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Reviews: New works on Roma and Dave McCoy, Warren Miller, Berkshires

 

 

SKIING HISTORY

Editor Kathleen James
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To preserve skiing history and to increase awareness of the sport’s heritage

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Reviews: New works on Roma and Dave McCoy, Warren Miller, Berkshires

Not Just Another Mammoth Mountain History

How is it that a young man—raised in the road camps of California’s Central Valley, abandoned at age 15 by his father, deposited with his grandparents in a damp coal-mining town in central Washington by his mother, and thrust into adulthood near the end of the Great Depression—eventually came to build one of the biggest and most successful ski resorts in the country?

Dave McCoy’s work ethic, self-reliance, determination, optimism and ingenuity certainly played roles, but perhaps there was a more determinative influence.

Author Robin Morning returns with her second comprehensive work covering the history of California’s Mammoth Mountain and its protagonists with For the Love of It: The Mammoth Legacy of Roma & Dave McCoy. Note the order of Mammoth’s founders in the title, as Robin (and Dave) both attribute much of his success to his wife of 80 years, local girl Roma Carriere. In the book, Roma’s perspective is intimately shared through first-person chapters alternating with the third-person descriptions that tell Dave’s story.

The book details the lives of Dave and Roma from childhood through the completion of Chair One in 1955, marking the beginning of commercial skiing at Mammoth. While the legends of Dave’s life in the Eastern Sierra are widely known—from aqueduct repair work with the Civilian Conservation Corps, to erecting ski tows throughout the Highway 395 corridor, and his fortuitous hiring as a hydrographer (for his skiing ability)—the familiar stories blossom here in a conversational tone.


Dave and Roma McCoy in Virginia City, Nevada in 1938.

Dave met Roma in Bishop, a shy local girl who had a passion for dance but was soon converted to the rhythms of skiing. Inspired by a desire to have fun up in snow country and share that fun with others, together they built a legendary junior racing program at Mammoth while raising six racers of their own. Kids from near and far gravitated to Mammoth to enjoy Roma’s home cooking and cozy floor space while under the tutelage of Coach Dave.

Mammoth Mountain was developed not through any vision shared with would-be financiers, but through the McCoys’ remarkable resourcefulness. Dave became something of a Pied Piper on the mountain, with a diverse following of former accountants, engineers, World War II veterans and surfers abandoning their former lives to participate. Roma provided the home base where all were welcomed as family after a day of good clean fun moving tows, fixing weasels, clearing roads and skiing.

Morning grew up in Santa Monica and raced for McCoy at Mammoth, competing for the U.S. Ski Team from 1965 to 1968. The day before the opening ceremonies for the 1968 Winter Olympics at Grenoble, she broke her leg on a downhill training run. After coaching junior and master’s racers in Southern California, Mammoth, and Colorado, she became a schoolteacher and eventually found her way back to Mammoth, where she still lives. She’s the author of the ISHA Award-winning book Tracks of Passion: Eastern Sierra Skiing, Dave McCoy & Mammoth Mountain.

Morning has published her new book, For the Love of It, in part as tribute to her friend McCoy, who died in February 2020 at 104 (see Skiing History, March-April 2020). Available in softcover, 426 pages with numerous photos, signed copies available. Order online at www.blueoxexpress.com. —Chris I. Lizza

 

Ski Bum: The Warren Miller Story 

Ski Bum is a 90-minute review of the late Warren Miller’s extraordinary career, told through archival footage and one final interview with Warren himself.

For decades, the ski season didn’t really begin until the latest spectacular film was released by Warren Miller Productions, filled with balletic, slow-motion mountain footage of death-defying ski and snowboard stunts. Director Patrick Creadon’s Ski Bum—titled after the moniker the Seattle-area legend often used for himself—celebrates the life and art of one of the most prolific sports-documentary pioneers.

Credited with more than 750 sports films, Miller started as a surfer in his native Hollywood before moving to the Pacific Northwest to practically invent the winter-sports film genre. As Creadon’s homage shows, Miller’s simple 8mm movies from the 1950s snowballed into a 50-year commercial-film career that set the standard for audacious stunts. But success did not come without hardship; Miller used to promote his films on exhausting 100-city road tours, which took a toll on his family life and finances.

Based on a 2018 interview the then-92-year-old Miller gave shortly before his death at his Orcas Island home, Ski Bum explores the techniques used by the veteran filmmaker, who also served as cinematographer, editor, producer—and often live narrator—of his films. Using interviews with daredevil skiers, never-before-seen outtakes, and home movies, Ski Bum is a must-see for any ripper or shredder forever in search of the gnarliest powder.

Creadon is a director and cinematographer born in 1967 in Riverside, Illinois. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1989 with a BA in International Relations. Creadon is married to his collaborator, producer Christine O’Malley. They co-founded their full-scale media production company, O’Malley Creadon Productions, which is based in Los Angeles and focuses on nonfiction storytelling.

Ski Bum: The Warren Miller Story, directed by Patrick Creadon and produced by Joseph Berry Jr., Jeff Conroy and Christine O’Malley. Winner: 2019 ISHA Film Award. It’s now showing on Amazon Prime. To learn more, go to https://warrenmiller.com/ski-bum-warren-miller-story and https://skiinghistory.org/news/ski-bum-warren-miller-story-now-prime.

Lost Ski Areas of the Berkshires 

The Berkshires of Massachusetts have long been known as a winter sports paradise. Forty-four ski areas popped up across the region from the 1930s to the 1970s. The legendary Thunderbolt Ski Trail put the Berkshires on the map for challenging terrain, while major resorts like Brodie Mountain sparked the popularity of night skiing with lighted trails. All-inclusive areas—like Oak n’ Spruce, Eastover and Jug End—brought thousands of new skiers into the sport between the 1940s and 1970s. Meanwhile, snow trains made it fun and easy for metro-area skiers to plan weekend ski excursions.

But despite the surge of interest in skiing in Berkshire County, the majority of these ski areas would not last. Early areas closed permanently during World War II, followed by lift relocations and the shutdown of the snow trains. In the 1970s and 1980s, the pace of closures increased due to competition from larger areas to the north, gasoline shortages, a dearth of natural snow, and a lack of volunteers at community ski centers. Over the last few decades, these once-storied places faded away and were nearly forgotten. Trails became forests once again, base lodges rotted into the ground, and lifts rusted away.

In Lost Ski Areas of the Berkshires, author Jeremy Davis has brought these lost locales back to life, chronicling their rich histories and contributions to the ski industry. 

Each former ski area, no matter how small or brief in operation, is chronicled, along with 75 historical photographs and trail maps, and the stories of those who skied them. For those who wish to explore these areas and see their ruins, a hiking guide is included for publicly accessible locations. The seven still-surviving ski areas have their own chapter. 

Jeremy Davis is the founder of the New England and North East Lost Ski Areas Project (www.nelsap.org) and has written five books on lost ski areas. He serves on the Skiing History editorial review board and the board of directors of the New England Ski Museum. He is a senior meteorologist and operations manager at Weather Routing Inc., forecasting for the marine industry.   

Lost Ski Areas of the Berkshires by Jeremy Davis. 240 pages. The History Press. $21.99 softcover, Kindle edition available. Winner: 2019 ISHA Skade Award.

DrySlopeNews.com


Patrick Thorne, creator of dryslopenews.com

Artificial slopes, using carpet or matting in place of snow, bring skiing to areas without reliable natural snowfall. Skiers have used them for over a century, but the earliest artificial surfaces manufactured specifically for skiing date from the 1950s. Since then, more than 1,000 have been built in 50-plus countries worldwide. The slopes come in many different shapes and sizes, with several companies involved in their manufacturing over the past 70 years, so no two are ever the same.

Dry ski slopes are essential for teaching millions of people to ski or snowboard. They can take the basic skills acquired on artificial slopes and then ski at conventional resorts around the world. Indeed, claims ski writer Patrick Thorne, dryland slopes have been a major factor in the success of the global ski industry. Many established dry slopes have strong community support, enabling children and people with special needs to learn to ski or board as well as practice regularly. They’ve also bred some of the world’s best skiers and snowboarders who’ve gone on to World Cup and Olympic glory.

The website DrySlopeNews.com includes an extensive directory of existing and former dry slope operations, with a timeline history going back to the Vienna Schneepalast of 1927. The site is the brainchild of Thorne, who learned to ski on a dry slope as a youngster in the late 1970s.

Thorne has covered skiing from his base in the United Kingdom for more than 30 years and has recently joined ISHA as a contributor to Skiing History and skiinghistory.org. He operates the news site InTheSnow.com and a sister site, indoorsnownews.com, covering the snowdome universe. DrySlopeNews.com won a 2019 ISHA Cyber Award. —Seth Masia

North Country

In Littleton, New Hampshire, near Cannon Mountain, Lahout’s Country Clothing and Ski Shop has done business at the same location since 1920. Fourteen-year-old Herbert Lahout emigrated from Syria in 1898, and became a railroad laborer. He married his wife Anne in 1919 and the couple sold groceries from a horse-drawn wagon. The following year they moved the business into Littleton’s Old Grange Hall, and lived upstairs. Herb died in 1934 and, in the depths of the Depression, Anne was left to run the store with her kids Gladys, 14, and Joe, 12.

Joe learned to ski, and the sport became his lifelong passion. After returning from service in the South Pacific during World War II, he added skis to the store’s inventory of hardware, dry goods, beer and groceries. Under the management of Joe’s three sons, and now of his grandson Anthony, Lahout’s developed into a full-service ski and outdoor store, with six locations in Littleton and Lincoln, half an hour south.

Joe died in 2016, on his 94th birthday. The 21-minute film North Country tells the family’s story, with plenty of vintage ski footage from the Franconia Notch region. Lahout’s became integral to the history of skiing in New Hampshire. It’s a story of tough people thriving in a harsh climate—people who ventured out into the wider world but returned to the store to support their parents and grandparents.

Director Nick Martini runs Stept Productions, making commercials for brands like Toyota, Oakley, Columbia, The North Face and Under Armour. He grew up in the Boston area, skiing in New Hampshire. After earning his MBA, executive producer Anthony Lahout worked in finance before taking marketing jobs at Smith Sport Optics and Spyder Skiwear. He returned to Littleton in 2015 to take over the family business. So far, the film has been shown at the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival, Banff Film Festival, and the Kendall Mountain Festival in the United Kingdom. The next step: Finding partners to bring the film to the public. —Seth Masia

North Country, produced by Anthony Lahout, written and
directed by Nick Martini. Winner: 2019 ISHA Film Award. Learn more at steptstudios.com.

 

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