This week’s entry is a continuation of two weeks ago when the subject was Greg Stump’s new film. Actually seeing the film in Portland on New Year’s Day and talking with Greg once again led me to Pleasant Mountain (Shawnee Peak to younger skiers. But this time the topic was not his films, but the freestyle program that led to his film-making and some of the skiers he started with.

I met Greg and Frank Howell in Blizzard’s Pub on the top floor of the base lodge at Shawnee Peak on Wednesday to learn more about how they got their start. Later we were joined by Bruce Cole, who taught at the mountain from 1972 to 1980 and directed the freestyle program, and Jeff Coffin (Wily Coyote in Stump’s earliest films). Before we left, Peter Young came along and the cast was nearly complete. I first met Peter at Winter Park in 1985 when he was directing the freestyle program at that Colorado resort.

Stump and his family had moved to Maine in 1968 and they adopted Pleasant Mountain as their home ski area. Greg, along with his brother Geoff and sister Kim teamed up with Frank Howell to ski the mountain. Too young to participate in the race program, they joined a new program run by Peter Pinkham, Junior Masters.

This program was based on the PSIA Final Forms, which in those days were a key part of instructor certification. I got to watch instructors working on those skills and actually skied with them as they trained under the late Bruce Fenn to prepare for the exam. Bruce was one of the early PSIA instructors and one of the organization’s most revered examiners. Lost Valley instructors were fortunate that he lived in Auburn and lent his skills, which helped those instructors have such a high level of success in the exam. But that’s a topic for a future column.

It did help me to understand what the Junior Masters were all about. Instead of battling the clock, these young skiers worked to achieve perfect form. They were judged on how well they carved their turns and displayed the proper form to make the skis work as they were designed, but bear in mind those skis were nearly straight, not shaped to make a carve the way today’s are.

In 1969, when Rudi Wyrsch arrived to direct the ski school, these kids were ready for something more than simply perfecting a turn and Wyrsch (Known as the Clown Prince of Skiing) was the perfect example. Wyrsch would ski down the mountain performing Royal Christies and other maneuvers. He would also do exhibitions of aerials, although jumping was if not forbidden, certainly frowned upon by management.

Stump and Howell related how they built a jump to work on helicopters, a jump where the skier rotates 360 degrees before landing. As they did this after the lifts closed, they built the jump just above the lodge so they could see by the lights of the building. Following Russ Haggett’s retirement, Ron Kutcowicz became GM and he was not only more tolerant of the jumping but actually encouraged the young skiers.

A jump was built by Tower 13 where they could soar without getting into trouble as long as they confined it to that one spot. According to Stump, this worked fine until one of their group tried an inverted maneuver, and once again management got nervous.

The junior masters program was also growing at other mountains, and in 1972 the Maine State Ski Masters circuit was developed giving the skiers an opportunity to compete against other teams in the state. Bruce Cole had returned from Aspen to teach and direct the program, and the Pleasant Mountain team traveled around the state and over to New Hampshire for competitions.

While the juniors had their Masters, Bernie Weischel, who operates the Boston Ski Show and others, had started the Chevy Pro Freestyle Tour starring the likes of Wayne Wong and John Clendenin. In one of his events at Waterville Valley, Greg, who was 13 or 14 at the time, presented himself to Weischel as Bruce Cole’s agent and some how convinced the tour director that Cole should be allowed to compete even though he was unseeded. In the qualifiers, Cole beat Wong, Clendenin and other top competitors to get into the finals. Unfortunately he bombed in the finals, but the Pleasant Mountain skiers had made an impact.

As the Masters transformed into freestyle through the 1970s, the Pleasant Mountain skiers progressed, and in 1978 they made a road trip by van to Copper Mountain in Colorado to the national championships. Unfortunately, Howell was hit hard by the altitude, (Copper is 9600 feet at the base and climbs close to 12,000 at the summit, quite a change for skiers living close to sea level.), and it was serious. He had to be transported to Denver and hospitalized. Greg and Frank were and are best of friends who described themselves as arch-rivals.

That left the rest of the team to compete and they brought home the medals. Peter Young finished first overall and Greg Stump was second, first in his junior class. Geoff Stump finished first in his age group as did Doug Rand of Westbrook. In all the Pleasant Mountain skiers brought home six national titles and in later competition Frank Howell got his share, finally totaling six himself.

In those days, freestyle was not an Olympic sport, but they were the forerunners. See you on the slopes.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer who lives in Westbrook.


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