June 2, 2014 / Comments (0)

The roots of summer training on Mount Hood reach back to at least 1953

Each summer on Mount Hood, some of the hottest racers, snowboarders and free skiers in the world congregate at Timberline to take advantage of the longest snow season in North America. Ted Ligety, Kelly Clark, Sage Kotsenburg and Nick Goepper are all Mount Hood summer regulars, along with many others. So how did all this start? And who started it?

It turns out that I have some inside information on this subject, because as far as I know, the first skier to set up summer training on Mount Hood was my uncle Tony Carleton.

I learned to ski from Uncle Tony years ago in New Hampshire. Prior to that he was a high-level ski racer who competed for Dartmouth College. In 1953 he traveled out to Mount Hood to do some slalom training after the snow in the East had melted. Here’s the story he related to me the other day by e-mail:

While at Dartmouth, in the summer of 1953 [I think], I wanted to train slalom for the off-season. I got a job at Timberline to do maintenance on the chairlift. …about a 3,000 mile drive.
    I became quite skilled. A major task was to lubricate the tower wheels. This chore involved trudging up the lift line and tediously climbing up and down the towers. While in retrospect it may well have been rather outrageously risky, I innovated a high-speed system whereby I would sling the grease gun over my shoulder, run the lift, ride up on a chair, at each tower I would grab a part of its upper superstructure, swing up there, lubricate the trolleys, and then drop down into the next approaching chair. It did not seem scary to me at the time, but a single miss-step would have resulted in a long fall.
    A common social practice in the 1950s was for eastern USA urban families of means to send their teenagers on a summer-long bus tour of the USA. Mt.Hood was a five-day stop for some of the tours. There was not much there to amuse those city kids.
   Being aware of the large storage of rental skis in the lodge cellars, I went to the lodge manager, saying, “I have an idea that will make money for both of us. I’ll start a ski school. You will profit from renting all those skis and selling lift tickets while I’ll keep the small amount I charge for the lessons.”
    This idea worked great. I would take 10 kids for one hour, charging each $2.00. $20.00 per hour was huge money back in that era, a number of groups every day. [A few years later, I was a Coast Guard officer, executive officer of a small rescue ship and I think my pay was $80/week.] I made a significant pile of cash money running this makeshift ski school all summer and everyone was happy.
     So… I think that I may have founded the first ever summer ski school in the USA.
     Another personal invention – the glacier part where I ran slalom was often slightly coated with abrasive lava dust which played havoc with my primitive [Cellulux?] plastic bottoms on my then state-of-the-art race skis. I concocted a hot-wax mixture of graphite powder, an industrial detergent and paraffin — worked excellent; fast enough and protected the skis.

Tony told me that no one he met on Mount Hood in 1953 had heard of any plans to operate a summer ski school on the mountain. This was prior to the turmoil and financial problems that temporarily shut down Timberline in the 1950s and brought new management. Richard Kohnstamm’s RLK and Company took over the lodge and the ski area in 1955, and the Kohnstamm family runs Timberline to this day, under current RLK President Jeffrey Kohnstamm. Timberline has grown into a major year-round tourist attraction that draws more than 2 million visitors per year.

Back when Tony Carleton crossed the country to train at Timberline, he was the only skier out running gates on Mount Hood in summer. “I was all alone on the glacier, setting courses and running them by myself,” he recalls.

Today racers, snowboarders and freeskiers from all over the world flock to Mount Hood to pound race gates, soar through the air pulling outrageous freestyle tricks and refine their styles on terrain park features. As Jeff Kohnstamm once pointed out to me, you see more people carrying ski bags at Portland Airport in June than you do in January.

At least 18 summer snow camps draw thousands of skiers and snowboarders to Mount Hood each June, July and August, and ski industry heavyweights from Burton to Head establish a strong summer presence at Timberline and in Govy, the small town at 4,000 feet on Mount Hood that is arguably at its most lively in the peak of summer.

A summer season pass for Timberline costs $899, $400 more than I paid last season for a winter Mt. Hood Fusion Pass good for Timberline, Skibowl and 10 other Powder Alliance resorts.

Apparently, it all started with an entrepreneurial ski racer with some innovative ideas on how best to lubricate chairlift tower wheels, protect ski bases from volcanic dust, and make money from rich kids stuck on Mount Hood with nothing to do in summer. Following his time on Mount Hood, Tony graduated from Harvard Business School, raised a fantastic son in my cousin Ian and served diligently for many years as a public school teacher in inner city Boston. He is a well-known character at his home mountain of Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Massachusetts, where he and his visually impaired ski partner Dick Perkins can be found all winter long, ripping down the mountain with perfect form.

If you have any information about summer training on Mount Hood prior to 1953, by all means please add it to the comments section below.

Last modified: June 2, 2014

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