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.

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.

Boston Ski Show 11-13-2014

There’s nothing like the Boston Ski Show to psych me up for the upcoming season.

Yesterday I drove down to The Hub for the 2014 edition. From my personal perspective, this season’s highlight will be a visit to Steamboat, a major ski resort in north central Colorado. The resort will host the 2015 International Skiing History Week in April. So one of the first places I visited in Boston was the Steamboat booth, where I picked up a copy of the trail map.

Skiers stop by the Steamboat booth

Skiers stop by the Steamboat booth

To be sure, I’ve got a digital copy, but I’m an old-fashioned guy who likes the look and feel of a real paper map.

The skiing will be the main attraction, but I’m also psyched about visiting “Ski Town U.S.A.,” which is how the mountain and surrounding community market themselves to the world.

It’s a trademark or brand that’s so valuable that Steamboat recently sicced its legal hounds on Visit Salt Lake (a tourist bureau-like marketing organization) over its “Ski City USA” promotion. The dispute was recently resolved, as reported in Ski Area Management magazine, an industry publication.

Click here to link to a wonderful synopsis of Steamboat’s story from its beginnings on coloradoskihistory.com.

As detailed in the article above, getting the resort off the ground was a protracted affair. The groundbreaking ceremony took place on July 6, 1958 but the resort didn’t official open until January 12, 1963.

When ISHA picks a site to host its annual Skiing History Week, the high muckamucks like to honor major anniversaries. So what’s Steamboat’s anniversary?

It’s not the mountain itself. Instead it’s the centennial of Howelsen Hill, a small ski area that’s owned by the town of Steamboat Springs. In the early days of the 20th century, Carl Howelsen, a Norwegian immigrant, set the town on its path toward becoming a center for winter sports.

In those days, ski lifts were unknown and jumping was the marquee attraction of the sport. Howelsen Hill boasts lift-served alpine skiing, but it’s especially noted for its ski jumps.

By the way, there’s another important connection between skiing history and the Boston Ski Show. Chief impresario is Bernie Weichsel, who’s also an ISHA past president and a major fund-raiser for the organization.

New England Ski Museum 5-30-2014

The New England Ski Museum’s latest annual exhibit opened yesterday evening: Green Mountains, White Gold: Origins of Vermont Skiing.

Exterior photo of the New England Ski Museum in Franconia, New Hampshire

Exterior photo of the New England Ski Museum in Franconia, New Hampshire

I joined the 100-strong throng that flocked to the New England Ski Museum (pictured above) in Franconia, New Hampshire, to view the exhibit and socialize with longtime friends.

It was also the occasion for the East Region of the North American Snowsports Journalists’ Association to present its Don Metivier Golden Ski Awards to the top male and female junior ski racers.

Among the many friends I met was a fellow ski enthusiast from my home town of Portland, Maine: Nancy Dorrans, president of the Maine Outdoor Adventures Club and one of the hottest, fastest red-headed women skiers ever to come from Ohio. She’s also a fellow member of NASJA, holding a corporate membership through MOAC.

Left to right: Gini Raichle, Nancy Dorrans and Toni Nelson

Left to right: Gini Raichle, Nancy Dorrans and Toni Nelson

Nancy is pictured above, flanked by Gini Raichle on the left and Toni Nelson on the right.

(Click here for more details on the exhibit itself, including some photos.) The exhibit will run through the end of the 2014-2015 ski season.

Nancy Dorrans checks out the Mt. Mansfield-Stowe Mountain Resort section of the exhibit

Nancy Dorrans checks out the Mt. Mansfield-Stowe Mountain Resort section of the exhibit

In the pic above, Nancy is checking out a section of the exhibit devoted to Mt. Mansfield and Stowe Mountain Resort.

Jim Gregory of NASJA presented the 2014 Golden Ski Awards to Alice Merryweather, who skis out of Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, and Sam Morse, from Carrabassett Valley Academy in Maine.

Below is the complete press release with details. (Best viewed by clicking upper right box to open in its own window.)

Download (DOC, 25KB)

Below is a pic of Alice, Jim and Sam, taken in front of the old Cannon Mountain tramway cabin that sits near the museum’s entryway. (Photo is courtesy of Kathe Dillman, KADI Communications.)

Alice Merryweather, Jim Gregory and Sam Morse

Alice Merryweather, Jim Gregory and Sam Morse

And this blast from the past: Judy McNealus, of Pawlet, Vermont, received a replacement Golden Ski Award. Judy’s original trophy, bestowed in 1971, was destroyed in a house fire.

Alf Engen Ski Museum 3-31-14

International Skiing History Week began this evening with a reception at the Alf Engen Ski Museum, on the outskirts of Park City, Utah.

This annual celebration of skiing history in America and abroad runs through Saturday. Click here to view schedule.

