Friday, November 13, 2009

The First 75 Years of Skiing in Maine

The Ski Museum is offering a Fireside Chat at the York Public Library on Nov. 19.
Maine’s skiing history goes back farther than any other New England state. A Mainer wrote America’s first book on skiing. A Maine company built the world’s tallest ski jump and the first chairlift in the East. Maine manufacturers were leading producers of skis in the early years of the 20th century. That’s the starting point for a Fireside Chat that was recently produced by the Ski Museum of Maine.
It’s titled, “An Avalanche of Interest: The First 75 Years of Skiing in Maine,” and the program will be offered free of charge as part of the York Public Library’s Brown Bag Lunch lecture series at noon on Nov. 19. The York Public Library is located at 15 Long Sands Road. Call 363-2818. Website: This is a co-presentation with the Museums of Old York.
Approximately 100 photos and other graphic images, some more than a century old, will be projected on a screen. The pictures were loaned to the Ski Museum of Maine by historical societies and private individuals around the state, then converted to digital slides for the Fireside Chat.
The narrator will be Scott Andrews, a Portland-based ski journalist and Museum director who assembled the photos and performed much of the research. Andrews has been a snowsports journalist for 23 years and is a writer for several magazines, including Skiing Heritage.
Andrews notes that the story of Maine skiing starts in the late 19th century with the arrival of Scandinavian immigrants in Aroostook and Oxford counties. Immigrant craftsmen made the first skis used in this state ─ but they were used strictly for transportation during that era.
Skiing evolved into a sport in the early years of the 20th century. Paris Manufacturing Company started making recreational skis in 1900. A Portland man wrote America’s first book on the sport of skiing in 1905, and the Poland Spring resort began promoting winter sports getaways in 1909.
Winter carnivals were common in dozens of Maine towns in the 1920s and 1930s, helping to popularize skiing. Ski jumping was the marquee spectator event, but cross-country skiing became a popular participant sport. School competition grew out of these winter carnivals.
Downhill skiing became especially popular in the 1930s when rope tows proliferated all over Maine, including two in western York County: Bauneg Beg and Powderhouse Hill. (The latter is still operating.)
The Hussey Manufacturing Company (predecessor of today’s Hussey Seating) of North Berwick was a pioneer builder of chairlifts as well as the towering scaffolds used in jumping competitions.
“Skiing has been part of the Maine way of life since the late 1800s, offering recreation and competition to both residents and visitors,” says Andrews. “Our museum’s objective is to feed the passion of Maine skiers and to illustrate the significance of our sport to our state’s lifestyle and economy.”
Fireside Chats are traveling outreach programs of the Ski Museum of Maine, a nonprofit organization located in Kingfield. There is no charge for the program, but donations are gratefully accepted. “An Avalanche of Interest: The First 75 Years of Skiing in Maine” is sponsored by the Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Club and the Ski Maine Association.
Photo caption: Poland Spring Postcard ca 1915. (Courtesy photo)