Returning to Waterville Valley always brings a flood of memories. Last weekend was especially memorable.
This resort in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest was special from the start when Tom Corcoran retired from the U.S. Ski Team after 10 years and two Olympics. Returning from the 1960 games the top American ski racer with a Harvard MBA was looking to build a ski resort. The tiny town of Waterville Valley had been a summer vacation spot since the 1800s and had a small ski hill called Snow’s Mountain at the edge of the village. Corcoran had bigger ideas, and with his Boston connections, especially the Kennedys, he secured the backing to build a full ski area on Mount Tecumseh — one of the White Mountain’s 4000 footers.
Corcoran bought all the available private land in the valley and set about building his ski area on national forest land. It was no incremental build out. Construction started in 1965 and the inaugural season featured four double chairs and most of the trails skied today. The owner’s racing background immediately became part of the resort. While various inns were opening in the village, Corcoran was using his ski team connections to get involved in the newly formed World Cup international racing series, and over the years they hosted 11 World Cup races, most of which I attended.
A key factor in hosting the events was established long before Corcoran’s arrival on the scene. The Waterville Valley Black and Blue Trail Smashers ski club was formed in the ’30s and supplied a cadre of race officials and volunteers so critical to any ski race. They put on great events, but for me, none as memorable as the 1990 World Cup finals. That was where Julie Parisien won her first World Cup Race, the giant slalom. She led after the first run, and I found her between runs trying to relax. She went out on the mountain and skied to stay loose and overcame a slight slip near the finish of the second run to clinch the gold medal.
All races finish at the base of the World Cup Slalom Hill with its own T-bar for the racers and a grandstand around the finish corral. With an American winner, there was a huge celebration that afternoon with Julie being carried off on her teammate’s shoulders.
Other memorable World Cups included the year Cindy Nelson announced her retirement at Waterville after 14 years on the team.
The ski resort was strongly affiliated with the Professional Ski Patrol Association, and I was reminded of the numerous ski and toboggan exams held there. Fellow Maine examiners on those occasions included Stub Taylor, Phil Howe, Jim Lucey and Peter Allen from Sugarloaf. The steep runs off the Sunny Side chair provide perfect terrain for these exams and the candidates would return to the Valley in May for the Emergency Care portion required for full certification.
The area was also the home of early Freestyle competition, and in 2001 Bernie Weischel chose the occasion of the National Championships to set up a reunion of some of those early pioneers. As we were watching the local TV channel Saturday morning, Tom Gross Jr., the host, showed footage from that event. Wayne Wong, George Askevold and others demonstrated their moves on the slope in front of the base lodge. Later we went out for some free skiing with them (In those days I could keep up), and I was surprised to see that had been video taped as well, and I pointed out to Grandson Keegan, that the guy skiing along with Wayne Wong was indeed his Grampy.
In the 70s and 80s, Bob Fries was the general manager under Tom Corcoran, and Bobby Foster was the marketing director. Josef Jung directed the ski school, and all three are back after long absences working elsewhere in the ski industry. Corcoran was forced to sell in the 90s and Waterville Valley passed through the ownership of SKI, (Killington’s parent) the LBO (precursor to the American Skiing Company) and finally Booth Creek. Two years ago, the resort returned to local New Hampshire ownership when it was purchased by the Sununu family
This was the good news.
Currently Waterville Valley has a village in the valley with inns, hotels, shops, restaurants, a skating rink and headquarters for the cross country trail network. The base area at the mountain is a couple of miles up the road with detachable quad lifts and modern facilities. Permits are now being sought to expand on the mountain with a new lift to the East of the present layout. Topping out at 2,800 feet this new area would have 1,000 feet of vertical and add some much needed intermediate terrain along with steeper runs.
In talking with GM Fries, I learned that they are also exploring bringing more racing back to the mountain. Possible events would be the NCAA’s and the national alpine championships. The return of World Cup racing is also being checked out, something that has not happened in the East since the last races at Waterville. Fries pointed out that the WVBBTS is still fully functional and ready to go again. The trails are ready now for Slalom and GS, but in order to host the US Nationals, they to need to widen one run to be able to host a Super G.
This return provided the expected memories, but better yet, it was great to see the optimism for the future at Waterville Valley, a resort that has been very special to New Hampshire skiing. See you on the slopes.
Dave Irons is a freelance writer who lives in Westbrook.