A Conversation with National Board Chair Richard Pietrafesa

Rich Pietrafesa, NSP National Board Chair

Trail Sweep interviewed Richard Pietrafesa, newly elected chair of the NSP National Board about his experiences, aspirations, and goals for the NSP in his new role. Elected as a National Board Rep last year, Rich was a member of Toggenburg Ski Patrol for 20 years. When Toggenburg closed in 2021, Rich joined Labrador Mountain in the Central New York Region, Eastern Division in 2022. (Updated 5/3/24)

What experiences and skills do you bring to the NSP as National Board Chair?

Any number of us currently on the board could perform the job of chair. I don’t believe I bring any unique abilities to the role. But I do have a particular philosophy about how an effective board should function, and about the role of the chair, which I think is useful to our organization at this juncture.

Board leadership and executive leadership are two very different skills. The hard work for any board chair is managing board dynamics and human relations – providing leadership to a group of mostly senior, successful, action-oriented, performance-driven, sophisticated individuals from different backgrounds, as we have at the NSP. Different from a chief executive, restraint, patience, and being a good listener are essential attributes for the NSP board chair to possess. The role is not to be a commander, but rather a facilitator. A good board chair recognizes that he/she is not first among equals. He/she is just the person responsible for supporting the group to fulfill its collective responsibilities.

Having worked on many boards, I understand this role and these responsibilities. And I understand the need to support our CEO, Stephanie Cox, as she drives the organization forward.

At the same time, I think I offer the perspective of a regular, 22-year volunteer patroller who isn’t necessarily concerned with what goes on behind the scenes at the NSP – we just want it to work for us, the membership.

Why did you decide to run for the National Board Chair?

Like all of my colleagues on the board, I am deeply passionate about the mission of the National Ski Patrol and committed to serving its members. The past two years were focused on stabilizing the organization. I applaud my predecessor, Rick Boyce, for the hard-fought and important successes that he achieved during that period. We might not have the luxury of looking forward had it not been for his diligence, hard work, and quick decision-making.

But as we move into a new phase for the organization, I thought it was time for a fresh approach. I wanted to see the board turn its focus back on the membership and return to celebrating one another, and our collective successes. We need to find the resources to better support our programs, both existing and new. And we need to do a better job of letting the public know what we do, and the value we bring to the outdoor recreation industry.

I continue to be amazed at the time, skills, and dedication that members devote to our organization. It is very unusual! We need to trumpet that in the right ways so that we regain the public stature that we once held.

What are your short- and long-term goals?

I cannot promise any spectacular, unexpected outcomes. What I can promise is an open, honest, and trustworthy atmosphere for discussion and debate; strong support of our executive director as she executes her plan; respect for members and leadership in the field; and care and custody over the long-term welfare of this organization that we all care so much about.

Near term, we are focused on ways to make the NSP a more agile organization as we adapt to a rapidly changing industry. We have a project to streamline the P&Ps (Policies & Procedures) so that the office and patrols have more latitude to operate efficiently. We are examining our branding and exploring ways to strengthen and standardize that across all the divisions and regions to strengthen our national brand. I’d like the board to examine member benefits, with an eye toward generating enhancements for both initial recruitment and internal advancement, particularly with the Senior program. We are all using our career experience to analyze NSP’s revenue streams and brainstorm ways to expand them. Finally, we are taking a close look at the NSP store, filling member demands for more desirable merchandise while simultaneously rightsizing our financial commitment to that segment. Currently 1/3rd of our liquid capital is tied up in the NSP store. We can operate a store with much less and put that capital to better use earning revenue for us.

For the long term, we are discussing ways to broaden our membership by decoupling membership from credentials. Is there any reason why someone helped by the NSP couldn’t become a supporting member, with different benefits/privileges? Tiered membership is very common in organizations like ours as a way to support the mission. I’d like to see us take concrete steps toward creating a sizable endowment to help fund core programs and relieve pressure on member dues. And I believe the board should analyze and tackle the issue of member engagement – both in our programs and in our election – as a tool for recruitment, retention, and general member satisfaction.

What are your plans to improve the image of the NSP and its relationship with the NSAA?

Stephanie has built and maintains an excellent relationship with NSAA, and just as importantly, with its members. She is getting out and talking to both patrol directors and area managers around the country, understanding their needs and their issues. As a result, Stephanie is engaged in a number of collaborations with NSAA, both offensive and defensive (regulatory issues). Her efforts are increasing visibility and awareness of the important work done by ski patrollers, enhancing communication and collaboration between the two organizations, and actively seeking opportunities for joint initiatives and partnerships that benefit both parties and the skiing community as a whole.

What are your plans for clearer communication regarding the value of membership dues?

It is an unfortunate fact of life that dues need to continue to increase with inflation. While we are working hard to offset dues with sponsors and other ancillary income streams, membership remains our primary source of revenue. At the same time, we are very cognizant of the need to enhance member benefits as dues increase in order to deliver good value to members.

Stephanie has added some wonderful new member benefits this year – GovX.com and ID.me – the savings from which could easily more than cover an individual’s annual dues. And of course we continue to offer new, valuable education courses to our membership free of charge, as part of our member benefits.

At the same time, beginning in July, everyone will start seeing transparent and comprehensive messaging that clearly outlines the benefits and services provided to NSP members, as well as the impact of dues on supporting the organization’s mission and programs.

What are your plans to reduce divisional infighting and restore the rapport among the divisions?

There is no infighting. I think the divisions maintain a wonderful rapport with one another. They continually collaborate, share best practices, and deliver programs to our membership as efficiently as possible. While there is always room for improvement, I think the divisions do a remarkable job with the resources they have at their disposal.

When I joined the board last year there was noticeable tension between the board and the divisions. I am working very hard to rebuild that critical trust. Trust is the single most critical building block underlying board effectiveness. Effecting positive change requires believing in each other’s good intentions.

At board meetings we’ve ended the microfocus on tweaking NSP’s governing documents. We agreed to put them away in a drawer this year so that we can look outward, back toward the men and women we represent – the dedicated volunteer and career patrollers who make this such an unusual organization.

Instead of rushing to get things done quickly, my emphasis is on getting things done properly. While sometimes frustrating, it makes sense to take our time with important decisions, gathering and considering input from all board members, and across our depth of leadership. Listening to people. I’ve learned in life that the best path to a durable outcome isn’t always a straight line.

That isn’t to suggest that we are dragging out decisions. Quite the contrary, better communication and the trust that comes with it has streamlined decision-making and strengthened relationships. I think the board and the division directors now again enjoy mutual trust and understanding in our shared mission. This has allowed us to better utilize our time together brainstorming as a group on important issues like long-term stability, revenue and membership growth, stronger branding, and product improvement.

NSP History – Chapter 4 – A Memorable Day at the Races

National Ski Races, Stove VIn our last chapter, the death of Dole’s friend Frank Edson inspires Dole to study ski safety.

Mount Mansfield in Stowe, Vermont was selected as the venue for the 1938 National Downhill and Slalom Races. More accurately called an international ski race, racers would come from the United States, Germany, Austria, and France. Frank Griffin, the President of the Mount Mansfield Ski Club, asked Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole if he would form and lead a special ski patrol to serve as the safety and rescue team for the races. With the Mansfield Patrol forming the nucleus and the Burlington and Pittsfield Patrols buttressing the ranks, Dole dove into the logistics of providing ski patrol services to such a high-profile event with this “super patrol.” The racing was to take place on the Nose Dive trail, a steep and challenging trail cut by the Civilian Conservation Corps under the supervision of Charles Lord, future NSP National Appointment #61.

The trail would be divided into segments with patrollers stationed within each segment. Each patroller station would have visual contact with the patrol stations above and below on the trail. Every station was supplied with a full complement of rescue equipment, including a rescue toboggan. The plan mapped out by Dole was that if a racer was injured and needed evacuation, the closest station would perform the rescue and evacuation. The recently vacated station would be infilled from the station below, with all stations below the accident moving up. Crowd control was another important safety consideration, so Dole prepared a document to hand out to spectators entitled “How to Behave While Watching A Race.” Only racers, race officials, and patrollers were allowed to have skis on the mountain. A new bar had been set for safety at ski races. His efforts did not go unnoticed.

Charles Minot "Minnie" Dole

Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole

Saturday, March 5, 1938, saw fierce racing on the Nose Dive. Dole was positioned at one of the seven turns at the top of the trail, a turn known as “Shambles Corner.” He was approached by Roger Langley, future NSP National Appointment #1, who was the head of the National Ski Association of America, the largest and most influential ski association in the United States. He commended Dole on the excellent organization and focus on event safety. Just before the first skier, Ted Hunter (who had previously won the Edson Trophy as first place amateur racer at the first annual race created as a memorial to Dole’s friend Franklin Edson III) sped by, Langley spoke to Dole. Dole would recall later that Langley was very complimentary of his efforts to organize the “super patrol” and that Langley felt that having more patrols to advance skier safety would be a great benefit to the skiing community. Langley then inquired if Dole would consider becoming the chair of a new committee, the National Ski Patrol Committee, as a part of the National Ski Association of America. Standing at Shambles Corner, Dole agreed to Langley’s request and the concept of a National Ski Patrol came to fruition.

A year later, in 1939, a biplane was flying up the valley, over the town of Stowe and headed for Mount Mansfield. Who were the occupants, and what was the change that would move the ski world on its axis? The pilot, Roland Palmedo, National Appointment #2 of the National Ski Patrol, and the head of the Amateur Ski Club of New York and his passenger, also a member of the ASCNY, Stuart Gillespie, National Appointment #13, were flying over the site of a proposed chairlift, being spearheaded by Palmedo. When completed, it would be the longest chairlift in the world. The sport of skiing was about start a period of explosive growth and the National Ski Patrol was preparing to meet the needs of this sport by providing service and safety to all skiers.

If you are reading this as a registered patroller, or as a candidate who aspires to join the ranks of one of the largest rescue organizations in the world, you too are a part of the NSP history. Each of us forms a thread that has been woven into a wonderful tapestry of history and service to the public. This tapestry continues to be woven every day that we display the cross on our backs, a symbol that has signified “Service and Safety” and high quality aid provided at no cost since our founding in 1938.

Rick Hamlin, National NSP Historian

Rick Hamlin, NSP Historian

Rick Hamlin is the NSP National Historian and he plans to contribute regularly to Trail Sweep. Please watch for our next chapter in future issues of Trail Sweep.
_____________________________________
If you would like to learn more about the history of the National Ski Patrol and its founders and the early days of skiing, the following are excellent resources:

“Roland Palmedo, A Life of Adventure and Enterprise,” by Philip F. Palmedo, (2018), published by Peter E. Randall

“Adventures in Skiing,” by Minot (Minnie) Dole. (1965), published by J. Lowell Pratt and Company, Inc.

“The National Ski Patrol, Samaritans of the Snow”, by Gretchen R. Besser (1983), published by The Countryman Press.

“Skiing in the Americas”, by John Jay (1947), published by The MacMillan Company.

“Ski Sentinels, The story of the National Ski Patrol” (Video), A Rick Moulton Film produced by the New England Ski Museum.

NSP History – