On January 10, 2024

A-Slope expands race venue at Pico

Three-year campaign dedicated to Anne and Joe Jones
doubles race-training capacity, adds snowmaking

By Polly Mikula

A-Slope at Little Pico snowmaking campaign celebrated its completion with over 100 community members attending the dedication ceremony, Saturday, Jan. 6. The campaign was dedicated to the life, leadership and legacy of Vermont ski racing pioneers Anne an Joe Jones, who were passionate skiers, coaches, leaders and founders. 

“It started out as a $325,000 campaign… with a goal was to raise $100,000 over three years,” explained Tom Aicher, Pico Ski Education Foundation (PSEF) executive board member and A-Slope committee chair in a video about the A-Slope snowmaking expansion project. “Then when Covid hit it added time and inflation dramatically to the equation so we had to call an audible mid-way, but luckily we have a resort operator — Killington/Powdr Corp — that was behind us and had our back and they came through in a big way,” Aicher continued.

“Killington Resort presented the campaign with a giant check for $100,000, back in 2020,” Aicher said at the celebration, Saturday. “Through their words and their deeds they truly support what this club is doing at Pico.”

“When we heard that the group wanted to invigorate A-Slope that made a lot of sense to us,” said Mike Solimano, president of Killington Resort and Pico Mountain. “We really embrace ski racing, from the Women’s World Cup to so many other things we’re doing… we’re definitely dedicated to growing ski racing in the region.”

A-Slope offers a consistent slope with a lower-angle terrain ideal for younger racers and older racers practicing fundamentals before progressing to the added challenge of steeper terrain on B-Slope, explained Lori McClallen, director of ski racing at the Pico Ski Club.

“Ski racing is core to Pico, we look at Pico and ski racing as kind of one together so it made a lot of sense to expand the venue,” said Solimano. “A-Slope adds a lot of versatility for more kids.”

 

By Polly Mikula

Pico Ski Club racers gathered by the newly unveiled sign under the Little Pico Triple, Jan. 6.

 

The effort to reinvigorate A-Slope began three years ago by clearing trees to make the A-Slope cutoff so kids could access A-Slope for training and racing purposes, said Rich McCoy, director of operations at Pico Mountain.

The race program at Pico began with the mountain itself and today 150-170 kids race train there, said Aicher, “we were constantly trying to find time during Saturdays and Sundays to train kids, so there’s been a need for a while for a second venue and A-Slope had a history that we decided to embrace.”

“Our athlete are very competitive within the state and greater region,” said Missy Karr, representing the PSEF kicking off the dedication event, Saturday. “Today we celebrate the successful completion of the A-Slope snowmaking fundraising campaign. This is a testament to the wonderful ski community, that we have here,” she said.

“As we championed the historic significance of A-Slope to our programs during this campaign we noticed that the legacy of two very critical people in our club’s history and their connection to A-Slope were missing from our recognition program: Anne and Joe Jones. So we embraced the chance to fix that and we ran the entire campaign in their honor,” Aicher explained to the group gathered in the Andrea Mead Lawrence building Saturday. “Today as we celebrate the success of the campaign and we unveil a new sign recognizing the contributions to A-Slope we take a moment to pause, to recognize and to inspire. To connect the past to the future, to reflect on the impact of this young couple who loved skiing and who were inspired by Andrea Mead and her coach Karl Acker, and decided that they could and would help us build a kids ski program from the ground up and then to connect that program to other nearby programs. The mid-Vermont council was founded under their leadership, and from there to connect clubs throughout the state into an organized competition model — a model now embodied in the Vermont Alpine Racing Association (VARA) [which they also helped to found in 1971]. Their vision was to devise a path for Pico athletes to rise to the highest levels of Alpine skiing.”

Karl Acker, who’s father Karl Acker, Sr., founded the Pico Ski Club in 1938 just after Brad and Janet Mead first opened Pico on Thanksgiving Day 1937. He coached Andrea Mead who later went on to become a two-time Olympic gold medal winner at the 1952 Olympics in Oslo.

His father helped Janet operate Pico when Brad died in a boating accident and in 1954 he and his wife June purchased Pico from Janet Mead and ran the mountain until Pico was sold in 1964.

The young Karl Acker, had many stories to tell the crowd Saturday. 

“Joe and Ann loved to ski,” was the most common refrain.

“Joe, who ran his own insurance company in Rutland and had free-reign to do as he wanted, pretty much on a daily basis would arrive to the mountain here and he’d step out of the car in his suit and tie and slip on a one-piece skiing suit (not a racing suit, an insulated one) put on his ski boots and go over to the T-bar. If my father was available they would take as many runs as Joe had time for ‘cause he had to get back to punch back in at his own office after an hour lunch break,” Acker laughed. 

Acker also remembered being lovingly coached by Joe Jones. “Occasionally when some of us could get out of school early we would come up here and ride the lift until it closed and then hike up on lower B-Slope here and go in with our hatchets and cut little sticks out of the woods and set gates. Joe, whenever he could make it, would come up and give us some guidance.

