On a recent Friday evening, in front of a roaring fire in the Fireplace Room in the stunning Saddleback base lodge, scores of relatives, friends and admirers of the legendary Roger Page joined with him to help celebrate his 90th birthday.
We all came to the realization that we were doing more than honoring one man for his contributions to the sport we love. We were celebrating the history of the sport and business here in Maine, embodied in a single remarkable man.
First, a word or two about the man himself:
It was a little over 70 years ago when Roger Page taught his first ski lessons as an instructor on a small rope-tow slope in Leominster, Mass.
Three short years later, he was one of just six professionals in the soon-to-be world-acclaimed Sepp Ruschp Ski School on Mount Mansfield at Stowe, Vt.
His first visit to the Western Mountains of Maine was in 1957 when he brought his Mount Mansfield Ski Club junior girls’ racing team to Sugarloaf and sensed that something great might be happening in the mighty Blue Mountains of Franklin County – and that there might be an opportunity to get in on the ground floor.
The next year, with wife Patsy and two young daughters in tow, he ventured back, met legendary Kingfield entrepreneur/ski shop operator/real estate developer Harvey Boynton, and found himself owning a house and joining director Werner Rothbacher’s Sugarloaf Ski School, where he launched the mountain’s first junior program.
The very next year, he ventured to Rangeley, where a group of locals was meeting to talk about launching a ski area on nearby Saddleback Mountain.
His dream was to have his own ski school, and this looked like an opportunity to get in on the birth of a new ski area. Each person at the meeting threw in a hundred bucks, and when Roger was asked to “go out and sell some stock to get this thing going,” he headed off to find investors.
The result was that by 1960 enough money had been raised to put in a couple of T-bars. The rest, as they say, is history.
He went on to run the ski school for decades, surviving a series of successive owners of the resort, and with the help of his capable and devoted Patsy he operated retail stores, both at the mountain and in downtown Rangeley, until his retirement a few short years ago.
But to Maine skiers, his involvement with the development of skiing as a major engine for economic activity in the mountains of Maine mirrors the genesis of the industry.
From 1935 to 1955, it seemed that virtually every town with even a tiny hill realized that locals could enjoy the emerging sport of skiing, so interested and generous citizens, along with the help of Franklin Roosevelt’s WPA Civilian Conservation Corps workers in some cases, hacked out ski trails and put in rope tows to haul skiers up the hill.
At one time, hard as it now is to believe, there were more than 80 operating rope tows from northernmost Maine to York County. Some of them were no more than a farmer’s tractor propped up so a drive wheel could rotate a revolving rope up a hillside.
Then in the 1950s, after seeing the success of skiing as a business in neighboring New Hampshire and at Maine’s own Pleasant Mountain, entrepreneurs like Shelton Noyes came along and installed an actual cable lift at his Bald Mountain development in Oquossoc.
It was a group of Rangeley locals onto which Page first grafted himself, then came to lead. That group mirrored what had been happening all over Maine for a couple decades, but on a larger scale and with a grander vision.
At the same time, the number of small rope-tow slopes was beginning to decline for a variety of reasons, culminating in their virtual disappearance in the 1970s as liability insurance issues mitigated against their continuing operation.
So it was that at the festive gathering generously hosted by Bill and Irene Berry and their dedicated staff at Saddleback, we were able to thank in some small way a man whose life and history in our sport exemplify how one man and a small group of his neighbors can turn a dream into a reality and then, although they certainly weren’t aware of or even thinking about it at the time, an industry.
Page’s life also reminds us that you can, if you really want to commit yourself to it completely, live your dream. For that alone, Roger, we thank you.
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: