What The C's Sawed - Ski Mag

What The C's Sawed

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In 1928, when Emerson Baker of Gloucester, Mass., was 11 years old, his father ran off and left the family. Because there was no welfare system then as we know it today, well-meaning relatives advised Baker's mother to turn Emerson and his four younger sisters over to the State as wards. She refused, determined to somehow manage. She took in laundry and sewing, washed walls at the local hospital and made molasses popcorn balls wrapped in waxed paper for her children to sell door-to-door.

When Emerson graduated from high school in 1934, in the midst of the Depression, jobs were so scarce that he worked at a market for $5 a week in groceries. A year later he jumped at the opportunity to enroll in the Civilian Conservation Corps, otherwise known as the CCC, or just "the C's." His mother put him on a train that took him to the Boston Army Base. "One of the major and enduring heartbreaks of my life," Baker says today, "was looking back from the train and seeing my mother crying and waving goodbye to her only son."

But she must have been relieved as well. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had created the CCC in 1933, shortly after his inauguration. It put to work a quarter-million World War I veterans and desperate young men, on projects designed to improve the neglected natural resources of the country. It also created economic stability. Out of the $30 Baker was paid every month, the government sent $25 home to his mother and sisters, which helped them survive the Depression. It was the same story throughout the country: CCC jobs meant not just honest work, improved parks and job training, but food for hungry families, some of whom otherwise had nothing.

vWhile the CCC was a federal program, many of its camps were supervised by individual states. In Vermont, the state forester at the time was a man named Perry Merrill, who had been to Sweden and seen how people flocked to this thing called skiing. He knew two men in Vermont's highway department, Charlie Lord and Ab Coleman, who spent their weekends hiking up Mt. Mansfield, Vermont's highest peak, in order to do something unique: ski down. So besides flood control and road building, Merrill decided he would have the CCC build some of these newfangled "down-mountain" ski trails.

The War Department ran the CCC camps in military fashion. Crews marched to the mess hall, stopping along the way to salute the flag. In the evening each member had to dress in his "O.D.s" (for olive drab), the uniform of the CCC. He had to be neat, his hair combed and his tie properly arranged. Each morning officers inspected the barracks, and as one CCC boy wrote at the time, "Woe to the man who has a wrinkle on his bed."

When Baker arrived at camp barracks in Weston, Vt., he received clothing, a mess kit and instructions on camp life from a naval reserve officer who was "one tough old sea dog."

Baker slept in a 50-man tar-paper-covered wooden barracks built by the CCC. "At first it was a little rough," he recalls, "but it didn't seem to take more than a few weeks before we fell into the routine and actually began to enjoy it. The barracks were kept warm with wood-burning stoves, three to a barracks. The food was excellent and plentiful. We had a camp physician. We were trucked to Rutland Saturdays for movies or concerts in the park, trucked to churches Sundays and trucked to sports events at other CCC camps. We had an educational adviser for those who wished to further their education. Experienced construction people oversaw the road and dam projects, and foresters supervised the work in the woods."

One of those foresters was Warren Warner of Stowe, now 93. Warner earned $50 per month. "It wasn't much," he says, "but in those days you were happy to have a job." A native of Bennington, Vt., Warner grew up on skis.

"It was simply a way of getting around. You used skis like snowshoes. I used to hunt on skis." But as the sport of downhill evolved he embraced . He'd ascend mountains on climbing skins, tie them around his waist and descend whatever trails he could find on hickory skis he had bought from the Derby & Ball factory in Waterbury, Vt.

This made Warner ideally suited to supervise crews of 50 CCC boys who cut trails on Mt. Mansfield in Stowe. Warner says of these crews: "Some of them came from families who were living hand-to-mouth until they got their CCC jobs. But they weren't drunks, and they weren't woman-chasers any more than normal for kids that age. They were a good bunch."

Virtually everything the CCC built, from ski trails to stone buildings, they built by hand, using shovels, wheelbarrows and axes. "We worked with four-tooth-and-raker saws," Warner says. "They had four teeth, and then a raker that pulled the shaving out. Those were real lumber saws, a man on each end. Chain saws didn't come until 25 years after that. Once the boys cut a tree down, you couldn't let the stump stay in the trail, but it's a helluva job to get it out-we didn't have bulldozers-so we'd cut that stump right flush with the slope. Then you could ski over it when the snow was there. You filled potholes with the brush to smooth up the trail."

When Warner and his CCC boys came to the state forest around Mt. Mansfield, the only ski trail wasn't a trail at all; it was a road built to access the Summit House hotel, now gone, near the peak. Because it had once cost money to use the road, it was called the Toll Road. It's now a novice trail at Stowe. From 1933 to 1942, Warner says he and his CCC boys cut many trails that headed down-mountain from the top of the Toll Road, including the Bruce Trail, Nose Dive, Teardrop, Ski Meister, Overland, Perry Merrill, Rimrock, S-53, Chin Clip and a few others that have since completely overgrown and disappeared.

While Charlie Lord gets deserved credit for their graceful design, Warner, who describes Lord as his closest friend, was an equal partner. "We didn't know what we were doin' half the time, but it worked out pretty well. It wasn't such a hard job. You have a hill, and it lays different ways, and you would simply bring the trail down through as the land went."

Warner and Lord made great trails because they were skiers trying to please themselves and their friends. "I was the first person ever to ski S-53," Warner says of a now invisible expert trail that dropped down from the summit near what is now the National. After 60-plus years, the memory still excites him. "We cut it in the winter. After a while we got it far enough so we had to start climbin'. I lugged my skis up every day and skied down every night."

Because Perry Merrill was an unusually ski-savvy state forester, Stowe got the most benefit from the CCC. Besides all those trails, the CCC built what is now a portion of the base lodge at Stowe out of whole logs.

They built the Stone Hut, originally a warming shelter, at the top of Mansfield. And they built a barracks at the base of Mansfield, called "the side camp," that was subsequently turned into the first ski dorm in the U.S.

Elsewhere in Vermont, CCC crews built a warming hut, still standing, on top of Burke Mountain and cuà¿t trails there, as well as at Ascutney, Bromley, Jay Peak, Okemo and the Middlebury Snow Bowl. Perry Merrill later wrote that the CCC made Vermont "the ski capital of the East."

The West already had wide-open, treeless areas to ski, so the C's contributed not so much by trail-cutting as by building roads and lodges that allowed skiers to get to the slopes. CCC crews did cut trails at several now abandoned Colorado ski areas and helped clear the Mary Jane trail at Winter Park. In Utah, the CCC helped give birth to Alta under the supervision of skiing legend Alf Engen and cut trails at Snowbasin. They built the lodge and cut trails at Stevens Pass in Washington, assisted in building the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood in Oregon, and built a lodge that jump-started skiing at Pocatello, Idaho, where the ski area is now called Magic Mountain.

But it was in New England, which in the 1930s was arguably the epicenter of U.S. ski activity, that the CCC had its most crucial impact on the sport. CCC boys cut the Thunderbolt Trail on Mt. Greylock, in western Massachusetts, which became an important racing trail. In New Hampshire, they finished the Taft and cut the Tucker Brook trail at Cannon Mountain, where they also helped put in the tram, build the parking area and the base lodge. They cut trails and built shelters at Black Mountain in Jackson, N.H., and at Gunstock in Gilford. All those thousands of skiers who flock to Mt. Washington each spring use the CCCs Shelburne and Gulf of Slides trails and the "HoJo's" shelter (since burned and rebuilt several times) in Tuckerman Ravine.

CCC ski trails gave birth to ski areas all over New England. The C's cut a trail that begat Mohawk, in Connecticut, and several at Blue Hills, near Boston. In New Hampshire, the Wildcat Trail became what is now Wildcat and the Tecumseh Trail became Waterville Valley. In Maine the C's cut a trail on what is now Shawnee Peak and another in the Bigelow Range, which inspired a Kingfield ski enthusiast named Amos Winter. When the flooding of Flagstaff Lake made the Bigelow trail inaccessible, Winter and a group of young followers who had come to be called the "Bigelow Boys" cut their own trail, called Winter's Way, on what is now Sugarloaf/USA.

Today it's hard to find these trails as they were originally designed. At Stowe, for instance, most of the trails the CCC cut have been changed, widened or outright moved. Many old-timers who remember the frightening hairpin turns of the Nose Dive now joke that "the Nose Dive got a nose job." The only inbounds remains of the CCC trails at Stowe are a short section of the original Lord, now called Lord Loop, and a few sections of Rimrock. Just two CCC classics, Teardrop and the Bruce, still exist in their original state. That's because they are out of bounds, in the trees, and drop you far from any lift-just the way hardy 1930s skiers liked it.

The Bruce was the first trail the CCC boys cut on Mansfield, and it survives today only because locals maintain it illegally-it's against the law to cut even saplings in a state forest without a permit. On Feb. 11, 1934, 10 days after Warner and his crew finished cutting the Bruce Trail, skiers officially raced it. They hiked up and descended in leather boots precariously attached to edgeless hickories as tall as an NBA center. No wonder that when you look at the old films of races on trails like the Bruce, you don't always see perfect carves around gates; you see skiers hunched over, butts out, poles splayed, doing their best to stem-christy, taking whatever line they could manage. Dick Durrance, a graceful Dartmouth racer who would lead the U.S. Ski Team at the 1936 Olympics, won the race; Charlie Lord came in second.