Alan Engen and Connie Nelson pose for the photographer at the Alf Engen Ski Museum

Alan Engen and Connie Nelson pose for the photographer at the Alf Engen Ski Museum

I had a nice chat with the museum’s executive director, Connie Nelson, who introduced me to Alan Engen, son of the organization’s namesake and author of two wonderful books on Utah skiing: “First Tracks” and “For Love of Skiing.”

In the photo above, Alan and Connie pose for me in front of the large display case, titled “King of the Hill,” which is devoted to Alf Engen memorabilia. There’s lots of it!

Born in Norway, Alf Engen emigrated to the U.S. in 1929, settling in Utah two years later. In his heyday as an athlete, Engen was a four-event national champion. Historically speaking, he is best remembered for his crucial contributions to developing the sport and industry in the Intermountain West.

He is most associated with Alta, where he directed the ski school for decades, and Snowbasin, where he was involved in starting the resort. Click here for details on Snowbasin’s history.

The ski museum is one of the prime attractions of Utah Olympic Park, which is located on the northern fringe of Park City. I am familiar with ski museums in a number of states, and Engen is by far the most impressive.

I’m particularly impressed by the breadth of coverage. Utah ski history is obviously at the forefront, but the displays include modern topics, such as avalanche control, plus the bumper crop of Olympic skiers who call the Beehive State home. Among them is Ted Ligety, a Park City native who recently copped the Olympic gold medal in giant slalom and ranks as the only American to win two Olympic golds in skiing.

Nikki “Nillard” Pilavakis-Davoren, former snowboard champion

Yesterday I spent a pleasant afternoon with former boardercross world champion Nikki “Nillard” Pilavakis-Davoren, who grew up in Maine.

Nikki "Nillard" Pilavakis-Davoren, a former world champion boardercross competitor, poses in her back yard

Nikki “Nillard” Pilavakis-Davoren, a former world champion boardercross competitor, poses in her back yard

Nikki always displayed athletic talent, and was a champion field hockey player in high school and college. She started snowboarding as a young adult at Saddleback Mountain, near her parents’ home in Rangeley. Entirely self-taught, she became very, very good at the nascent sport during the 1990s.

She was teaching snowboarding at Sugarloaf when she entered her first competition, in halfpipe, on January 5, 1997. Somewhat surprisingly to herself, she won. Encouraged by a friend, she quickly decided to head out west and compete in professional-level boardercross, which became her specialty.

Nikki "Nillard" Pilavakis leads the pack in boardercross action in Europe

Nikki “Nillard” Pilavakis leads the pack in boardercross action in Europe

For competition, she adopted the moniker “Nillard.” As Nillard Pilavakis, she enjoyed an incredible and memorable three seasons as a top racer in international SBX competition.

World boardercross champion Nikki "Nillard" Pilavakis poses with her board and trophy in Laax, Switzerland

World boardercross champion Nikki “Nillard” Pilavakis poses with her board and trophy in Laax, Switzerland

In spring, 1999, at Laax, Switzerland, Nillard emerged as the overall champion of the worldwide Swatch/Palmer Boardercross Series, underscored by her No. 1 ranking by the International Snowboard Federation.

An injury in December, 1999, effectively ended her competitive career. But in the silver linings category, she met husband Tim Davoren during her rehabilitation. Today they live in Yarmouth, raising two snowboard bunnies: daughters Kadin (8) and Aslin (6).

Nikki is donating a number of her snowboards, trophies and other memorabilia to the Ski Museum of Maine — which is also intensely interested in snowboarding.

Hebron Academy 2-10-14

Yesterday I spent a fascinating afternoon at Hebron Academy (Hebron, Maine) examining old skiing photos and documents.

My host was Dave Stonebraker, formerly the coach of Hebron’s ski team. Nowadays he works part-time in the school’s Bell-Lipman Archives. (Except where noted, all photos in this post are from the online collection of the archives.)

Dave Stonebraker and Scott Andrews examine old Hebron Academy yearbooks

Dave Stonebraker and Scott Andrews examine old Hebron Academy yearbooks

In the photo above, Dave Stonebraker and Scott Andrews examine old Hebron Academy yearbooks, looking for information on ski teams in the 1930s through 1950s. On the right are a collection of Hebron Academy skiing trophies. (Photo by Geoff Campbell of Hebron Academy’s communications office)

(The ski coach honor now belongs to Dave’s wife, Leslie “Mitzi” Guenther, who also teaches mathematics.)

One focus of our efforts was the winter carnivals and ski teams prior to World War II. Among our discoveries was that in the late 1930s, Hebron was one of the first schools in Maine to drop ice skating and snowshoeing from their winter sports competitions. In effect, today’s concept of ski teams was first made explicit at that time.

