GORHAM, N.H. — Sam Appleton describes his childhood spent near the wild forestland and cold rivers of Mount Washington like something out of the Stephen King film, “Stand By Me” – a youth full of outdoor adventures with mischievous kids.

Now 72, he is president of a family business that runs the privately owned Mount Washington Auto Road, which extends 7.2 miles from its base at Pinkham Notch and offers views of the Great Gulf Wilderness and the Presidential Mountain Range. It first opened in 1861 as the Mount Washington Carriage Road. Appleton said his great-great-great grandfather purchased it in 1906.

“Oh, it’s wonderful. I love it every time I drive up. It’s always changing,” Appleton said of the views.

A New Hampshire native who attended Gould Academy in Bethel, he grew up skiing in the White Mountain National Forest’s 800,000 acres of pristine, rugged terrain before going on to race at the University of Colorado.

Appleton manages the road and the coach tours, helping as many as 55,000 tourists each year drive up the road to see the panoramic views. But he’s never far from the restless, outdoor adventures of his youth.

Last weekend, Appleton drove to the summit with several of his ski buddies, ranging in age from 59 to 78, helping to keep alive another long-standing tradition.


“It really all started in kindergarten,” said Bill LaCasse, 59, a Skowhegan native, of the roots of the group that’s been meeting annually for 25 years to enjoy spring skiing.

Back when LaCasse was learning to ski with his kindergarten friend, Jeff Dumais, LaCasse’s older brother, John, was heading off to hike up and ski Tuckerman Ravine with his Bowdoin College classmate Don Fowler.

“We never really grew up since then,” quipped Fowler, 74, of Carrabassett Valley.

The memory of those backcountry spring skiing days lingered for all four men as they aged. When John LaCasse and Don Fowler were approaching 50, they realized they should reunite to ski. So the two LaCasse brothers, along with Dumais, Fowler and Skowhegan native Don Watson, hiked up to Tuckerman Ravine to ski it in May 1990 near Fowler’s birthday. They’ve continued to do so annually.

“We first did it when we were 35 and these guys were turning 50,” Bill LaCasse said. “And we said, ‘We’ll do it with you guys until we turn 50, because there’s no way you guys will still be alive.’ The way I see it, there is no reason not to keep going.”

As the older members of the ad-hoc ski club were approaching 70, the 3-mile climb to the backcountry ravine was becoming more difficult. That’s when Sam Appleton entered the picture, in the spring of 2010. He offered to take the group to the top of Mount Washington.


Last weekend, the group once again drove up the road to a single patch of snow, roughly 2-feet deep and as wide as a football field. Their numbers expanded to seven, including Appleton and Maine Sunday Telegram outdoors columnist John Christie. The pitch was steep enough to make the hike back up take as long as 20 to 30 minutes.

“The altitude takes some getting used to,” Appleton said.

There they enjoyed a few runs and slow hikes back up to their temporary camp before sitting on the rocks to toast to one more gathering of friends, and the most seasoned of backcountry skiers: the guy who took them to the top.

Appleton learned to cut turns here, in the ravines and snowfields under Mount Washington’s peak. Then he worked summer jobs driving the motor coaches full of tourists up the road to the summit, taking part in a family tradition that serves others who, like Appleton, love these big-sky Alpine views.

Appleton doesn’t readily talk about the steep family history here. But when he does, he smiles and his voice grows soft, his attachment to this wild place obvious.

“They built a road up this mountain during the Civil War,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing.”


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