When looking up at Mount Mansfield today, it’s easy to see the intricate network of lifts and trails that make Stowe Mountain Resort a world-class ski destination for visitors from all over the world.
But in the 1930s, when a small group of winter sports enthusiasts looked up at the mountain, they saw opportunity.
January marks the 85th anniversary of the Mount Mansfield Ski Club, whose impact on the mountain — from hosting races to cultivating generations of Olympic athletes — cannot be overstated.
“The club was vital to Stowe,” said Mike Leach, a coach for the Mount Mansfield Winter Academy and historian for the ski club. “We started the ski school, the ski patrol, and coordinated all of the development of the mountain for the first 10 years or so.”
The roots of the club reach back to 1931, with the creation of the Stowe Ski Club; however, on Jan. 8, 1934, the club reorganized as the Mount Mansfield Ski Club.
The original stated mission of the club was “to provide, maintain and improve skiing facilities in the Mount Mansfield region of Vermont; to assist members in obtaining the most enjoyment from these facilities; to further the technical skill of members; to promote ski competitions; and, generally, to cultivate an interest in skiing.”
Those club founders really had their work cut out for them.
In December 1933, workers with the Civilian Conservation Corps had just completed cutting Bruce Trail, a 4.5-mile run that started near the top of Toll Road and ended near Ranch Camp, the site of the the first clubhouse.
It was also the site of the Mount Mansfield Ski School, established by the ski club during the 1937-38 season by Frank Griffin — the club’s first president — with instruction by Willi Benedict, Andy Ransome, Herta Richter and Henry Simoneau.
From the beginning, the club’s founders sought to promote interest in the mountain by hosting races. On Feb. 11, 1934 — one month after its founding — the club hosted its first race down the newly created Bruce Trail, with the club facing off against the Amateur Ski Club of New York.
One of the biggest influences on skiing in those early years was Sepp Ruschp, an Austrian-born member of his country’s national team who came to the United States in 1936 at the invitation of the ski club. Ruschp was a founding instructor for the fledgling ski school, and went on to be the president and general manager of the Mount Mansfield Company.
The club has hosted a number of important races throughout the years, including the U.S. Nationals in 1938, 1952 and 1966, American International races in 1955, 1957 and 1960, and the North American Championship in 1953.
And if you’re going to have skiers, you’re going to need people to keep the skiers safe and rescue them when they’re injured. So, in 1934, the club established the Mount Mansfield Ski Patrol, which is the oldest is the oldest organization of its type in the United States.
By the late 1940s, with the ski school and the ski patrol was under the management of the Mount Mansfield Ski Co., the club shifted its focus to instructing young people, with the establishment of the “Friday Program” in 1951 — giving all Stowe schoolchildren a chance to ski on the mountain.
By 1950, the club had about 500 members, and that number grew to more than 4,000 by the early ’60s. One benefit of being a club member was receiving a 10 percent discount, beginning with the installation of the single-chair lift in 1940 and continuing until the late 1980s.
Club members would also enjoy trips to ski the Alps of Europe, beginning in 1957 and continuing into the mid-1970s.
And for a small skiing community, the club has produced an abundance of Olympic athletes, including Marilyn Shaw (1940), Ann Cook (1940), Madi Springer-Miller (1952), Marvin Moriarty (1956), Tom Corcoran (1960), Billy Kidd (1964, 1968), Rip McManus (1964), Rosie Fortna (1968), Tiger Shaw (1984, 1988), Nancy Bell (1992 biathlon), Erik Schlopy (1994, 2002, 2006), Harper Phillips (1994), Chip Knight (1998, 2002, 2006), Jimmy Cochran (2006, 2010), and Ryan Cochran-Siegle (2018).
“Today, the club continues to host major ski racing competitions, including the Sugar Slalom, Stowe Derby and the popular Ski Bum Series, and offers ski racing programs for more than 200 racers, many of whom are enrolled in the club’s ski academy,” Leach said.
The educational component of the club has grown in its mission since in the mid-1980s, when the Mount Mansfield Academy was established to allow local racers to train during the week. During the 1993-94 season, the Mount Mansfield Winter Academy was established to offer training to athletes, both local and from out of town.
For nearly a century, the ski club has been a good shepherd for the mountain, establishing the culture and encouraging athletes of all ages to strap on some skis and feel the thrill that comes from bombing down the hill.
Can’t wait to see what happens during the next 15 years, and we’ll check back in 2034 for the club’s centennial.