Joe Pete Wilson - Iconic cross-country competitor, pioneer and promoter

Passing Date

Joseph Peter (“Joe Pete”) Wilson, Sr., an iconic figure in winter recreation, died September 13, 2019, in Lake Placid, New York. He was 84. He’ll be remembered as a tireless cross-country skiing promoter and longtime proprietor of the Adirondack’s Bark Eater Inn.

Born and raised in Lake Placid, Wilson graduated from St. Lawrence University in 1958. Two years later, he made the U.S. cross-country team for the Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, where he took 43rd in the 30 km race. A phenomenal multi-sport athlete, Wilson was also a U.S. Team biathlete (1960–1963) and North American snowshoe champion (1964). In 1965, his four-man sled took a bronze medal in the World Championships at St. Moritz, missing silver by 1/100th of second.

In 1971, Johannes von Trapp hired Wilson to run his three-year-old cross-country touring center. The following winter, Wilson picked up Trapp’s idea and founded North American Nordic, a chain of 15 commercial touring centers across the Northeast. Over-expansion plus the 1973 oil crisis knocked him out of business: “I had 25 cents in my pocket,” he said. “I didn’t know whether to buy a cup of coffee or put a little gas in my car.”           

Joe Pete survived those lean times and went on to coach the U.S. Biathlon Team in 1978-’79, shortly after founding the organization that is now the 250-member industry trade group Cross Country Ski Areas Association (CCSAA). He helped to organize the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, and then ran the Bark Eater Inn near Lake Placid from 1981 to 2016, acting as everything but the chef.

Over the course of his career, Wilson was honored by the Professional Ski Instructors of America (for his role in developing a cross-country ski-teaching system), by the CCSAA (with its Founders Award), and by induction into the St. Lawrence University and Lake Placid Halls of Fame. —Jonathan Wiesel