CARRABASSETT VALLEY — The MTV Video Music Awards have astronauts, the Teen Choice Awards have surfboards, the American Country Awards have guitars and the Kids’ Choice Awards have orange blimps. 

There are some creative awards around the entertainment world and sports world and Sugarloaf dishes out some unique trophies as well.

On Wednesday, six athletes — three men and three women — were awarded hatchets for finishing on the podium in their respective U.S. Alpine Championships race. The race winner received a hatchet with a gold face, while second and third place received silver- and bronze-faced hatchets, respectively. 

Why hatchets? 

“The mountain has very strong lodging history,” Sugarloaf Communications Coordinator Noelle Tuttle said. “Most of the trails were cut because of logging and we have Narrow Gauge, which was a railroad that serviced the logging industry up here and that was the only reason people were up here. It’s a part of our culture and also a big part of our racing history.” 

The award pays tribute to Carrabassett Valley’s timber industry, which was a staple of the area before skiing brought people from all across the East Coast to the small town. At the turn of the 20th century, shipbuilders turned to hatchet-wielders to deliver them the lumber they so desperately needed to carry out their work. 

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“Most people think that Narrow Gauge is a rite of passage in the ski world,” Tuttle said. “Bode Miller came through here, a lot of the top athletes have raced on this course. It’s sort of a recognition of that ruggedness.” 

Tuttle is among the Sugarloaf committee members who began the planning process for the hatchets in October and November. 

As an ode to those hard workers and they tools they used, the committee for the 1971 World Cup Tall Timber Classic at Sugarloaf went with the idea for hatchets as their awards for the top three men and women in each event. With the idea in mind, Sugarloaf contacted Snow and Nealley, a Maine axe company that’s been producing steel tools since 1864. 

Snow and Nealley began as a family business during its inception over 150 years ago. It began with Charles Snow and Edward Bowdoin Nealley, who saw a demand for durable, high quality tools with Bangor serving as a hub for the city’s lumber and shipbuilding industries. 

Snow and Nealley ran into financial trouble at the beginning of the new millennium and it’s 40-employee business in Bangor closed its doors in 2003. The business moved to Brewer, but remained on the verge of bankruptcy until the Hilty family bought the struggling business in 2012 and moved it to Smyrna. 

Snow and Nealley’s revival came at the perfect time for Sugarloaf. When it came time to decide on the look of this year’s trophies, Sugarloaf looked at a photo from 1971 for its answer. Sugarloaf and Snow and Nealley rekindled their working relationship and they agreed to produce the axe handles. 

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For the custom hatchet heads, Sugarloaf looked to another state rich in skiing tradition: Colorado.

Lisa Issenberg — a metal artist who designs and fabricates custom awards for her self-owned business, Kiitella — has been in the business since 1991 and was the one Sugarloaf reached out to to create the “gold, silver and bronze” hatchets. Kiitella conceived, designed and fabricated the awards, incorporating the Snow and Nealley handles.

As a result, the best skiers in the country will be hoisting gold, silver and bronze hatchets at the podium throughout the week. In all, 18 hatchets will be handed out. 

“People think they’re really cool,” Tuttle said. “It’s something people are really gunning for. It’s a really rad trophy.” 

#USALPINE

Sun Journal coverage of the U.S. Alpine Championship includes:


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