On July 10, 2014

Once upon a time in history: Mrs. Claus guides Santa, a winter tale for skiers

By Karen D. Lorentz posted Dec 20, 2012

It was 1926 and Santa was stuck. What new toys could he and his elves make for kids and adults in the Rutland Region?
“I know,” said Mrs. Claus. They have one of those big ski jumps in Springfield, MA, so why don’t you and your elves build one on Town Line Road in Mendon, and, while you’re at it, build a toboggan chute for the kids of all ages.

And so they did. Over 1,000 kids and adults showed up on Jan. 1-2, 1927 to try out their skis and ride a toboggan down the new long, wooden trestle structure.

Ten years later, Santa was stuck again.

Mrs. Claus said, “How about those new elves Janet and Brad Mead. Why don’t we ask them what would be a neat gift?”
The Meads knew it was a long, hard trip to get the Shrewsbury Tow Area when the mountainous CCC Road had 9-foot snow drifts. “Let’s build a ski area that’s easy to get to,” they said. So they built Pico, and for the next few years the kids and racers were so happy!

But then some of the singles and kids found the twisting rope tows were often wet and heavy and hard and lonely to ride, so Santa said to the Meads, “What can you do to make it better?”

They jaunted off to Europe and met Ernst Constam, and lo, the he-and-she stick (T-bar) came to Pico, the first in North America!
Soon Mrs. Claus said that there had to be “a better way” to get us to the top of the mountain than a lightweight kid or gal struggling to keep skis in the tracks next to a heavyweight parent or guy on the T-bar. She said to Santa, wouldn’t it be nice to just sit and relax and ride up the hill? So some enterprising elves came up with the single chairlift and a little later Elf Eugene Pomagalski, who had invented the round disk (Pomalift) that pulled one uphill, perfected the double chair.

Santa noticed that there were lots of people learning to ski now, but not enough places so he asked a tall young elf named Preston Smith to visit Vermont. “See if you can’t do something to make it better so more people can enjoy the outdoors in winter,” he instructed his newest eager elf.

Smith found a place in the middle of nowhere and worked for three years to get it ready. Santa and lots of skiers were ‘oh-so happy’ with his perseverance creating the Killington Basin Area with four Pomalifts.

But Elf Smith wasn’t content. He wanted to get more people out to enjoy the pogonips and exhilaration of skiing so he added more mountain areas like Snowshed and Ramshead and connected them with trails and chairlifts.

When it didn’t snow in December, he worried that skiers would be disappointed on the Christmas holidays.

So Elf Smith asked Santa about a company called Larchmont, and Santa said yes, installing snowmaking so as to guarantee nice conditions. It didn’t work at first, in fact the system blew up, so Elf Smith hired his own elf engineers. They figured out how to make snow, and soon there was more snow on all the trails.

Now there was snow and lots of trails and chairlifts but what to do with the piles of snow they made? Elf Emmitt Tucker came up with tractors called Tucker Sno-Cats that could spread the machine-made snow and all was good. But then there was the problem of hardpack conditions. Elves Otto Wallingford and Don Waterman came up with implements to improve the snow, and so Powder Makers, U-blades with wings, and hydraulic driven Tillers were soon “grooming” the snow on bigger and better cats made by Elves Pisten Bully and Bom Bardier. And so it went until snowcats were perfected to smooth the snow giving us corduroy cover and comfort!

Now Santa was living at the North Pole where there is lots of snow and liked sliding around on Army surplus skis. But the skis were like blocks of wood and the bear trap bindings didn’t quite seem safe and even Elves Hvam and Jensen’s cable bindings didn’t really satisfy him. So Elf Mitch Cubberly came up with a new release binding, and Santa said it was good. Not to be outdone, Elf Earl Miller came up with his step-in binding, and then Elf Jean Beyl introduced a release plate binding and his Look Nevada soon sported a turntable-heel piece so you never felt a ski hitting you when it came off.

Nothing like a little competition in the workshop to get skiers on safer equipment, Santa thought. That’s when Elf Cubberly invented the ski brake; wrapping long thongs around one’s ankles soon became obsolete! Elf Miller made a better one, too, and others added to this design.

Elves North Land and Paris Maine one-upped with better, laminated wooden skis. Elves Chance Voight and T.H. McConica experimented with aluminum skis and got the bugs out of the Dow Metal Air Ski. Then Elves Howard Head and Hartvig “Hart” Holmbert invented new metal skis that performed much better.

Hart even got a blond Elfette named Suzy Chaffee to show people how to dance on Hart skis, and Santa was super happy to watch her in the new Bogner stretch pants that Mrs. Claus’ elves had made.

Seeing Santa oogle the lithe blonde, Mrs. Claus, who had jump started the evolution of the sport, said she was concerned about people getting cold in such tight clothing that didn’t have enough layers to trap air that could warm them. And lo, her elves found a better way called “warm-ups.”

Suzy didn’t look quite so good, but Santa was happy to see the kids and moms keep warm and all was good. Elf Klaus Obermeyer experimented with down feathers for fill in parkas, and then Elf Thin Sulate outdid him with a lighter and warmer jacket filled with synthetic filaments that trapped more air and, thus, warmth.

Elf Polar Tec wove chemical compounds into fleece that kept one warmer and drier than wool. Then Elfette Gertrude Boyle came up with a system of jacket and removable fleece liner.

The competition was heating up!

Elf Gore Tex outdid them all with waterproofing. He made it possible for small water molecules to escape from inside the fabric but impossible for big gloppy molecules to get in!

While all this innovation was going on, Santa was still having trouble sliding around in his leather boots which seemed to stretch out of shape and let his feet wobble. So Elf Lange came up with a better idea: the plastic boot hurt a lot of feet before all the other elves jumped into the fray and made us foam injected, rear entry, and today’s high tech boots with optional heaters.

But with his big tummy growing ever bigger because he hadn’t been getting enough exercise, Santa still had trouble maneuvering his 210 cm skis and told Elf Smith, can’t we do better so people can have more fun learning?

Elf Smith called SKI Magazine, and they came up with the idea of experimenting with the short Shortee skis that Elf Clif Taylor was having fun on. With help from Elf Karl Pfeiffer, they developed a new graduated learning method (GLM) that used short skis to learn parallel and graduate to longer skis in the process,

Elf Foeger said, “Fooey on short, I can make a system for learning parallel on long skis,” and he did.

Elf Jake said, “I can top both of you and offer even more fun on one board” – that’s because Santa had given him Elf Sherman Poppen’s Snurfer one Christmas. So Jake made a kind of cross between a surfboard and a ski and called it a Burton snowboard in an effort to beat out Elf Tom Sims, who had also created a board based on skateboarding technology. They held the first Snowboard Open in 1982 at Suicide Six and the revolution was on!

Always competitive and wanting to be the best, Elf Les Otten said, “Elf Billy Kidd’s brother Peter told me about a new experimental shaped ski Elf Elan made called the SideCut Extreme. The SCX is a funny looking ski with a parabolic shape that reminds me of the oversized tennis racquet with its bigger sweet spot when I ski on it.” And lo, it was good! Soon all the elves were making better and ever shorter shaped skis for all kinds of snow!

So more and more kids and their parents as well as more and more singles, who were skiing to find mates, were having more fun. But folks still got cold sometimes hanging in the sky on a chairlift. So Elf Smith said let’s build a better Gondola. Now four people could be cozy and protected. He didn’t give up on his “better way” idea though, and soon Killington had the world’s first heated, eight-passenger gondola with artwork decorating the cabins!

But competitive Elf Doppel Mayr thought that he could do even better. So he made chairlifts warmer to ride and easier to load by detaching the chairs from the cable just like the gondies did, but instead of taking off their skis or boards, the passengers could leave them on for greater convenience. Once aboard the slower moving chair, it could reattach to a faster moving cable and whisk them up the mountains before they could get cold.

Santa was very pleased with what a little good-natured competition had wrought. And he was even losing his big belly because he was skiing more now! “Life is good,” he told Mrs. Claus.

No matter what Mother Nature dished out, the Claus family of elves had prepared their snow sliders for outdoor fun.

But they hadn’t counted on more wars and petroleum battles or climate change.

So once more the elves got to work to find a way to more efficiently use the expensive compressed air and scarce-growing water that were mixed together to make snow. Much to Santa’s delight, the elves developed ever-more efficient snow guns that could save energy and help the climate.

And lo, the Low-energy guns were good, but another competitive rather tall elf named HKD, said, let’s put them on towers and give the droplets more hang time and it worked. Elves SMI and Boyne were not to be outdone, and they made huge fan guns- some even called them canons. And so compressed air and water were forced through small nozzles or tossed through giant fans to make tons of snow.

So Santa figured he had done well by his snow lovers. He had kept them safer, warmer, and drier from head to toe. He had made learning easier. His elves had created creature comforts so all ages and abilities could have more fun. If it rained, the snowmakers could replenish and resurface the hills with their high-tech machines, and the groomers could drive snowcats up and down the trails to create cushy-soft corduroy. Warming up on a long car ride home had given way to basking in hot tubs and slopeside heated outdoor pools. Roughing it in sleeping bags in cars or dormitories had succumbed to luxuriating in full-service hotels with gourmet meals.

Skiers were now officially spoiled. Not a problem though. They liked it that way!

Well most did.

A few began to yearn for the days when you skied on what Mother Nature provided, whether abundant or skimpy coverage. They wanted the challenge of old, not the comforts and convenience of new.

Santa saw that greater adventure was needed and provided a new form of play, Mother Nature in the trees. And lo, even guys went slower and wore helmets to save their heads so more resorts cut more glades for their guests.

Then even more skiers wanted to go off-piste and Elf Dan Egan, who was something of an extreme-skier-turned-educator, said I can teach them in Side Country Clinics.

Not to be outdone, Elf Donna of the legendary legs said, I can teach them in Bumps.

And Elf Chris chimed in, “And I can give them snowcat rides to dinner in the woods in a Yurt, how’s that?”

Elf Timber Ripper chimed in too. “I can give them 27 mph rides down the mountain on my sleds with wheels attached to steel trestles and my mountain coaster can even work year-round.”

“Now Children,” Santa said as things started to escalate out of the spirit of the season.
“I am so pleased with all of you. Let’s just take a year off and enjoy what we have accomplished for people who want to recreate in the mountains.”

“But Santa, I want to ski from Killington to Pico like Elf Otten said we could do. I want a new adventure to end all snow adventures in the East.”

“Be patient and enjoy what we’ve got,” Santa replied.

Then seeing the disappointment on her face, he relented and added, “Ok, we’re working on it. Elves Steve Selbo and Mike Solimano have already gone for a new Village permit, and when they get it and build their new slopeside village, then you’ll see Elf Inter Connect join the two areas with trails and a lift or two before you pass on to the great white wave in the sky.

“But you better pray while waiting. The Act 250 process was Elf Woe Be Gone’s invention, and while he did a good thing in keeping Vermont pretty and clean, a few bugs allow for delays in the process.”

And so that is how skiing came so far in 78 years of lift-served outdoor snow fun. While most of us didn’t even know that it could get so much better than hanging on to a rope with wool mittens or drying off by a pot-bellied stove, it would seem Mrs. Claus did right by us when she suggested Santa make new winter toys.

Happy Holidays everyone, and don’t forget to ask Santa for cold and dry weather if he should happen to run out of the natural white flakes.


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