Karl Thomas Acker was born on May 25, 1949 to parents Karl and
June Thomas Acker in Rutland, but when his mom left the hospital he
went to live in a most unusual home - an apartment above the Troll
Top Lodge (a rustic base lodge and cafeteria) at Pico Peak.
He would spend 15 years of his life there, growing up with the
mountain as both his playground and playmate. Its influence would
be profound, both in his personal life and that of his parents, who
were both passionate skiers.
Karl Thomas Acker's story actually begins with Brad and Janet
Mead, who founded Pico in 1937 and went to Europe in 1938 to find a
ski school director. They hired his father, a Swiss racer and
instructor, to run the Karl Acker Ski School starting with the
winter of 1938-39.
After Brad died in a drowning accident in 1942, Janet had
continued to operate Pico during the war, and Karl returned to Pico
after World War II service in the 10th Mountain Division ski troops
to manage the area and direct the ski school. In 1948 he married
June Thomas and their son joined them at Troll Top a year
Karl (senior) also skied with and coached Andrea Mead
(Lawrence), who took two Golds in the 1952 Olympics. Despite her
illustrious racing career, neither Andrea nor her brother were
interested in operating Pico so in 1954, Janet Mead sold the area
to Karl and June.
RACING COMES WITH THE TERRITORY
Their son, Karl, doesn't remember when he began to ski, saying, he
was told he was on skis at age two. He does recall that there was a
photo that appeared in The New York Times, showing him skiing
through gates at age four.
"I always skied when I got home from school, and when the lifts
closed, I climbed up to ski down," he recalled in a recent
interview. He also remembered going into the woods to cut saplings
to set up his own race courses, and that it was "around age seven
or eight" that he began to participate in Pico's organized racing
program. His father had started the Pico Ski Club, in part to
provide support for Andrea Mead, he added.
Asked about his youngest memories, Karl said, "I just skied and
gave people a hard time - got into mischief - don't know if I can
tell it to paper - nothing bad but mischief." Those were the years
that centered around "play, cause trouble and ski … and I was
always hanging around with the workers in winter and summer," he
said of being too young to work at the area that was his home, not
just a mountain.
But while he enjoyed racing, he never got to experience his
father's coaching as the senior Acker died suddenly on the night of
his son's ninth birthday. What Karl recalls of his father's death
is mostly what he learned from his mother - that he had worked long
hours and the stress had contributed to his early heart attack.
Noting both her involvement in Pico's operations and her good
business sense, he said his mother continued to operate and expand
Pico and he continued to ski and race. She also drove him to school
every day - to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Grammar School (K-8)
and later - until he got his license - to Mount Saint Joseph (MSJ),
both in Rutland.
When June sold Pico to the Beldens in 1964, she went to
Switzerland and spent that winter with his father's family while
young Karl spent his sophomore year at a private school where he
continued to ski race. (There were many family trips to Switzerland
that Karl enjoyed and continued to enjoy later in life with his own
When she returned, they lived at the Long Trail Lodge during the
summer while she had a chalet built at Pico on Alpine Drive. He
went back to MSJ, graduating in 1967. While attending MSJ, Karl
raced for his high school team. Recalling it was a small group, and
his coach had him "help coach his teammates."
It was while in high school that he learned to ski jump thanks
to (the late) Monk Martin who, while coaching the Rutland High
team, also taught MSJ team members to jump.
[Joe Jones, who began the Mid-Vermont racing program, had
fundraised to build two ski jumps at Pico "to interest kids in
Nordic skiing," Jones said, noting they only lasted a few years as
it was hard to get kids interested at that time.]
Thanks to having learned to jump, in his senior year (1967) Karl
took third in the Vermont Championships, a title that included
slalom, giant slalom, and jumping events. Because he never learned
to cross-country ski, he couldn't compete in the Skimeister
four-event competition, he noted with a tinge of regret.
"A WAY OF LIFE"
Karl went on to race in college but like many a dedicated skier, he
was more interested in racing and skiing than studies. He left to
pursue a life of racing and coaching and traveled throughout Europe
and the U.S. racing, and then coaching. It was always his "way of
He coached his first year at Killington, with a young Leslie
Smith (then about 14) one of his early students.
He also worked at Southworth's Ski Shop and raced on the Pro B
Circuit. His 40 years of coaching then took him to Pico, Elk Mt.
(PA), the Stratton Mountain School (VT), Park West (now the
Canyons; UT), and back to Killington in 1988. He coached there
until his retirement five years ago. Along the way, several
students went on to the U.S. Olympic Team.
He continued to do some occasional private coaching, joking that
he also is known to offer some "unsolicited advice," adding that
his mother was fond of saying, 'Unsolicited advice is the junk mail
Asked about the value to ski training, Acker noted that, "There
is value for any child to be involved in athletics - in any
There is value to various experiences from "training with a team to
traveling with a team. But in the gates, you are also an
individual," he noted.
"Ski racing teaches responsibility and time management. There
are tons of life experiences - you learn to be responsible … to
"Ski racing is very unforgiving - there is no room for a
mistake. There is pressure because there is no room for
"In another sport like tennis, you can lose a game and come back.
But in skiing you have to learn to handle the pressure and to have
a positive focus, a clear head, and determination."
Asked how growing up at Pico has affected his life, Acker said,
"It's been a wonderful lifestyle, and I still enjoy skiing
Noting that skiing provided him with "a lifelong sport from an
early age," he added that he feels "fortunate to have been involved
in the history of it in this area. People get a free history
lesson" in talking with him, he added with a chuckle.
But he also acknowledges the more personal family significance
to having been involved with Pico and skiing for so long, noting
the KA Trail that was named after his father.
As with his own name, his daughters Kristina Acker (Delaney),
who is married and lives in Ohio now, and Karly Acker, a high
school senior, sport the family "KA" initials and tie to Pico.
Along with his wife, Lynn, who operates Accents and Images in
Killington, all enjoy skiing and visits to Pico, where they can
experience the legacy of Karl's parents and a special family
Photos courtesy of the Acker