For the big Columbus Day weekend, two new ski shops in the Sunday River area (Bethel, Maine) held their grand openings, and a number of my friends from the Ski Museum of Maine were involved in the festivities. Both of the new shops have important historical connections.
I first stopped by Sport Thoma’s new Bethel branch, which was constructed last summer.
Sport Thoma is a small chain of shops owned by Peter Kailey, the son of Paul Kailey, the legendary Gould Academy ski coach.
In 1958 Paul Kailey was the first person to ski Sunday River, back when he was a member of an exploratory committee that later cut the first trails and built the first lifts. Prominently displayed in the shop is a small exhibit recalling Paul Kailey, who was posthumously inducted into the Maine Ski Hall of Fame.
The Ski Museum was prominently represented by board members at the grand opening. Leigh Breidenbach is the shop manager. Outside shop, Wende Gray, Dave Irons and Michele Varuolo Cole set up a Museum info table. They chatted with people, distributed literature and sold books.
One of those was Sunday River: Honoring the Past, Embracing the Future. It was written by Dave Irons, and he autographed copies. Page 19 of the book, under the subtitle “First Skier on Barker Mountain,” describes Kailey and the committee’s ascent and descent of the mountain that would later become the centerpiece of Sunday River.
The new branch of Ski Depot is on the Sunday River access road. It is owned by Kenny and Ron Jacques, longtime Ski Museum supporters.
Board member Russ Murley, a weatherman/broadcaster who has been involved in promoting Ski Depot for years, was on hand to provide live radio reports and otherwise help drum up business. He was joined by girlfriend Jill Ducharme, who is also a Ski Museum board member.
And the historical connection with the Ski Depot? Back about 10 years ago, the company manufactured the Claw Ski under contract from John Howe, who invented its unique design and started production in his barn in Waterford.
Ski manufacturing is a proud part of Maine’s history, and the Jacques were among the last. It’s worth noting that those who drive to Sunday River through South Paris, pass close by the site of Maine’s biggest ski ski manufacturer: Paris Manufacturing Company, which started building skis about 1900 and exited the business in the mid-1960s.
While attending the opening, I chatted with several members of the Prime Time Ski Club, a group of over-50 schussers who are part of the Sunday River ski scene.