Hebron Academy ski team from 1939

Hebron Academy ski team from 1939

Above is pictured the Hebron ski team from 1939. No snowshoes or ice skates in the photo!

The 1939 yearbook noted that Hebron had adopted the “new F.I.S. system,” and that the events were slalom, downhill, cross-country and jumping. Those are the events that defined the “four-event skier” for almost 50 years, until jumping disappeared from interscholastic competition in the 1980s.

Below are a couple of action photos of Hebron skiers in the late 1930s.

Ski jumping competition at Hebron Academy in the late 1930s

Ski jumping competition at Hebron Academy in the late 1930s

Ski jumping was a cornerstone of competition on skis since the 1800s in Europe and the U.S. The sport reached a low point in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s, but has enjoyed a modest revival in recent years. Unfortunately nordic ski jumping is dead in Maine.

Slalom ski competition at Hebron Academy in the 1930s

Slalom ski competition at Hebron Academy in the 1930s

Slalom skiing originated in Norway in the late 1800s, but gradually went into disfavor in the Holmenkollen national competitions in the early 1900s. When slalom was revived by the British and the Alpine countries in the 1920s and 1930s, it ushered in the modern era of competition on skis.

Dave and I also discovered some wonderful contruction photos of two ski areas that Hebron once owned. But that’s another story for another day.

Ski Museum of Maine: interesting visitors 12-14-13

The Ski Museum of Maine held an open house yesterday (12-14-13) at its display space in Kingfield. Turnout was low, no doubt due to the forecasts of the impending nor’easter.

Among the most interesting visitors were David Stonebraker and Leslie Guenther, who have been connected to the ski programs at Hebron Academy for many years.

Above, Museum executive director Bruce Miles shows items from the “Made in Maine” collection to Guenther and Stonebraker.

The latter has been Hebron’s high school ski coach for many years, and is currently the school’s archivist. He steered me to the Bell-Lipman Archives, a digitized collection that’s available to the public online.

There are quite a few skiing photos in the online archive. Here’s one that’s particularly charming.

Hebron Academy Robert M. Morse 1938The description says that it’s Robert M. Morse with jumping skis in 1938. The “WS” on the jersey means “Winter Sports.” That practice dates from the time where snowshoeing and ice skating were included in interscholastic competition.

Here’s another classic pic from the same era.

Hebron Academy ski jumper 1939

Like many schools in the 1930s through 1970s, Hebron Academy boasted its own ski jump.

Tyler Palmer

Last night I attended the New England Ski Museum‘s annual ‘Spirit of Skiing’ Award banquet at the Grand Summit at Attitash, in Bartlett, New Hampshire. The 2013 honoree is Tyler Palmer, a native of the Mount Washington Valley region who was a top competitive racer in the 1970s.

Palmer represented the U.S. at the 1972 Olympics at Sapporo and holds the distinction of being the first American male to win a World Cup race.

Bo Adams and Tyler Palmer

Bo Adams and Tyler Palmer

About 240 people attended last night’s affair, and the master of ceremonies was Bo Adams, president of the museum. In addition to Palmer’s many achievements as a ski racer, Adams also cited Tyler’s subsequent years as a professional competitor and later as a coach who inspired at least two generations of skiers, including Leanne Smith, a Mount Washington Valley resident who is currently racing the World Cup circuit. Adams also noted that Palmer “had a persona that was quite distinctive and created quite a buzz.”

As part of the fifth FIS World Cup tour, Palmer raced at Sugarloaf/USA in February, 1971. Here are two photos of him in those days. They are from the Ski Museum of Maine‘s online exhibit at the Maine Memory Network of the Maine Historical Society. Click on each line below to bring up the photo.

Tyler Palmer at Sugarloaf/USA

Tyler Palmer is in the center of this group

These online photos are part of an online exhibit at Maine Memory that was created last year by the Ski Museum of Maine. Executive director Bruce Miles spearheaded the project and collected the photos, primarily from the Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Club. I scanned the photos and Miles researched and wrote the captions and accompanying text. Click here to view the full exhibit.

Maine Ski Hall of Fame 2013 induction

The Maine Ski Hall of Fame, a division of the Ski Museum of Maine, held its annual induction banquet last night at Lost Valley Ski Area in Auburn.

Eight movers and shakers in Maine’s long skiing history were inducted, witnessed by a record turnout of 296. Here’s my snapshot of the official group portrait. I apologize for my camera’s malfunctioning auto-focus. As soon as possible, I’ll replace this with the official photographer’s version.

Maine Ski Hall of Fame class of 2013

Maine Ski Hall of Fame class of 2013

Back row: Howard Paradis, Bruce Cole, Randy Kerr and Greg Poirier. Front row: Will Farnham, Nora Stowell (accepting for grandfather Rand Stowell), Gail Blackburn and Craig Gray.

 Click here for capsule biographies.