February 17, 2013

Skiing in Maine: Maine's ski history a story worth telling – and reading

By John Christie

After a long day on the slopes, there's nothing like curling up in front of the fire with a good book. And a good book about the sport we love makes it about as good as it gets.

While there are lots of books about the history of the winter sports business in general, and about particular ski areas, as well as more primers on technique improvement than you'd ever want to read, we're fortunate that there are a couple of Maine authors who have put together stories that I've found fascinating and can recommend without equivocation for an enjoyable read.

For those of us who have watched the development of Sunday River from its opening in 1959 as Sunday River Skiway to its emergence as a player on the national scene, and have followed the winding story of its ownership changes through the peaks and valleys of its progress to today's smoothly running mega-resort, it's a special pleasure to read a definitive history of the place.

Since the area's auspicious opening, Maine broadcaster, columnist and author Dave Irons has been right there. In fact, from the area's opening day.

His detailed history of the ski area, "Sunday River: Honoring the Past, Embracing the Future," published in 2009, is an engrossing and well-written read.

Irons has long been recognized as one of the country's most prolific ski journalists since he began broadcasting his first ski condition reports on the radio nearly a half-century ago. He has authored more than 1,000 ski columns, articles and stories that have appeared in magazines and newspapers throughout the world.

But more than that, his intensely personal relationship with Sunday River gives his rendering of its history a depth and emotion that virtually no other author could capture.

It's unusual that an author can combine reporting skills honed over a lifetime with the kind of intimate, on-the-ground, firsthand, in-depth knowledge that this particular author can bring to such a book.

Irons' story combines an easy-flowing narrative with stunning historic and contemporary images, resulting in a book that you're sure to enjoy from its opening page.

Another book that would certainly help to fill in any gaps in your knowledge about the history of skiing in Maine, not to mention provide a few hours of engrossing reading, is Glenn Parkinson's "First Tracks: Stories From Maine's Skiing Heritage."

Parkinson grew up in Vermont, where his father, Joe, was the first executive director of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, which he served for many years beginning in the early 1970s.

Now a Mainer and current president of the Ski Museum of Maine, Parkinson, as he says in the introduction to his fascinating book, has "traveled Maine from York to Madawaska, researching Maine's skiing heritage," and countless people told him that a love of the sport and having fun are the reasons they devoted the time and energy to cut ski trails and build ski areas.

Parkinson's book is not meant to be a comprehensive history of skiing in Maine, but it offers a look at the people and events that have shaped Maine's skiing heritage.

From the winter carnival craze of the 1920s in communities from Portland to Fort Kent; to the rope tow in Berwick operated by the Bauneg Beg Ski Club, installed in the 1930s; through the rapid growth of rope tow areas in countless towns throughout the state in the 1940s; Parkinson's book tells the story of intrepid Maine winter sports enthusiasts eagerly embracing the newly discovered sport of Alpine skiing.

Skiing, as we now know it, was born in the 1950s with the installation of the first cable lifts, blossomed during the 1960s as more extensive facilities were developed, and matured during the following decades resulting in what is, today, a very important industry.

Perhaps the most interesting focus of Parkinson's book is on the 83 "lost ski areas," from tiny rope tow-served local hills to more extensive but failed developments like Evergreen Valley and Enchanted Mountain. A thumbnail portrait of each ski area is sure to bring back lots of memories to older Maine skiers.

Both books are available at the Ski Museum of Maine in Kingfield, and at its recently launched online store at www.skimuseumofmaine.org/store. Additional books, clothing, gifts and home accessories, all with a focus on Maine's skiing history, are available as well.

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:

jchristie@fairpoint.net

 

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