Ski industry topic of Wilton fireside chat


WILTON — Maine was once a major manufacturer of skis and ski gear, and Wilton was one of the state’s principal centers. That’s the core concept for “Made in Maine: 100-Plus Years of Craftsmanship in Skiing,” a newly created “Fireside Chat” offered by the Ski Museum of Maine and the Wilton Historical Society on Thursday, April 8.

The program will be offered free at 7:30 p.m. at the Wilton Farm and Home Museum on Canal Street.

A separate show in the series, titled “Down-Mountain and Cross-Country: 140 Years of Skiing in Maine,” will be shown at the Herbert Hotel in Kingfield at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 7. Both shows run about 50 minutes.

At the Wilton show, approximately 100 photos and other graphic images, some more than a century old, will be shown. The narrator will be Scott Andrews, a Portland-based ski journalist and museum director who assembled the photos and performed much of the research.

Andrews has been a snowsports journalist for 23 years and is a writer for several magazines, including “Skiing Heritage.”

Andrews said the story of Maine ski building started in the late 19th century with the arrival of Scandinavian immigrants in Aroostook and Oxford counties. Immigrant craftsmen made the first skis used in this state.

At the turn of the 20th century, Paris Manufacturing Co. was beginning to mass produce skis. By the 1920s, two more local companies were major factors in the business: W.F. Tubbs or Norway and Ellingwood Turning Co. of Paris.

G.H. Bass and Co. of Wilton began making ski boots in 1912 and was a nationally prominent innovator and manufacturer from the 1920s into the 1970s. Several owners of the company were also active in promoting the sport and took a leadership role in the development of Sugarloaf Mountain, beginning in the 1940s.

Hussey Manufacturing Co. of North Berwick, the predecessor of today’s Hussey Seating Co., built the first chairlift in the east, and the “world’s tallest” ski jump scaffold, while Robbins Engineering of Westbrook erected dozens of T-bars and chairlifts in the 1950s and 1960s.

“The business of manufacturing skis and ski gear was a major part of Maine’s economy in the middle years of the 20th century,” says Andrews. “Although there’s no longer any ski manufacturing in Maine, our mountains, resorts and cross-country centers remain a vitally important cog in our state’s economy. The purpose of this Fireside Chat is to illustrate the significance of our sport to our state’s lifestyle and economy over the centuries.”

Fireside Chats are traveling outreach programs of the Ski Museum of Maine, a nonprofit organization located in Kingfield. There is no charge for the program, but donations are accepted. For more information, call the Ski Museum of Maine at 491-5481.