Friday, 16 December 2016

A Golden Anniversary Season

England win the FIFA World Cup for the first and, thus far, only time. The Soviet Union becomes the first country to successfully perform the controlled soft landing of an unmanned spacecraft on the moon. Seminal albums Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan and Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys are released. The sci-fi series Star Trek is first aired on TV and, in a nice twist of fate, film director J J Abrams is born. The world bids farewell to Walt Disney.
And in the north-eastern corner of the USA, both Loon Mountain and Waterville Valley Resort open their lifts and ski slopes to New Hampshire’s skiers for the first time.
50th Anniversary logo
The ski resort we know today as Waterville Valley is on the eastern face of Mt Tecumseh, where organised skiing dates back to the 1930s when 2 hike-up trails were cut. One of these became a popular race trail, with many racers being attracted to the annual Tecumseh Race including a young local by the name of Tom Corcoran. Corcoran would go on to twice represent the United States at the Winter Olympics, first in 1956 and then again 4 years later when he narrowly missed out on a medal in the 1960 Giant Slalom at Squaw Valley.
Following the rejection of a proposal in the early 1940s to install a lift on the Tecumseh race trail, the area began to lag behind as lift-served ski areas saw a sharp rise in popularity, and the last Tecumseh Race was held in 1962.
By the mid-60s, with only 22 residents remaining in the town and the Waterville Inn up for sale along with 400 acres of land, prospects for Waterville Valley did not look good.
Meanwhile just a little further north, summer tourism was reaching a new peak in the logging town of Lincoln. Tourists had started heading to the area in the mid-1800s, using it as a base from which to visit the natural beauty of Franconia Notch. By the turn of the century, Lincoln had become a prosperous community with the founding of a paper mill served by the abundance of natural resources in the surrounding forests. A number of hotels were established and Lincoln thrived on the combination of tourism and the logging and paper industry.
The I-93 Interstate highway was being planned in the early 1960s, and would complement the Kancamagus Scenic Highway which, constructed at the start of the decade, connected Lincoln with the town of Conway on the eastern side of the White Mountains. One man had a vision for the area being opened up by this new infrastructure. Former Governor of New Hampshire, Sherman Adams, had spent many years exploring his beloved White Mountains and was convinced there was some suitable ski terrain to be developed. In 1964, equipped with snowshoes, Adams reconnoitred the area of Loon Mountain. With its fairly gentle gradients and only few natural obstacles, Adams’ instinct told him that the sheltered north-eastern face, with its location close to town and easily served by the impending Interstate, would make a perfect recreational ski area.
Loon Mountain's original 4-person gondola was red.
Adams sought a second opinion, and discussed his ideas with acquaintance and former ski racer Sel Hannah, who had already helped plan and design dozens of ski areas across the USA. After a week of research, Hannah concurred that Loon Mountain would make an excellent family ski area.

Two years of planning by Hannah and Adams followed, and on 27th December 1966 Loon Mountain opened for business with 2 lifts and 12 trails. We began because we had to, not because we were ready,” Adams was quoted as saying, referring to the pressure of the eager anticipation of the local ski community. “Five hundred people showed up with their skis without being invited” said Adams. Lift capacity for that amount of people was a minor problem, but perhaps a bigger issue may have been the fact that there was only one public toilet.
Prior to all this, Sel Hannah also saw some potential for declining Waterville Valley. With ideas in place, he convinced Tom Corcoran to return to the area to consider a venture to create a new ski area. Along with Ralph Bean, owner of the struggling Waterville Inn, Corcoran founded the Waterville Company to handle the development. Corcoran and Hannah drew up designs for a new network of ski trails, and Corcoran also enlisted an influential friend to help raise funding and secure the necessary permits. That friend was Senator Robert F Kennedy, and following his assassination in 1968 the Waterville Valley ski trails still known today as Upper Bobby’s and Lower Bobby’s were named in his memory.
Waterville Valley base area in late 1960s
And so, also in December 1966, the Waterville Valley Ski Area opened on Mt. Tecumseh for its first season with four double chairlifts and a J-Bar. With two buildings at the base lodge, the Birds Nest also supplied a warming refreshment stop near the top of the main double chairlift. The Birds Nest is nowadays the popular Schwendi Hutte, and of the original chairlifts the High Country lift, serving the summit, and Lower Meadows on the beginner slopes both remain. Along with Bobby’s trails, you might also find yourself skiing on Upper and Lower Sel’s Choice, and now you know whose choice they were.
The last 50 years have seen the resort develop whilst retaining its original character. Emerging from two different corporate ownerships, the resort is today back in private hands. Two high-speed quad chairs, the White Peaks Express and Valley Run Quad, now serve the area, and there is a rich choice of dining options across the mountain. And fittingly, Waterville Valley’s 50th anniversary is marked by major expansion, with Green Peak adding 10 brand new trails on 45 lift-served acres.
Loon Mountain has also seen many changes and much development since December ’66. The more challenging terrain of the East Basin was opened up two years after Loon’s inauguration, the intermediate trails of the West Basin were doubled during the 1980s, and Sherman Adams big dream finally became reality when South Peak was opened in 2007. One of the resort's base lodges is named in Adams’ honour, and many of Loon’s runs give a nostalgic nod to their to the area’s history of logging and a community based around a paper mill industry, not least the resort’s first Double-Black Diamond trail, Ripsaw.
Oh, and today, Loon Mountain Resort does have more than one toilet.
Happy 50th Anniversary, Loon Mountain and Waterville Valley Resort.

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