket office has been vastly expanded (and now inlcudes a ski shop) and the former gondola barn has been replaced by a much larger one, which houses the new gondola, which replaced the old one for the 1988-1989 season. Loon’s general offices are an addition to the gondola barn, seen below directly behind Cherie.

Cherie Perkins poses in front of Loon Mountain Resort's base complex

Cherie Perkins poses in front of Loon Mountain Resort’s base complex

By lunchtime were were skiing off North Peak. It was part of an expansion that opened for the 1984-1985 season. It included Walking Boss, a black diamond cruising trail that’s among my favorites in the White Mountains.

The expansion project also included another personal favorite: Camp III, where I eat lunch nearly every time I go to Loon. Constructed entirely of logs and serving “ski bum comfort food,” it’s definitely a Loon landmark.

Below is an early pic of Camp III, likely from its first season.

Early photo of Camp III, the mid-mountain lodge in  Loon's North Peak area

Early photo of Camp III, the mid-mountain lodge in Loon’s North Peak area

Next is a pic of Cherie posing above the lodge shortly before we stopped for lunch.

Cherie Perkins poses above Camp III, the mid-mountain lodge in Loon's North Peak area

Cherie Perkins poses above Camp III, the mid-mountain lodge in Loon’s North Peak area

Nowadays Loon is part of the family of Boyne Resorts, which purchased the mountain in the fall of 2007. Boyne is the second largest operator of ski areas in the U.S. and is represented in New England by Loon, Sunday River and Sugarloaf.

Many of the facts and dates mentioned above come thanks to Jeremy Clark’s wonderful website. Click here to visit its Loon Mountain page.