To live in Vermont you have to make friends with winter. So it’s not a surprise that Vermont has played an important role in the development of winter sports. For a small state, Vermont can claim many firsts.
The first winter carnival in the United States was held at Vermont Academy in 1909. The Dartmouth Winter Carnival is based on the Vermont Academy event and this year marks the 108th carnival at Dartmouth. The first United States National Skiing Championships consisting of cross country and jumping were held in Brattleboro in 1924. The first ski lift in the United States was a rope tow on Gilbert’s Hill in Woodstock.
Both the National Ski Patrol and the legendary 10th Mountain Division trace their beginnings to Vermont. The first U. S. National Snowboarding Championship was held at Suicide Six in 1982 although it was actually called “Snow Surfing” at that time. Founded in 1970, Burke Mountain Academy was the first winter sports academy in the U.S.
Vermont winter athletes have also gained international acclaim. Andrea Mead Lawrence was the best woman skier of her era garnering two gold medals at the 1952 Winter Olympics. Billy Kidd was the first United States man to win an Olympic medal in alpine skiing and Bill Koch was the first in Nordic skiing. In snowboarding, Ross Powers and Kelly Clark were the first Americans to win Olympic gold.
Birth of the Vermont Ski Museum
Roy Newton is a Vermont editor and publisher who currently lives in Castleton and publishes the Lakeside News and Rutland Sun. But in the 1980s he was the publisher of the Vermont Ski News. Newton traveled around the state collecting news, soliciting ads, and distributing the paper.
One day driving towards Burlington from Montpelier, he decided Vermont with all its skiing history should have its own ski museum. He came to this decision with such conviction that he turned his car around, returned to Montpelier, and registered the name Vermont Ski Museum with the state.
That was in 1988. Newton set the museum up as a nonprofit, which meant it required a board of directors. He called upon some of those who had supported his Vermont Ski News as advertisers which included Chuck and Jann Perkins, founders of the Alpine Shop in South Burlington.
Newton in his travels around the state began collecting retired ski gear, equipment, machinery, signs, library materials and other skiing memorabilia, but where to store them? Newton was also working at the Brandon Inn and secured the use of a shed behind the inn. So the first physical museum was located in Brandon down a muddy alley behind the Brandon Inn. Visitation was by appointment only and the collection was not stored in an organized fashion.
Chuck and Jann remember that board meetings were informal, usually over lunch somewhere in Killington. Fundraising was always a challenge. They ran various events around the Killington area including a wet T-shirt contests at the Wobbly Barn. Eventually they were able to secure a location for the museum on U.S. 4 between Rutland and Pico near the Cortina Inn. While this seemed like a good location, traffic whizzing by wasn’t that interested in stopping for a museum.
Chuck and Jann lobbied for the museum to move to Stowe particularly if a location in the village was available. It would be easier for the museum to attract pedestrian traffic than automobiles traveling 50 miles per hour. Which brings us to …
History of Town Meeting House
The Town Meeting House in Stowe was built in 1818 and is the oldest active public building. The meeting house originally occupied the lot on North Main Street where the Stowe Community Church now stands. The meeting house was to be used as a church for all religious groups and as a town house for various civic meetings. For more than 40 years various denominations worshipped in this common church building until they erected their individual churches.
In 1861 the Universalists obtained the land where the meeting house sat. To make room for their church (which would become the Stowe Community Church in 1920), the meeting house was moved by a team of oxen to its current location on South Main Street. By the 1890s it was used as the Town Hall and gymnasium.
When the Akeley Memorial Building was built in the early 1900s it became the Town Hall, but the old meeting house remained the home for various town services. This included the Stowe Fire Department, which used the building until 1973.
The Stowe Water and Light Department, which was the last remaining town agency in the old meeting house, left the building in 2000. The town of Stowe was left with the decision of what to do with the old meeting house. The building was condemned and costly repairs would be required to restore it for useful purposes, but it was an historic part of Stowe.
Bringing the museum to Stowe
A group of Stowe business persons including Chuck and Jann Perkins saw the old Town Meeting House as an opportunity. In order to preserve an historic building, why not use it to preserve a significant segment of Vermont’s history? A museum would provide another village attraction that could draw visitors and help business. The group negotiated with Roy Newton and purchased his collection along with the associated rights.
Next they launched a $1.4 million campaign to save the condemned Town Meeting House as the home of the new Vermont Ski Museum. Managed by volunteers throughout the state, the campaign reunited Vermont ski racers, 10th Mountain Division members, area developers, self-professed ski bums and industry pioneers. The Perkins’s played a significant role in the campaign. As Chuck tells it, he had just sold one of their Stowe properties when he found out that the campaign had decided the renovated museum building would be named for top level donor. Chuck came home and told Jann, “I gave the money from the house away.”
Thanks to the Perkins’s and many others who contributed, the goal was reached and renovations began. Much of the building’s structure had to be restored and even the old bell tower which had been removed years before was restored. One new addition was a giant moving mobile to display the museum’s historic ski lift exhibit.