“They definitely loved skiing…. they skied until they couldn’t ski anymore. And, I have to say, I hope to follow in those ski tracks myself,” Acker concluded. 

Marsha Fletcher Dixon, took the microphone next. She was coach by Joe and then coached U10-14 for16 years at both Killington and Pico.

She said she was deeply moved by the contributions and community support that went into reinvigorating A-Slope. “For me, at 80 years olds, it’s so heartfelt, I can’t even begin to tell you,” she said.

Dixon also had many stories to share of Pico racing history and the foundational mentorship of Joe and Anne Jones. 

“Joe was a member of the 10th mountain winter warfare ski division of the U.S. Army as were many others in the Rutland area post World War II, when he finished his army tour he returned to a position at Middlebury College as the first women’s ski coach and it was his role to recruit and train women ski racers… it was there that he ‘recruited’ Ann Johnson who he ended up marrying instead of her entering Middlebury College — A wise choice as it turned out for both of them,” she laughed. 

“Joe then went on to develop the most successful ski racing program in Vermont with his dedicated efforts right here at Pico,” she continued. “He was a task-master who could make more turns in 100 yards than anyone I have ever known… his adoring wife, Anne, however, was all about speed! You’d see her with a big smile on her face skiing down the hill without hardly a turn. Together they made quite a couple. They’d often be seen on A- and B-Slope full of laughter.”

“Joe was one of the first to master the new technique Counter Rotation in the mid-50s, which minimized the tail sliding as one finished the turn. Soon we all became proficient at Counter Rotation and it did bring home the trophy. Mid-Vermont ski racing began with Joe Jones,” Dixon remembered. “In 1959, six of us made the junior national ski team, which was truly miraculous. Think about that: six kids from Pico Ski Area made the junior nationals in one year! There was a parade in Rutland which gathered hundreds of people to send us off. And our parents and all of our friends helped raise money, just like you all have today, for our endeavor.”

Additionally, “Rip McManus, [Harry] “Rebel” Ryan, Rick and Suzie Chaffee and Mike Gallagher [in cross-country] all made the Olympics right out of this initial group of Pico ski racers coached by Joe Jones. Andrea Mead has set the bar high with her Olympic achievements and together this is quite a legacy of ski racing to say the least,” Dixon said.

Another common story heard Saturday was of the “Pico Packers.” 

“I can remember trudging up with my skis on my shoulder and skiing down only to do it again and again until the slope was good enough to run gates and then the real training began,” Dixon said.

“There were no snowcats back then, we did the grooming by bootpack and sidestepping on new fallen snow to prepare the trails for training. It was not particularly fun…” remembered, Cort Jones, the youngest child of Anne and Joe Jones (and Dixon’s godchild).

“We learned discipline and resilience training with Joe, and we received great rewards for our efforts when we went to the races. There was no parental pressure for us to achieve rather loving support and a lot of fun,” Dixon said.

“Outside of my family, Joe Jones, was the most significant person in my life. He taught me how to win and loose, he taught me to be tough and compassionate, to have resilience every step of the way. These early lessons — before Title IV when women’s sports came into their own —provided me with the ability to succeed in business at a fairly high level, raise two beautiful children, and pass these lessons on to my five grandchildren. The infectious love of Joe and Anne is something I remember, something so many of us remember, so fondly in our hearts. They were second parents to a lot of us. It’s all about connections, and that is what the family of ski racing and, more specifically, the Pico Ski Club is all about.”

Cort Jones concluded the speaker portion of the ceremony Saturday. 

“My parents would be so humbled to see what has been done in their honor,” he said. “Thank you to all you racers, parents and coaches standing here today because this is what it’s all about. This is what my parents loved so much. Ski racing is community as we can see here in this room. It will be part of your life forever. 

“I feel that it’s one of the best learning experiences that you will ever have in your life. … It takes dedication, perseverance, strength, confidence and courage to be a ski racer. These are all the things my parents distilled in their ‘juniors’ as they so loved to call those they coached.”

Cort Jones told the crowd more stories of his parents’ love for skiing and each other.

“My parents first met at Pico in the early ‘40s, my mother was 13 at the time. My dad was teaching her older brother how to ski and they were introduced. Over the next many years my mother made quite a name for herself in the women’s ski racing circuit. They got married in 1949 and celebrated their 71st anniversary just prior to my mom’s passing a few years ago… My dad skied here at Pico every year of the first 75 years it was open… he was probably the one person who’s accomplished that feat,” he said. “After almost 70 years of Mid-Vermont Racing and over 50 years of VARA leading the country in ski racing they [Anne and Joe Jones] are worth of this wonderful recognition.”

The dedication ceremony was capped off by with a champagne toast followed by the unveiling of a new commemorative sign located just above base of the Little Pico Triple chair between A-and B-slope.

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