These racing trails created excitement in "fast," or "down-mountain" skiing, as opposed to "touring," which was then more common. (This was a new distinction in the 1930s.) By the 1950s, the four most important Class-A racing trails in the East were the Taft at Cannon, the Nose Dive at Stowe, the Wildcat at Wildcat and the Thunderbolt at Greylock-all of them built by the CCC.

When World War II began, the CCC ended. Over its lifetime it had employed about 3 million men, helped stabilize the economy and the country, developed more than 800 state parks and planted more than 3 billion trees. It also radically altered Eastern skiing. Before the C's, skiing was pretty much what we think of today as nordic-cross-country trails, free heels, telemark turns and jumping. But add the vision of a handful of skiing fanatics like Perry Merrill, Charlie Lord and Warren Warner to a ready labor force, and all of a sudden crowds were flocking to the "down-mountain" trails, what we now call just ski trails, all over New England. This inspired entrepreneurs to build lift area is now called Magic Mountain.

But it was in New England, which in the 1930s was arguably the epicenter of U.S. ski activity, that the CCC had its most crucial impact on the sport. CCC boys cut the Thunderbolt Trail on Mt. Greylock, in western Massachusetts, which became an important racing trail. In New Hampshire, they finished the Taft and cut the Tucker Brook trail at Cannon Mountain, where they also helped put in the tram, build the parking area and the base lodge. They cut trails and built shelters at Black Mountain in Jackson, N.H., and at Gunstock in Gilford. All those thousands of skiers who flock to Mt. Washington each spring use the CCCs Shelburne and Gulf of Slides trails and the "HoJo's" shelter (since burned and rebuilt several times) in Tuckerman Ravine.

CCC ski trails gave birth to ski areas all over New England. The C's cut a trail that begat Mohawk, in Connecticut, and several at Blue Hills, near Boston. In New Hampshire, the Wildcat Trail became what is now Wildcat and the Tecumseh Trail became Waterville Valley. In Maine the C's cut a trail on what is now Shawnee Peak and another in the Bigelow Range, which inspired a Kingfield ski enthusiast named Amos Winter. When the flooding of Flagstaff Lake made the Bigelow trail inaccessible, Winter and a group of young followers who had come to be called the "Bigelow Boys" cut their own trail, called Winter's Way, on what is now Sugarloaf/USA.

Today it's hard to find these trails as they were originally designed. At Stowe, for instance, most of the trails the CCC cut have been changed, widened or outright moved. Many old-timers who remember the frightening hairpin turns of the Nose Dive now joke that "the Nose Dive got a nose job." The only inbounds remains of the CCC trails at Stowe are a short section of the original Lord, now called Lord Loop, and a few sections of Rimrock. Just two CCC classics, Teardrop and the Bruce, still exist in their original state. That's because they are out of bounds, in the trees, and drop you far from any lift-just the way hardy 1930s skiers liked it.

The Bruce was the first trail the CCC boys cut on Mansfield, and it survives today only because locals maintain it illegally-it's against the law to cut even saplings in a state forest without a permit. On Feb. 11, 1934, 10 days after Warner and his crew finished cutting the Bruce Trail, skiers officially raced it. They hiked up and descended in leather boots precariously attached to edgeless hickories as tall as an NBA center. No wonder that when you look at the old films of races on trails like the Bruce, you don't always see perfect carves around gates; you see skiers hunched over, butts out, poles splayed, doing their best to stem-christy, taking whatever line they could manage. Dick Durrance, a graceful Dartmouth racer who would lead the U.S. Ski Team at the 1936 Olympics, won the race; Charlie Lord came in second.

These racing trails created excitement in "fast," or "down-mountain" skiing, as opposed to "touring," which was then more common. (This was a new distinction in the 1930s.) By the 1950s, the four most important Class-A racing trails in the East were the Taft at Cannon, the Nose Dive at Stowe, the Wildcat at Wildcat and the Thunderbolt at Greylock-all of them built by the CCC.

When World War II began, the CCC ended. Over its lifetime it had employed about 3 million men, helped stabilize the economy and the country, developed more than 800 state parks and planted more than 3 billion trees. It also radically altered Eastern skiing. Before the C's, skiing was pretty much what we think of today as nordic-cross-country trails, free heels, telemark turns and jumping. But add the vision of a handful of skiing fanatics like Perry Merrill, Charlie Lord and Warren Warner to a ready labor force, and all of a sudden crowds were flocking to the "down-mountain" trails, what we now call just ski trails, all over New England. This inspired entrepreneurs to build lifts and lodging and better equipment, which inspired more growth. The CCC trails proved that people would travel and spend to go down a snowy mountain on skis.

Thanks to the CCC, places like Stowe today boom with winter business. Warren Warner says, "Stowe is the town that the CCC built." Emerson Baker, now 86, thinks the CCC "may have been the snowball that started the avalanche of skiing in America. But it also lifted me and a lot of other people out of poverty and into successful careers and lives. It prepared us for the war. It strengthened the moral fiber of our country. It's impossible for the mind to encompass all the good that it did. I'm proud to have been a part of it."

Can the Ski Dorm Survive?
CCC crews at Stowe built and lived in a two-story barracks, called "Side Camp S-53," just below the ski area's parking lot. Originally it was uninsulated, sheathed only with tar paper and heated with potbellied stoves. After the CCC disbanded, it was supposed to be destroyed, like most other CCC structures. But Perry Merrill, ever a visionary, had noticed that the high price of ski lodges in the town of Stowe was squeezing out younger, less affluent skiers. So he had state workers remodel the building. It opened in 1945 as the Vermont State Ski Dorm.

Over the years, the children and grandchildren of its first customers have enjoyed the family-style meals, bargain prices and rustic charm. Because the dorm remains almost completely unchanged, it's easy to imagine skier pioneers in gabardine using the CCC-made twig furniture and U.S. Army china while they dried their leather boots by the brick fireplace. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and recognized as the only surviving CCC barracks in Vermont and the first ski dorm in the U.S. But it's also closed.

In 1999, because the building didn't comply with handicap accessibility and fire code laws, the state closed the Ski Dorm. To reopen it, $600,000 in improvements are needed, including handicap ramps, bedrooms and baths; a sprinkler system; and improvements to the foundation and kitchen. The state has promised a portion of that, but not enough. Volunteers are now trying to come up with about $400,000.

If it doesn't reopen as a dorm, skiers will lose the use of the first-ever ski dorm and its low-cost lodging so close to the mountain. Says one concerned local, "Where else can you stay in Stowe for $12 a night?" If you want to help, contact Eyrich Stauffer, president of the Vermont Chapter of the National CCC Alumni Association at P.O. Box 4, Montpelier, VT 05601; or email him at eyrichstauffer@hotmail.com. lifts and lodging and better equipment, which inspired more growth. The CCC trails proved that people would travel and spend to go down a snowy mountain on skis.

Thanks to the CCC, places like Stowe today boom with winter business. Warren Warner says, "Stowe is the town that the CCC built." Emerson Baker, now 86, thinks the CCC "may have been the snowball that started the avalanche of skiing in America. But it also lifted me and a lot of other people out of poverty and into successful careers and lives. It prepared us for the war. It strengthened the moral fiber of our country. It's impossible for the mind to encompass all the good that it did. I'm proud to have been a part of it."

Can the Ski Dorm Survive?
CCC crews at Stowe built and lived in a two-story barracks, called "Side Camp S-53," just below the ski area's parking lot. Originally it was uninsulated, sheathed only with tar paper and heated with potbellied stoves. After the CCC disbanded, it was supposed to be destroyed, like most other CCC structures. But Perry Merrill, ever a visionary, had noticed that the high price of ski lodges in the town of Stowe was squeezing out younger, less affluent skiers. So he had state workers remodel the building. It opened in 1945 as the Vermont State Ski Dorm.

Over the years, the children and grandchildren of its first custoomers have enjoyed the family-style meals, bargain prices and rustic charm. Because the dorm remains almost completely unchanged, it's easy to imagine skier pioneers in gabardine using the CCC-made twig furniture and U.S. Army china while they dried their leather boots by the brick fireplace. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and recognized as the only surviving CCC barracks in Vermont and the first ski dorm in the U.S. But it's also closed.

In 1999, because the building didn't comply with handicap accessibility and fire code laws, the state closed the Ski Dorm. To reopen it, $600,000 in improvements are needed, including handicap ramps, bedrooms and baths; a sprinkler system; and improvements to the foundation and kitchen. The state has promised a portion of that, but not enough. Volunteers are now trying to come up with about $400,000.

If it doesn't reopen as a dorm, skiers will lose the use of the first-ever ski dorm and its low-cost lodging so close to the mountain. Says one concerned local, "Where else can you stay in Stowe for $12 a night?" If you want to help, contact Eyrich Stauffer, president of the Vermont Chapter of the National CCC Alumni Association at P.O. Box 4, Montpelier, VT 05601; or email him at eyrichstauffer@hotmail.com.

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