Last weekend, I headed over to North Conway for my first visit to Mount Cranmore since the passing of Herbert Schneider last year. I wasn't able to be at their 75th birthday dinner as it was the same weekend as the Shawnee Peak celebration, but I learned from general manager Ben Wilcox that it was a gala occasion with about 200 in attendance.
I try to make it to Cranmore at least once a season, and in the past I could always count on seeing Herbert Schneider, if not on the slopes then walking about the base area. He skied well into his eighties, finally giving it up after his eyes began to fail a few years ago. He died at 92 after a full life devoted to skiing from the day he and his father arrived here from Austria in 1939. He returned to his native Austria after serving with the 10th Mountain Division in Italy during World War II.
He returned to North Conway to work for his father, the famed ski meister, Hannes Schneider, after the war and spent the rest of his life either teaching skiing at the mountain or running the area as the owner. Driving into the drop off area it's hard to miss the statue of the ski meister that greets all arrivals.
My main reason for the visit was to check out the new Schneider Triple Chair, which replaced the very old East Chair. The East slopes at Cranmore are always busy on a cold day. While the lifties on the rest of the mountain are bundled up, those loading the East Chair would often be in vests. The new chair is longer, and its base is downhill and west of the old chair, but still in a sunny hollow that is always warmer than the lifts on the front side of the area. It also offers a wider variety of runs than the old lift really helping to spread the skiers around the mountain.
Cranmore has seen a lot of investment since its takeover by Jiminy Peak. It's actually under the same type of ownership as a number of others — Sunday River and Sugarloaf for example. The assets and property are owned by CNL Group, which in turn leases the resort to an operating company, Boyne in the case of Sunday River and Sugarloaf and Jiminy at Cranmore. Most Maine skiers are unfamiliar with Jiminy Peak, which is a destination ski resort in the Berkshires. Brian Fairbank, president of Jiminy, has a reputation for operating a quality, service oriented resort and that's a perfect fit for Cranmore. It shows in the $8 million invested there since the purchase in 2010.
I was pleased to see the usual evidence of this service everywhere. It started in the drop-off area where a number of greeters were on hand, not only to say hi, and offer information but to actually help unloading skis. I also found a Ski Key locking rack right outside the ticket office so I could lock my skis while getting my ticket. There were more of these secure racks slope-side. These are the metal racks with a slot and a pin to accept the plastic block that locks the skis and poles in place. The locks can be found in ski shops for around $25 and we use them where ever they are available.
Inside, after changing into my boots, I ran into Wilcox, who had already had six runs and was now moving around the base area making sure all was going well. While we were talking, a staffer came into the area and announced that free basket checks were available so bags and gear didn't have to be left around the base lodge. Ben told me it has really helped to keep the area clean and neat. Skiers don't have to stumble over someone's boot bag. It's a great service.
If all goes well, I'll return to Cranmore the weekend of March 1-3. The annual Meister Cup is a celebration of the life of Hannes Schneider and the history of skiing in the Mount Washington Valley. The 10th Mountain Division will be represented by current members and veterans in the race and ceremonies in the base area. You can get details at www.cranmore.com.
But before that we have the entire month of February ahead, the peak ski month for most seasons. This year, with the abundant snow, the outlook is especially good. As usual there will be plenty of special events with the big vacation week the focus of all ski areas. A lot of season-long championships are decided vacation week, with most high school titles set for contention that week.
One of the more interesting and unique competitions during the month will be held Feb. 8-10 at Camden. The U.S. National Toboggan Championships are held annually at the Snowbowl and draw plenty of competitors along with a good crowd of spectators.
The sixth Annual Maine Ski Heritage Classic will take place at Sugarloaf, Saturday, Feb. 16. Proceeds go the Ski Museum of Maine. You will find me in the Base Lodge from 10:30 to 3:30 p.m. selling raffle tickets by the museum display. There will be a group photo of skiers in vintage ski wear at 3 p.m. At 4 p.m., the action moves to the Inn for a silent and live auction. The list of items includes skis, accessories, vacations, and more, over 100 in all.
For more information, go to www.skimuseumofmaine.org. See you on the slopes.