The Vermont Ski Museum opened its doors in the restored Town Meeting House which was now the “Charles N. and Janet B. Perkins Building” on Aug. 16, 2002. Double gold medalist Andrea Mead Lawrence cut the ribbon at the grand opening.
In 2010 the museum’s name was changed to the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum to recognize the impact Vermont and Vermonters have had on the development of snowboarding.
The museum today
The museum’s mission statement is “to Collect, Preserve, and Celebrate Vermont’s Skiing and Snowboarding history!”
Since 2002, the museum collection has more than doubled. There are approximately 8,000 individual items preserved by the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum. Ski equipment includes about 275 pairs of boots, 400 pairs of skis, 100 pairs of poles, 55 pairs of climbing skins, and 60 loose bindings for both cross country and downhill skiing, and the carrying equipment — bags, boot trees, and ski racks.
Mechanical equipment, the smallest collection at about 75, includes large items necessary for the operations of ski areas such as snow making equipment, lifts, communication equipment, and race timing devices. Most of this is the first timing equipment, including the first electronic eye that starts and stops timing based on motion, used in Vermont, perhaps in the United States.
Vermont Ski Areas collection contains location-specific items. There have been over 130 ski areas in Vermont. Items range from trail signs to ashtrays to chandeliers. The 10th Mountain Division collection includes early fleece, climbing equipment, WWII rations, medals, and archival material. The fine art collection holds original paintings, drawings, and sculpture and posters and graphics by Vermonters or of Vermont locations and events. The library and archives represents a large portion of the museum’s holdings, including over 550 books, 350 magazines, 75 postcards, 50 instructional booklets, 200 pamphlets related to Vermont ski areas and some original photography and film footage.
“Curious & Cool,’ the museum’s current exhibit, features an eclectic mix from 30 years of collecting: from one of Andrea Mead Lawrence’s gold medals to moon boots; from Mount Mansfield ticket books to one of Warren Witherell’s water skis. The museum plans a new main exhibit every year, but maintains several permanent exhibits. The 10th Mountain Division exhibit salutes those Vermonters who served in the 10th during World War II. The National Ski Patrol exhibit tells the story of how its roots can be traced back to Vermont.
Vermont Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame
The museum also hosts the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame. A selection committee nominates a set of candidates each year and welcomes suggestions from the public. A special induction event is held each year to welcome those selected. Andrea Mead Lawrence was the first inductee in 2002.
Vermonters in the WWII 10th Mountain Division were inducted in 2003. Other notable inductees include Billy Kidd and the Cochran family in alpine skiing; Bill Koch and Martha Rockwell in Nordic skiing; Jake Burton, Donna Carpenter and Ross Powers in snowboarding.
The Hall of Fame also includes the Paul Robbins Journalism Award to recognize Vermonters who have distinguished themselves writing about and covering winter sports. This past year the award went to Vermont icon Peter Miller.
In 2017 a new award was added to the Hall of Fame. The “First Tracks Award” honors exceptional and ongoing contributions to skiing or snowboarding in Vermont by someone under 35. The First Tracks Award is given in memory of Ian Graddock, a Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum board member, lifelong skier and ski racer, who passed away in 2016 at age 35.
In its inaugural year, the First Tracks Award went to snowboarder Kevin Pearce, who was on a trajectory to snowboard in the 2010 Olympics when he crashed and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Since then, he’s gone on to set up the Love Your Brain Foundation to help others with TBIs.
In addition to the Hall of Fame event, the museum sponsors other events throughout the year. In the past these have included antique ski races in both Alpine and Nordic disciplines. This year the museum has held a series of panel discussions called “Thirsty Thursdays.” These events are co-sponsored by Vermont Ski & Ride Magazine, Collective Arts Brewing, and Hetta. The next Thirsty Thursday entitled “Snowboarding – Past, Present, and Future” will be held on March 8 at the museum.
2018 – A special year
2018 marks the 30th anniversary of what started as the Vermont Ski Museum. It marks the 16th year that the museum has been in Stowe. And it marks the 200th anniversary for the old Town Meeting House that is now the home for the museum. We hope you’ll plan a visit to the museum to help us celebrate these milestones and celebrate Vermont’s skiing and snowboarding history!
Meredith Scott is curator of the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum. Greg Morrill is co-chair of the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum board of directors. During the ski season he writes a weekly skiing history column for the Stowe Reporter.
About the museum
The Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum is located in The Perkins Building, One South Main St., Stowe. Regular Hours: Noon to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Members receive ski and ride discounts.
Website is www.vtssm.com
Current exhibit: “Curious & Cool” highlighs unusual and seldom seen objects from the museum’s eclectic collection
Thirsty Thursdays — “Snowboarding: Past, Present, and Future” will be held March 8 at the museum. Admission $10 with a cash bar. Sponsored by Collective Arts Brewing, Hetta Glogg and VT SKI + RIDE magazine.