History of the Franconia Ski Club
(Compiled by Anita Craven)
The Franconia Ski Club, founded in 1933, is one of the oldest ski racing organizations in the United States. Roland Peabody, FSC's first President, established the club to provide ski recreation and training for local school children and later became the first Tramway manager. A man beloved by the town, he foresaw the popularity of skiing and its importance to the area's growth, and spent his life bringing the sport into other people's lives. In its 1933 Charter, the Club's objectives were to develop "outdoor sports such as skiing, skating, hunting and fishing, to build trails, host ski races and provide for the social recreation and improvement of its members." The size and scope of the programs have varied, and, except for the "hunting and fishing," the Club has adhered to its charter.
It was Roland who directed the Club's interest towards juniors. In the 1930's he gave all the area school children lessons on the Forest Hills golf course where the Club ran a tow. The youngsters skied on equipment that he maintained and rented from his Franconia general store - skis, boots and poles for $5 for three years! Joel Coffin of Peckett's Inn paid the expenses not covered by rentals.
In 1938 Roland asked Sel Hannah to revitalize the Club, and it then began to assume the shape we know today. Sel had come to Cannon to help maintain and develop trails with Roland. With Sel as President, and Roland as Tramway manager, close ties between the Club and Mountain began, as the Mountain depended on the Club for promotion and of hosting races.
Soon, Roland became too busy with his Tramway duties to give lessons himself, but he made certain they continue. Local inns began to take on the responsibility for finding instructors. By 1941 the Club saw the need for one unified organization rather than the loose coalition of "schools" sponsored by individual inns. Members consolidated the schools under the name "Franconia Ski School," with the official involvement in lending its name only.
In 1949, through Sel Hannah and Jack Kenney, arrangements were made for Paul Valar of the Swiss National Team to come to Franconia. With him came U.S. Olympian Paula Kahn, soon to become, Mrs. Valar. The Valar's directed the first real "Franconia Ski School" which as before, was independent of the Club except for its name. At this time, a junior Club for racing had been established, primarily of Dow Academy students, under the dedicated coaching and guidance of Ollie Cole who ran the Bretton Woods Ski School. Ollie's junior Club program was twice honored with the Eastern Ski Association's top award for excellence.
Eventually, in a 1959 restructuring, the juniors became regular Ski Club members training in its junior program. The Club asked Paul Valar to find a coach for the juniors, thus beginning the practice of importing outstanding Swiss racer/coaches. Roland Blaesi was the first - Paul Pfosi was the second, followed by distinguished others. These men instructed for Paul during their non-Ski Club hours.
In those days, Club responsibilities included much more than running a race. The Club found lodging for competitors in private homes, and members worked with the Mountain footpacking, brushing out cross-country trails, and in some cases even building them. In fact, in 1956 for the junior Nationals, the Club raised funds for and built the 40 meter jump, with the aid of State equipment. That National race was a four-event competition and represented a two-year monumental effort during a time when adult Club membership reached 600.
In its early years the Club acted unofficially as Chamber of Commerce, Recreation Commission, and even Zoning Board successfully urging that commercial signs in Franconia be small and tasteful to preserve the village's character. To help make Franconia attractive for vacation' skiers, the Club put up Christmas decorations, and for years ran suppers and weekly dances in the town hall basement, which members refurbished. The Club provided other social activities as well including a summer softball program. It cooperated with the Mountain in the production and distribution of brochures, and of a famous promotional movie, "Holiday on Skis." For a few years, to raise money, it ran a "car rodeo" that tested a driver's skill negotiating an automobile around a sometimes icy obstacle course. It also held several successful Monte Carlo Nights, and almost always a raffle. For the town, it ran a popular summer softball program, even providing lights for night games. It developed a skating rink, and before the days of the Peabody Slopes it owned and operated a ski tow for all townspeople at Forest Hills. The tow featured a counterbalance design improvement of the famous Woodstock, Vermont tow, and was the prototype for the majority of rope tows that followed.
Finally in 1969 the Club assumed full responsibility for hiring its coaches. Their first full-time head coach and program director was Dave Boyle, a North Woodstock racer, trained in the program, and fresh from a distinguished racing career at Dartmouth. Dave was with the Club for the next ten years. When he left, his duties were assumed by one of his juniors, Dick Andross from Lisbon, who had returned to Cannon for Dave from the University of New Hampshire. When Dick moved to year-round responsibilities at Loon in 1984-85, one of his coaches, Harry Maybee, who had raced for Plymouth State, became head coach directing a staff of eight. Harry was followed by Walter Brown and Jim MacMahon.
One of the most important accomplishments by Club members was the establishment of the Roland Peabody Memorial Fund in 1953 upon his death. This fund provides money to help maintain and supply equipment to young area skiers and to conduct an annual memorial race in remembrance of the Club's founder. Paulie Hannah selected the sculptor for the Commemorative Plaque displayed at the Tram Station that was purchased with the Memorial funds. The Roland Peabody Memorial Race is held every year at Cannon. The Fund is administered by three Trustees.
The vitality of the Club was sustained by many energetic people, several of whom are remembered in memorials. Ross Coffin, the last owner of Peckett's Inn before it was torn down, generously supported the juniors with his time, equipment donations, and with travel money, thus enabling qualifying racers to attend national competitions. At his own expense he traveled west with Club juniors so they could compete. Ross died prematurely, and in his memory the Club established the Ross Coffin Memorial Scholarship for a deserving area youngster who might not otherwise be able to train.
In 1981, Peter Kenney tragically died in a boating accident. He had been an exciting, inspirational top racer who grew up in the Club, and was returning the next season as a coach. In his memory, and to honor the years of participation and support from the entire Kenney family, the January Macomber Cup series race was designated as the Peter Kenney Memorial Slalom.
Following the untimely death of Granton and Peggy Dowse in a 1985 plane crash, a memorial fund was established in their name. Grant was an early president of the New England Ski Museum, a principal in the Cannon Mountain Ski School, and a generous supporter of the Ski Club. A Memorial Fund recognizes his enthusiasm for skiing and establishes an endowment for future scholarships. In addition, the Pike-Profile Cup series race, regularly held at Cannon in February, carries the name Dowse Memorial.
The Mark Pendoley Memorial Fund was also established in 1985 following Mark's tragic death following a skiing accident on Cannon's Rocket Trail. Mark was a strong and active supporter of FSC while he managed the ski shop at Cannon. In his memory the Ski Club will be sponsoring the Pendoley Memorial Slalom in his honor.
Like any volunteer organization, the Club has had lean years. At the end of the 1960's local interest was at a low ebb, and it survived only because of a few dedicated people. Then, in 1973, for the first time a Massachusetts resident became President, reflecting the spread of racing interest beyond the mountains. For a while, the strength of the Club was in its out-of-state and down-staters, but in 1978 formal contact with local elementary schools was reestablished. Gradually, a strong school program returned, coupled with a well-developed seven day program for serious older juniors. The club currently sends one of its coaches to ski with the Lafayette elementary Schools weekly ski program and a club coach is also involved with Profile High School‚Äôs highly successful ski team.
More recently the club has joined forces with the Holderness School‚Äôs Eastern Alpine program. This relationship has allowed club athletes an opportunity to train mid week and many have left their local schools and attended Holderness as a result.
The club is also involved with summer skiing, sending a group of athletes and coaches to Mt Hood each summer for ten days of training and fun in the outdoor playgrounds of Oregon. Current membership is over 100 athletes and recent athletic success at Regional and National levels shows the strength of the club continues.
The Club operates from space in Ernie's Haus generously reserved for it by the Glaessel family when they gave the building to the Mountain in memory of their son who died in the service of his country. Here, local and non-local members work together with the New Hampshire and United States Ski Associations, the Mountain and the schools to vigorously continue the Club's historic traditions.