Pleasant Mountain in Bridgton holds a very special place in my heart, and I’ve taken great joy in watching its metamorphosis at Shawnee Peak under the careful and inspired guidance of Chet Homer and Ed Rock.

But for me, it’ll always be the place where I rode my first chairlift in 1955, and was fortunate enough to become friends with three of my life’s most important mentors, as I ultimately found myself immersed in the ski business.

More about Bruce Chalmers, Russ Haggett and Hans Jenni, and their influence on me, later.

First, I need to make it very clear that 1955 may seem like long ago, but I was still a latecomer to the slopes of Pleasant Mountain. It was 17 years before that, in 1938, when the first Cumberland County skiers rode the rope tow strung on the north slope of the mountain.

Eager to compete with the hegemony of Cranmore Mountain in North Conway, and to provide lift-accessed skiing to southern Maine enthusiasts — and to capitalize on what looked to virtually everyone as the dawn of a burgeoning sport and business — the local Chamber of Commerce and others committed themselves to building a ski area. The fact that a rope tow on Jockey Cap in Fryeburg had ceased to operate after a snowless winter helped provoke their enthusiasm.

A full three years before the rope tow was installed, there was talk in town of cutting a ski trail on Harry Douglas’ property. So the town of Bridgton bought Douglas’ pasture and a trail was laid out, with most of the work done by the Civilian Conservation Corps boys as a part of President Roosevelt’s work initiative during the Depression.

That trail, the Jack Spratt, was named for the son of Bridgton Academy’s former headmaster. More trails were cut in 1936, and in 1937 more trails were laid out, access was improved, and the first base shelter was built. All this was a preface to the area’s first tow in 1938.

(In the interest of full disclosure, and to give credit where credit is due, this look back derives from my reading the fascinating Winter 2012 Newsletter, Connection, published by the Bridgton Historical Society.)

In 1940, more land was purchased from Douglas for $800, which had been leased to the local Chamber of Commerce for $75 a year.

In the mid-1940s, real growth began when Russell Haggett Jr., Ramus Erickson and Rayburn Riley bought the area and replaced the original rope tow with a longer one. The two Rays worked in the background as silent partners, although they were both often visible at the area, while Haggett was omnipresent, inspirational and tireless in his efforts to help lay the foundation for the ski area we enjoy today.

A Constam T-bar lift was installed for the 1951-52 ski season, followed by Maine’s first chairlift in 1954. Haggett organized Maine’s first ski patrol and launched a program with the local schools in those early years, and was recognized as the dominant thinker and doer in the industry.

In his effort to establish a truly professional ski school, Haggett hired Hans Jenni, a native of Davos, Switzerland, who had arrived in the U.S. in 1956 to teach at Cannon Mountain.

The 1958 hiring of Jenni established Pleasant Mountain as the place to learn to ski.

Ed Rock came on board in 1982 after Haggett’s retirement, and development proceeded apace under multiple ownerships until 1994, when Chet Homer, the current owner, purchased the ski area.

The result is a well-developed, smooth-operating, customer-friendly facility enjoyed by thousands of recreation enthusiasts every winter.

I first met Bruce Chalmers, now a regional entrepreneurial powerhouse in the insurance and real estate businesses, when we were college freshmen together in 1955. He, a successful ski racer, and me, a kid from Camden who loved to ski but with very little competitive background, or success.

Bruce became more than my close friend, as he has continued to be for over 50 years. He became my mentor, my coach and my role model, and for more reasons than just his skiing ability. His single-minded commitment to overcome any challenges we faced, and his determination to make our ski team the best intercollegiate one in Maine (which we did during his captaincy), resonated and has stayed with me during my entire adult life.

His parents, Herb and Marnie, and sister, Beth, and brother, Bill, welcomed me into their family in such a way that Bridgton became my winter second home for four years. Without a doubt, that was one of the most generous gestures ever bestowed on me.

During those years, I watched Russ Haggett, a giant of a man in every respect, ably manage what looked to me like an impossible enterprise to organize and operate, given the vagaries of weather, mechanical equipment, staff personalities and a demanding public.

When it came time for me to make a life choice about a possible career after graduate school, I thought to myself, “If I can do half the job that I had observed Russ doing, perhaps I could run one of those places.” And I carried the image of Haggett with me throughout a long career in the business.

It was during my college winters at the mountain that Hans Jenni arrived, and he and his wife, Barbara, immediately captured the admiration and hearts of everyone who skied there.

Jenni had a reputation as one of Europe’s top racers, and one of this country’s best instructors. The distinctive reverse-shoulder technique that he brought to Maine held all of us in thrall. In fact, I can say that I’ve had the chance to watch the best skiers in the world over the years, but for sheer grace and fluidity on the boards, Hans Jenni had, and has, no peer.

Even more importantly, Hans taught me that being a gentleman is far more important than being a good skier, and I hope he knows that he taught me a lot more than how to ski well. He taught me how to live well.

Thank you, Bruce, Russ and Hans!

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:

[email protected]