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Passion for Snow

Fred Harris, Class of 1911, founder of the Dartmouth Outing Club, soars through the air following his jump at the first Winter Carnival, which took place in 1911.
Rauner Special Collections Library

Maine Public TV Air Times:
Thur., Jan. 4 at 10:00 pm
Sat., Jan. 6 at 11:00 am

Passion for Snow highlights the role of people from Dartmouth College, Hanover NH and Northern New England in developing all aspects of the modern ski industry since 1910, including initiating early alpine ski racing to leading the 10th Mountain Division in WWII to creating the Olympics, most ski resorts and all aspects of the greater ski industry.

For more viewing options and information about the production visit the film-maker's website.Dartmouth, Leaders in Skiing: Past, Present and Future
By Stephen Waterhouse, January 11, 2017

In December 2013, the five Maine PBS stations provided the first television screening of the documentary film, Passion for Snow. This film received an Emmy nomination as Documentary of the Year-2013 and other awards based on this first public TV showing. The story of Dartmouth College's 100+ year leadership role in developing the modern ski industry is told via old film footage, archival photos, and contemporary interviews. It is based on a source book, Passion for Skiing (published in 2010, and selected as a Ski History Book of the Year). The book was written by a group of over 50 experienced ski historians and skiers based on an extensive worldwide research effort involving nearly 1,000 individuals with personal knowledge of skiing history going back to the beginning of the 20th century.

This hour-long documentary highlights the many achievements of alumni, staff and local residents associated with Dartmouth College and the Hanover, NH region. It shows how this informally affiliated group started the first ever US intercollegiate ski races (1910), first US college ski team (1921), first US ski lifts (1930s), provided the most members and many leaders of the US Army's famed 10th Mountain Division in WW II (1940s), helped start or found many of the major US ski resorts, developed new ski equipment, populated all varieties of support activities to grow ski towns across North America, and contributed to the effort to popularize the sport worldwide. Dartmouth is the only US institution—academic or otherwise--to have its alumni participate in every Winter Olympics since their inception in 1924.

Maine viewers can stand proud of the state's involvement in this amazing historical story as natives like John Litchfield from Auburn, a 1939 graduate of Dartmouth, is seen in the film talking about his days helping develop the first major ski resorts in Sun Valley, Idaho and Aspen, Colorado. And Bill Briggs, a 1954 graduate, born in Augusta, is featured for his amazing first-ever run down the Grand Teton in Wyoming that ignited the modern extreme skiing movement. Both of these Maine natives are in the Maine and the National Ski Halls of Fame. The author of this article proudly started his own skiing adventures on a hill behind neighboring houses in his hometown of Sanford, Maine.

It would be easy to think that this is simply an historical story and that things will have changed by 2017. Not so. The skiing developments taking place today are being influenced right now by the thousands of Dartmouth alumni who populate mountain communities nationwide in roles as leaders of local government, medical facilities, local business organizations and ski resort management teams.

The prominent role of Dartmouth alumni in leading the major US ski racing organizations is as evident today as at any time in the 100+ year history of their involvement in the sport. For example, Scott Blackmun, Class of 1979, is CEO of the US Olympic Committee that oversees all US Olympic activities; Tiger Shaw, Class of 1985, is President of US Ski Association that oversees the ski racing activities for all US Olympic, World Cup and related development teams; Max Cobb, Class of 1987, is President of the US Biathlon Association that oversees the activities of athletes in this unique cross country skiing and shooting sport; and Lisa Densmore-Ballard, Class of 1983, is President of the US Masters Ski Racing Association that oversees race activities of veteran ski racers competing in local races across the US.

These individuals are supported in their organizations by Dartmouth alumni serving as board members, coaches, staff, and racers. The USSA has some 25 Dartmouth-connected skiers on its various teams. The current two leading US ski racing stars of today, Lindsay Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, are setting records for winning the most Olympic and World Cup Championships of all time. Both of these skiers have Dartmouth connections. Vonn developed her early racing skills on Buck Mountain, Minnesota, a unique spawning ground for many standout US ski racers that was founded and developed by 1953 Dartmouth graduate Charles Stone. Mikaela Shiffrin is the daughter of 1976 Dartmouth graduate, Dr. Jeff Shiffrin, a former member of the Dartmouth ski team. Mikaela actually learned her early ski skills on the icy ski slopes in and around Hanover, NH.

Today, the State of Maine is also playing a very special role in ski racing. Max Cobb's Biathlon group is headquartered in New Gloucester near Portland. However, the really special element is the extensive cross country and Biathlon racing/training facilities in Aroostook County of northern Maine. Much like during the early days of skiing in the 19th century, skiers in this far northern snow-filled land can still be found gliding over trails in many parts of this county. In 2016, the Nordic Heritage Sport Club facilities in Presque Isle hosted the only North American stop for the IBU World Cup Biathlon race tour.

The Dartmouth-Hanover NH impact on winter sports may never end. Situations and innovations that will influence future developments are evolving almost every day, and individuals from Dartmouth College and the Hanover, NH region remain at the forefront of change.

For example, in December 2016, Burke Mountain Academy in East Burke, Vermont announced a comprehensive new partnership with the USSA for year-round training and development of elite ski racers from around the East. It is the first of what the USSA hopes will become a string of regional training centers across the US. The creation of this relationship follows up on a group discussion during a seminar on the Future of Ski Racing at the annual Dartmouth Winter CarniVAIL weekend in Vail, Colorado in March 2016. At this event, panel member Tiger Shaw, USSA President, explained that the challenges he faces in leading US ski racing are due partly to the great size of the United States, the huge distances between ski racing locations, and his current situation of having only the one official training base in Park City, Utah. Burke has long been involved in developing talented young ski racers. In line with our story, Burke is now headed up by Jory Macomber, Class of 1985 and a former Dartmouth ski team captain.

In the past three years, Dartmouth College's athletics department has started a new program, called Peak Performance, to help its 1,000 or so undergraduate athletes get a handle on their lives and careers long term. It uses both high tech approaches like GPS and various management training techniques to help athletes analyze what they are doing in their athletic activities today. The program emphasizes how these same approaches can be applied to long term goals well beyond an individual's short time as a college athlete. The leader of this effort is Dartmouth's Sr. Associate Athletic Director, Drew Galbraith, who formerly chaired the NCAA Ski and Soccer committees. Along with the rest of the college’s athletes, Dartmouth's ski racers are receiving this same training.

In 2017, the Tuck Business School at Dartmouth will be starting a new training program aimed at veteran Olympic athletes, including skiers, who seek to take the next step in their lives after their sports careers end. This program has funds to provide scholarships to needy participants. It will both help these talented athletes assess their other skills and determine where they might be best applied. Tuck hopes to go a step further and even identify specific job opportunities to help these athletes get started. Some of the participants in this program will be veteran ski racers, and one might expect that at least a few of them will find ways to become creatively involved in the development of the skiing industry of the future.

Dartmouth College has a long and productive history of innovation since its founding in 1769 as the last of nine US colleges chartered by the King of England before the American Revolution. Today, it continues to be ranked as one of the top ten or so universities in the United States. Its history includes starting the first graduate schools of Business (Tuck) and Engineering (Thayer) in the nation as well as opening the country’s fourth Medical School (Geisel), long before our ski industry story started in 1910. All of the components of this northern New England institution are still sending experienced skiers out into the world with these special skills and a burning passion for snow. This suggests that the FUTURE of the skiing industry will see continued leadership from this unique community just as it has in the past.

To order copies of the Passion for Snow DVD or the source book, Passion for Skiing, connect to these on-line web sites www.biggreen65.com or go to Amazon.com

The author of this article, Stephen Waterhouse, is the Executive Producer/co-Writer of Passion for Snow, Principal Author of Passion for Skiing, a contributor of articles to magazines like Skiing History, and a member of the Board of the Colorado Ski Museum.