Featured, Local News

Crowds pack in to celebrate history of Pico

By Karen D. Lorentz

 On March 24, a standing room only crowd learned fascinating highlights on Pico’s history, ranging from its opening and unique position of women having operated it to the area’s ski patrol, ski club, and racing programs that engendered a loyalty that has made the mountain one of America’s 30 longest operating ski areas.

Frank Heald, a former general manager, summed it up best when asked how he could account for Pico’s appeal. He cited being 10 miles from Rutland, family oriented, Junior Program on Sundays, racing ambiance, and being “blessed with the friendliest staff” and being “a special place.”

Asked about the name which originally was Pico Peak, he said they learned Pico was Spanish for peak, which redundancy caused the name change to Pico Mountain.

The two-hour presentation, which was arranged by the Sherburne Killington Historical Society, kicked off with a wonderful slide show, put together by Ann Keim Thomas. 

Thomas Aicher, president of the Pico Education Foundation, narrated the slide show with the pictures — many of which have not been seen before — capturing highlights from Pico’s history. 

From Pico’s opening on Little Pico on Thanksgiving Day 1937 with a 1,200-foot rope tow, small warming hut, and parking lot across the road, the slide show covered many Pico highlights.

They included details about: founders Janet and Brad Mead; the Karl Acker Ski School; Olympian Andrea Mead Lawrence; the first ski accommodations; the Otter Ski Patrol; the famous Constam T-Bar (first in America debuting January 1941); the racing programs and Pico Ski Club being a “Pico staple;” the various owners of Pico; Suzy Chaffee “Chapstick;” and many interesting but little-known facts like Chaffee’s role in Title 9 being passed to offer equal opportunity in sports for women. Attendees also learned that the first lift towers were wood, the ski patrol made their own toboggans, Pico operated during World War II when most areas had to shut down, Triple Slope was originally called Gnomes Knoll, and the T-Bar lasted for 39 seasons, longer than any other lift at Pico. 

Pico women, Meads, North Tower

Justin Lindholm, who grew up in a ski family that operated Lindholm’s Sports store in Rutland for several decades and then ran it himself, talked about changes in equipment, but only after giving a shout out to the Pico women, whom he called “giants in the industry.”

They kept the area going, first Janet Mead who operated Pico during the war after Brad died in September 1942 and she lost her manager Karl Acker who went into the 10th Mountain Division. 

Karl married local June Thomas Acker in 1948, and they purchased the mountain from Janet in 1954, but Karl died in 1958 at age 42.

June carried on and installed the first chairlift and cut a trail to the summit, but lacking the financing to install a lift to the top, she sold to Bruce and Verleen Belden and a group of investors in 1964. 

Lindholm also noted the attention that Andrea Mead Lawrence with her two Gold Olympic medals in 1952 brought to Pico. The Meads had gone to Switzerland to find someone to operate their ski school. They picked Karl Acker the best racer in Europe, Lindholm said, noting it was Acker who coached the young Andrea, who still holds the US record for two Alpine Golds in one winter Olympics.

Lindholm also noted that he grew up at North Tower, the castle-like home that Brad Mead had designed and his family lived in. It was reached by a steep, ½ mile narrow winding road in Mendon and when Andrea lived there, she and her brother Peter often skied to the bus on US Route 4. While he skied there also, Lindholm noted she became an Olympian and he didn’t. That drew some laughter as did his remarks on the early leather ski boots that “stunk.”

Pico accommodations, Derby

David Wright, a retired builder whose uncle Grover Wright was a manager of the Long Trail Lodge, noted that the 1923 Long Trail Lodge which had been built in 1923 by Mortimer Proctor (who leased the land to Pico) and given to the Green Mountain Club was there when Pico opened. 

It was Grover Wright, who had married June Acker, who got the idea to keep it open in winter for skiers and there was a trail to the top of the T-Bar. However, it wasn’t built for winter and pipes and people froze, so they went to Proctor to build the Annex or Chalet [across the highway] which is now the Inn at Long Trail (modernized over the years ). The chalet was the second ski lodge in Vermont, Wright said, noting it catered to ski clubs that came up by bus or train, when U.S. Route 4 was still just a two lane road. The original Long Trail Lodge burned down in 1958 and there are current efforts to preserve the site.

Wright also spoke about the famous Pico Derby which Karl Acker had started as part of Pico’s racing events. Held on Sunset Schuss, racers had to hike up from the top of the T-Bar. The Pico Carnival featured  sugar-on-snow and fireworks at the top of the T-Bar. One year the sled carrying fireworks broke loose and careened down the mountain and right through the fire at the base but did not go off,

Pico’s homegrown son

Karl Thomas Acker was born in 1949 so he grew up with Pico in his front yard as his family lived on the second floor of the Troll Top base lodge and his bedroom faced the Little Pico slopes. He attended school in Rutland and would catch the Vermont Transit Bus to Pico after school. Then he’d ski until the lifts closed and sometimes hike up and run gates on B slope after they closed. 

Now a retired ski coach, Acker loves to share stories about Pico, its history, and its people. 

He regaled the audience with this tale of being teased by a lift operator and how he got back. Knowing the man, who started the lift’s diesel engine, route to the lift, he dug a four-foot-deep hole in the snow, then laid cardboard over the top and covered it with snow. The man fell in.

Another fun story was of his daughter Karly Acker, an instructor at Deer Valley, while riding a lift being asked if she knew Karl Acker. She noted she was his granddaughter, and the person said she was Muffy Mead, granddaughter of Brad and Janet.

Today, Karl T. Aker enjoys talking to folks on the lifts and for a raffle prize donated a history tour of Pico. That’s when people can learn about living at Pico until it was sold to the Beldens in 1964. They’ll also learn that it was during the Belden era that Pico became the area of today, with expansion to the summit and the Outpost area and addition of more trails and modern lifts, like the triple chair that replaced the T-Bar on Little Pico in 1980.

For those interested in learning more, the presentation was filmed and may be found on YouTube. Anyone interested in joining the historians is invited to do so.

2 comments on “Crowds pack in to celebrate history of Pico

  1. Could not find youtube video on this meeting that you referenced. Can you forward a link??

Comments are closed.

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