If you have even a little interest in the storied history of the sport and/or business of skiing in Maine, and let’s assume you do if you’re reading this column, you owe yourself a visit to the Ski Museum of Maine on Main Street in Kingfield.
What began as a mere idea in the minds of a few devoted skiers and history buffs some 15 years ago has evolved, over stages, into an impressive collection of memorabilia and artifacts.
The history of the museum itself, created to, in the words of its mission, “preserve Maine’s skiing heritage,” parallels the growth of the sport and the business in Maine.
The physical museum, in space generously made available by the Sugarloaf Mountain Corporation, is actually the third home for the growing collection.
First, there were a variety of sites where artifacts were stored and cataloging by volunteers began. Then there was a move five years ago to temporary quarters in Farmington and the hiring of a part-time director. Two years ago came the move to Kingfield and expansion of the director’s position to full-time.
The interesting displays available for viewing at the museum represent only a portion of the ever-growing collection and change as new materials are received and important subjects are deemed worthy of exhibition.
Perhaps the most important display is “Made in Maine,” and its related collection of salesmen’s model skis manufactured in Portland in 1905, and purchased at considerable expense with donations from museum supporters.
These skis, manufactured by Theo Johnsen, who authored the first book on skiing published in North America, were the outgrowth of Johnsen’s wooden boat and novelty business.
In his catalog, Johnsen used these prescient words that resonate with all skiers: “Skeeing (sic) is the most exhilarating, most fascinating, most healthful and most delightful of all winter sports.”
Johnsen’s Tajco ski company was the precursor of a rich tradition of equipment manufacturers in Maine, examples of which are on display at the museum.
In the 1920s, when skiing’s popularity began to blossom, Maine companies such as Tubbs, Paris Manufacturing and Bass made some of the best equipment. Tubbs later moved out of state, but Paris and Bass remained in the forefront of equipment makers in the United States.
There’s a display devoted to Maine’s members of the famed 10th Mountain Division that helped turn the tide of battle in Italy in World War II.
In addition, there’s an expansive “Memory Lane” where you’ll be sure to find skis similar to those you’ve skied on since the 1950s, as well as material related to virtually every ski area in Maine, many of which are no longer in existence.
As important as the exhibition of artifacts and memorabilia are the programs that have evolved as the museum has grown. One is the Maine Ski Hall of Fame, into which 72 individuals and one couple have been inducted over the past eight years, and whose names all appear on a large plaque in the museum.
The brainchild of board member Dave Irons, who continues to be the moving force behind the hall ceremony each fall at Lost Valley Ski Area in Auburn, it was launched to recognize those who have brought distinction to Maine skiing.
Some of these skiers made their mark in competition. Others were founders who built the sport into a way of life for so many Mainers. Still others were teachers who led countless skiers and competitors into the sport. Some had an intense impact on local skiers, while others gained prominence on an international scale.
Another noteworthy museum program is a series of Fireside Chats, prepared and presented by the museum’s research director, Scott Andrews. Over the past three years, commencing with an overview slide presentation entitled, “Down-Mountain and Cross-Country: 140 Years of Skiing in Maine,” several hundred presentations have been given to more than 3,000 interested skiers and history buffs at gatherings from York to Fort Kent.
Additional programs, either under way or in the planning stages, include satellite exhibits to appear around the state to augment the permanent exhibition in Kingfield, collecting oral histories from older skiers to capture their thoughts and recollections about the sport, and continuation of a quarterly newsletter containing articles of interest to Maine skiers.
If you’re planning a trip through Kingfield, or you’re looking to expand your knowledge of Maine’s skiing history, I strongly suggest you consider a visit to this unique treasure.
John Christie is a former ski racer and ski area manager and owner, a ski historian and member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. He and his son, Josh, write ski columns on alternating weeks. John can be reached at: