Wendall "Chummy" Broomhall, Maine skiing legend, dies

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Wendall “Chummy” Broomhall, left, the oldest living member of the Chisholm Ski Club, talks as Scott Pitts listens at Black Mountain’s Winter Carnival in February 2017. Pitts asked Broomhall to autograph his newly purchased copy of “A Century on Skis” by Scott Andrews. (Sun Journal file photo)

Maine — and the United States — have lost a skiing icon.

Wendall “Chummy” Broomhall, an Olympian, one of the most decorated skiers in Maine history, one of the driving forces behind the development of Black Mountain of Maine ski area in Rumford, and one of the most revered of Androscoggin River Valley natives, died Saturday at the Maine Veterans’ Home in South Paris. He was 98.

Broomhall’s impact was as broad as the shoulders that helped shape a region — and, nationally, a sport.

From his service to the country during World War II, to the donation of hundreds of acres of land on which Black Mountain sits today, to the innovations he brought to the Nordic ski trails at the Olympic level, Broomhall truly made an impact across the globe.

In February, Broomball made it to the 100th anniversary celebration of the Chisholm Ski Club in Rumford, where he was the oldest member. At that celebration, Broomhall sat in the Maine Ski Museum exhibit in the Black Mountain lodge and looked out the window over the slopes. Occasionally someone would come up to him and ask him to sign something, or just want to chat.

Broomhall was happy to oblige.

“Time don’t mean anything to me anymore,” Broomhall told the Sun Journal that day. “I just wanted to come to the mountain one last time.”

Growing up, and off to war

In an interview with the Sun Journal one year ago, on the occasion of his 97th birthday, Broomhall fondly recalled growing up on the family farm. One of 15 children, Broomhall said his mother made sure all of them earned their diplomas on time.

Broomhall graduated from high school in 1937. He worked as a logger until problems with his legs forced him to stop.

When World War II broke out, Broomhall was working as a stable boy taking care of horses. He and his buddy — “dumb kids,” he said — quit their jobs and marched down to sign up. Broomhall had his heart set on joining the Air Corps and was one of 20 guys chosen to take a math test. That part was fine, but his eyesight held him back.

“I didn’t pass the physical,” he told the Sun Journal in 2016. “One eye wasn’t 20/20 and I got flunked out. That was the first time somebody was looking after me — I see it that way.”

The 20 local guys who made the Air Corps were shot down somewhere in the Pacific Ocean during the war.

“They got on these rafts and floated around in the hot sun for 30 days,” Broomhall said. “They were treated mercilessly by the Japanese as war prisoners . . . but they survived. . . . I don’t know how they lived and survived.”

When Broomhall didn’t make the Air Corps, he joined the Army. The 10th Mountain Division was just being formed and he began fighting the war in the Pacific Theater. He fought there, as well as in Brazil aboard a B-17, as well as West Africa and Sicily, though after the major invasion of the Italian island after being held up in Algiers.

Back to skiing

Everyone skied when he was younger, Broomhall recalled.

“We only did cross-country skiing,” he said. “I take that back. We jumped, too.”

There were plenty of small jumps around Rumford from which he could launch. And, of course, there was Black Mountain with plenty of trails to ski and train on.

So what did he like most about skiing?

“The competition, of course,” Broomhall said, his blue eyes twinkling behind tortoise shell-framed glasses. “Before the war, I was probably the top cross-country skier there,” Broomhall added. “I won a lot of races.”

When he got back from the war, he discovered he still had it in him.

“I wasn’t satisfied until I saw if I could still beat these young guys,” Broomhall recalled last year. “I ended up getting in that race. They only picked one cross-country runner, I was it. Won it by two minutes, as I recall.”

Broomhall competed in the 1948 Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and in the 1952 Games in Oslo, Norway.

In 1960, the United States was hosting the Winter Olympics, and Broomhall was, by default, the country’s expert.

“In 1960, there wasn’t anybody around there that did anything about cross-country so they made me the American representative to Federation of International Ski — the world governing body,” he said.

Broomhall designed the trails for the Olympics in 1960 — and again at Lake Placid in 1980 — and was chief of competition for both events. In 1960, Broomhall became the first to use mechanized equipment to groom trails, a job previously performed by feet and hand-held rakes. This was made necessary because of the icy conditions caused by afternoon sun melting the snow followed by cold nights.

Carving a legacy

And while Broomhall was always happy to lend a hand to his country — and the greater good of the sport — his heart was always with his hometown, and his family. Over the years, he donated about 300 acres and helped lay out the trail system enjoyed by thousands, both for fun, and in competition, at Black Mountain of Maine.

Today, Black Mountain’s Nordic ski trails offer 17 kilometers of terrain, all of which feed into the aptly named Broomhall Stadium. The venue has hosted the U.S. National Cross Country Skiing Championships four times since 2003, and is the site for the annual Chummy Broomhall Cup for Maine colleges, the annual Sassi Memorial Invitational for high schools across Maine, and has hosted numerous state, regional and national high school and youth races.

Broomhall was inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame in 1981, and was an inaugural member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame when it was founded in 2003.

His granddaughter, Reagan Carey, is the director of women’s hockey for USA Hockey. On Facebook, she summarized Broomhall with the following list:

“Grandpa, Mentor, Competitor, Storyteller, Athlete, Motivator, Teammate, Champion, Soldier, Olympian, Patriarch, Lumberjack, Encourager, Fair (except in cribbage), Lovable, Volunteer, Hard-worker, Leader, Charmer, Trailblazer (literally and figuratively), Family Man . . . THE BEST!”

Broomhall’s family is planning a life celebration this summer. Also, in lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations be made to: The Chummy Broomhall Maine Nordic Ski Fund, c/o The Maine Community Foundation, 245 Main St., Ellsworth, ME 04605.

Staff writers Erin Place and Liz Marquis contributed to this report.

World War II veteran Wendell “Chummy” Broomhall, then 97, of the Maine Veterans’ Home in Paris, wears his ski hat with pins from various competitions during a birthday celebration in 2016. (Sun Journal file photo)

Wendell “Chummy” Broomhall , a two-time Olympian for cross-country skiing, competes in a race. (Submitted photo)

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