The recent Sochi Olympics served as a reminder to us of the significant role Mainers and near-Mainers have played as competitors and coaches on the international racing scene for well over 50 years.
From Rumford’s early Nordic standouts to today’s Carrabassett Valley Academy alumni, I think one could safely make the argument that Maine has contributed more competitors in international skiing and snowboarding competition, per capita, than any other state. And certainly more Olympic medalists.
Granted, some of the sons and daughters we claim as our own weren’t native Mainers, but they honed their skills on Maine’s mountains and we can rightfully identify them as true Mainers.
Lost in our adulation, spurred by the Olympics, of team members is the fact that a significant number of our brethren have distinguished themselves over the years in other ski-related endeavors, from equipment and apparel manufacturing, to lift design and installation, to journalism, to pioneering snow making and snow grooming innovations, and to revolutionary ski instruction methods.
Among these, five stand out in my mind for their contributions, four of whom have already earned their rightful place in the Maine Ski Hall of Fame.
Back in the first decade of the 20th century, Johnsen was turning out 12 models of skis from his Portland factory. Arguably the first mass producer of skis in the United States, he promoted both his business and the sport in the first book about skiing, “The Winter Sport of Skeeing.” In it his prescient words about the sport we love ring true today: “Any skeedor will tell you that skeeing is the most exhilarating and most delightful of all winter sports, and that indulged in sensibly and not to excess, it is an ideal outdoor pastime for everybody young and old. It is indeed a glorious sport; it never grows tame or uninteresting; and the exhilarating joy of it is a delight beyond all comparison.”
HARVEY DOW GIBSON
Although not a native Mainer, as he grew up in nearby North Conway, N.H., his four years at Bowdoin (class of 1902) allow us to claim him as an adopted son. He had a distinguished career as a global banker, as president of Manufacturers Trust Co., which he nimbly led through the Depression, then assisted Franklin Roosevelt by helping lead the American Red Cross during the war. Along the way, he found the time and had the resources to develop Cranmore Mountain in North Conway, modeled after his Averill Harriman’s resort in Sun Valley, Idaho. He is most noted for bringing to this country Hannes Schneider, the charismatic father of the Arlberg technique so popularized in ski films. When Schneider was jailed by the Nazis in 1939, Gibson used his clout as chairman of the American Committee for the Short Term Creditors of Germany to free him and bring him to North Conway to found what became this country’s preeminent ski school, from which his instructors fanned out across ski country.
Growing up in the tiny Aroostook County town of Soldier Pond, Stadig became famous in the 1930s as a consistent participant in the grueling Bangor-to-Caribou cross country ski race, including the race’s last year in 1939, logging an elapsed time of 38 hours and 18 minutes. He competed on native birch wood skis that he milled himself, using the race as an attraction to sell skis along the route. He’s best remembered an inventor and an innovator. Shortly after World War II, he developed Michaud Hill in Soldier Pond as a ski area, complete with six trails, a toboggan run and Maine’s first chair lift. This novel, one-of-a-kind conveyance was built very close to the ground, with chairs that could accommodate a single skier, and additional uphill capacity was provided by a rope that trailed along behind each chair, thus doubling the capacity by hauling a standing skier. He went on to construct lifts, and install rope tows in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
An Augusta native, Lund has been considered one of this country’s most outstanding ski journalists for more than five decades. Joining Sports Illustrated in 1954, he covered the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif., then focused his talents to covering skiing full time for SKI magazine in 1962 as a contributing editor. In 1965 he collaborated with Minot Dole on “Adventures in Skiing,” the only biography on the founder of the National Ski Patrol. In 1988 he joined Snow Country magazine as a founding writer and in 1994 became editor of Skiing Heritage, the first nationwide ski history journal published by the International Skiing History Association.
Back in January 1962, Wallingford fired up Maine’s first snow-making system at his Lost Valley Ski Area, a system that was built from his own design. During the next few years he improved this revolutionary approach to assist Mother Nature in covering his slopes, developing the first elevated pole gun and then his fan gun. Then came his patented “Otto-matic,” multiple guns on a giant fan with an automatic oscillator. He then turned his attention to developing devices to improve slope surfaces, with his widely popular “Powdermaker” appearing on ski trails throughout the East. This led to the formation of Valley Engineering that began selling his patented devices and hydraulic systems worldwide. It’s safe to say that there’s hardly a skier in the world who doesn’t enjoy the sport more because of the smooth corduroy surfaces produced as a result of the genius of Maine’s Otto Wallingford.
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 columns on alternating weeks. He can be reached at: