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The Story of Sugarloaf

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This is the dramatic story of the development and history of Sugarloaf ski resort from its beginnings as a hand-cleared path to an international ski and golfing resort of world renown. Many colorful people of international prominence are profiled, including Emile Allais, Jean Claude Killy, Billy Kidd, and Les Otten.

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1 A Dream Realized: 1945-1961

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Sugarloaf, as we now know it, began in two places: on the north slope of Bigelow Mountain, and in the head of a storekeeper in Kingfield, Maine, by the name of Amos Winter. It really began in three places, the third being an organization called the Maine Ski Council.

Let me explain. Shortly after the end of World War II, Amos, who owned a general store (actually, the general store) in the sleepy little town of Kingfield, had an idea. He had cut his skiing teeth in the formidable bowl on the east side of Mount Washington known as Tuckerman Ravine, and he began to think he could avoid the long trip to Pinkham Notch if a ski trail of some sort could be cut a little closer to home.

Some of the original Bigelow Boys—years later; l–r: Howard Dunham, Odlin Thompson, Stub Taylor, Howell McClure, Dick French. Right: An aerial view of Bigelow Mountain across Flagstaff Lake (photo by Mark Warner).

In his backyard loomed Mount Abraham, which he looked at every day from the imposing home he shared with his wife, Alice, on Kingfield’s principal height of land, and from their log summer camp a couple of miles away on Tuft’s Pond. Farther north up Route 27, toward Stratton and Coburn Gore, were four more 4,000-footers constituting the Longfellow Range, also referred to by some as the Blue Mountains. Amos had tromped those hills, often in the company of his older brother, Erland, a legendary guide and owner of a set of sporting camps called Deer Farm Camps.

 

2 Becoming Sugarloaf/USA: 1961-1971

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In April 1961, after returning to the United States from a postgraduate stint studying literature at the University of Stockholm, in Sweden, I went to Sugarloaf to race in the Schuss and to get in some spring skiing. It was apparent there was going to be plenty of it, as more than 200 inches of snow would fall on the Mountain that season. All the trails were open and well covered, and there was every indication that the area would likely stay open well into May.

My old Bowdoin buddy, Bruce Chalmers, and several other friends and I were staying as Dick Bell’s guests in his old Bigelow Station at the end of the access road on the weekend of the Schuss. Come Sunday afternoon, my friends were getting ready to leave, and we had to move out of the Station. I didn’t want to leave, but I had a problem: I had no place to stay, and all the money I had in the world was the five dollars that Bruce had generously given to me. Fate intervened in the person of Wayne Wibby from Bangor, now a successfully retired oral surgeon.

 

3 From Ski Area to Ski Resort: 1971-1980

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The decade of the 1970s was to mark the emergence of Sugarloaf as a true “destination” resort in the finest sense of the word. To be a destination where skiers go to stay for an extended period of time, the resort must have all of the necessary amenities (lodging, food, entertainment, and shopping), and it must allow visitors to leave their automobiles behind. They need to be able to walk or be bused to wherever they want to go during their stay. It also requires that there be a sense of place—in Gertrude Stein’s words, “a there there”—populated by a community of people constituting a real town. The 1970s saw all of these needs met with an explosion of housing development on the Mountain and in the Valley, and the establishment of a real town with the incorporation of Carrabassett Valley in 1972.

The early years of the decade also served to remind everyone involved in the economics of the ski business, not only at Sugarloaf but elsewhere in the East, how fragile was the balance between success and failure, as both sparse snowfall and the first Arab oil embargo led to diminished traffic and a tenuous revenue stream.

 

4 The Best of Times …The Worst of Times: 1980-1990

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Let’s begin our story about the decade of the 1980s at Sugarloaf by explaining why it should be called “the best of times …the worst of times.” On the positive side, the decade saw the realization of two important dreams, both of which are key to the current prominence of Sugarloaf. First, the vision and foresight of Peter Webber, not to mention his personal affection for the game, resulted in the construction of what is now regarded as one of the country’s premier resort golf courses.And, second, his name is also linked inextricably with the other important development of the decade: the founding and early growth of a private college preparatory school to be called Carrabassett Valley Academy.It was clearly the best of times.

Odlin Thompson, Amos, and Stub remember tbe old days.

But up on the Mountain, despite major improvements in the uphill facilities, and seemingly rampant real estate development, dark clouds loomed over an increasingly dire financial situation. This was brought on by the combination of cost overruns in infrastructure development, and highly leveraged and expensive debt. The situation was exacerbated by discouraging results from skiing operations due to inadequate snowfall and insufficient snowmaking capacity, worsened further by customers who resisted the rising prices put in place to help support the balance sheet. Some (myself among them) would argue that a contributing factor was a major change in management focus—from ski operations to real estate and other ancillary activities—which deviated from the resort’s original raison d’être.

 

5 Growth and Transition: 1990-2000

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The bankruptcy during the preceding decade caused ripples that brought real estate activity in the early 1990s to a virtual standstill, as potential property owners waited to see what the future might hold. The Corporation routinely reorganized its financial and equity structure with the assistance of various interested individuals, and even faced the prospect in the early part of the decade of another bankruptcy filing. It wasn’t until 1993 that the situation would begin to stabilize with the sale of some assets and the infusion of new capital.

Finances aside, Sugarloaf continued to be the destination of choice for a faithful cadre of recreational skiers, and a preferred competition site for the racing community. In 1993 the Sugarloaf Competition Department was formed, assuming what had historically been the responsibility of the Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Club. It would function as a department of the Mountain, to be assisted by the Ski Club and Carrabassett Valley Academy. This level of organization, and the Mountain’s reputation as a premier competition venue, resulted in a nearly mind-boggling succession of races held during the 1990s : U.S. Snowboard Championships, U.S. Chevy Trucks Alpine National Championships, U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix, U.S. Chevy Trucks Freestyle National Championships, U.S. Masters Alpine Championships, North American Junior Alpine Championships, and the Eastern Junior Olympics.

 

6 The Dream Abides: 2000-

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First, a word or two about my chosen title for this final chapter in the Sugarloaf Story. Fans of the Coen Brothers’ movies—and I count myself among the most rabid, even though I’m not much of a moviegoer (I just choose them well)—consider The Big Lebowski to be one of their best.

In this classic, the star-crossed hero, one Jeffrey Lebowski, is mistaken for another Lebowski from whom some scurrilous scoundrels are attempting to extract some serious money. The trials and tribulations that Jeffrey, who refers to himself as “The Dude,” endures are hilarious, and in most cases brought upon himself by a combination of his naiveté, his substance-induced foggy state of mind, and the stupidity of his friends. After all is said and done, he survives to flounder along for another day. When asked how things are going, he responds, “The Dude abides.”

Webster tells us one definition of the word abide is “to continue to endure,” and that’s how The Dude meant it. And that’s how I mean it in the title of this chapter. The dream does endure. And the dream is one that includes the hopes of Amos and the Bigelow Boys, of Bunny Bass and George Cary and King Cummings and Warren Cook, and now multiple generations of Sugarloafers from Maine and afar who share a deep devotion to this special place.

 

Appendix A: The People Who Got It Going

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Note: This material was compiled by Dick Crommett shortly before his death, as part of his project to write a history of the town of Carrabassett Valley.

PEOPLE WHO CLEARED THE ACCESS ROAD AND CUT WINTER’S WAY:

Chester Atwood Jr.

Emerson Barrow

Vernon Dexter

Howard Dunham

Wendell Dunham

Roscoe “Mickey” Durrell

Roland Fotter

Kendric Lane

Taito Maki

Donald “Kid” Murray

Hayden Nichols

Russell Riggs

Russell Seavey

Robert “Stub” Taylor

Odlin Thompson

Austin Thompson Jr.

Glen Turner

Harry Vose

Edgar Vose Jr.

Amos Winter

PEOPLE WHO WERE INVOLVED IN THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN CORP.:

Officers:

Robert N. “Bunny” Bass, President

C. Richard Luce, Vice President

Richard H. Bell, Secretary and Clerk

James P Flint, Treasurer

Directors:

Fletcher H. Brown

Benjamin Butler

 

Appendix B: Sugarloafers in the Maine Ski Hall of Fame

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Karl Anderson

“Bunny” Bass

Dick Bell

Fletcher Brown

John Christie

Irv Kagan

Jean Luce

Jack Lufkin

Wes Marco

“Pat” Murphy

Roger Page

Tom Reynolds

“Stub” Taylor

Peter Webber

Amos G. Winter Jr.

 

Appendix C: Golf Club Rating and Awards

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Appendix D: Sugarloaf Mountain Ski-Club Presidents

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Horace Chapman (1950-52)

Robert Bass (1952-54)

Scott Scully (1954-56)

Bill Kierstead (1956-57)

Jay Winter (1957-58)

Harvey Boynton (1958-59)

Leo Tague (1959-61)

Burt Covert (1961-62)

Don Pfeifle (1962-64)

Charlie Clark (1964-65)

John Christie (1965-66)

Norton Luce (1966-68)

Skip Skaling (1968-70)

Peter Spalding (1970-72)

Jack Smart (1972-73)

Bernie Carpenter (1973-75)

Bob Waddle (1975-77)

Charlie Murray (1977-79)

Frank Woodard (1979-80)

Pat Andrews (1980-82)

Tina Hinckley (1982-83)

Jon Hellstedt (1983-90)

John Lacasse (1990-93)

Marvin Collins (1993-95)

Greg Foster (1995-99)

Sue Manter (1999-2001)

Charlotte Zahn (2001-03)

Lev Steeves (2003-04)

Bruce Miles (2004- )

 

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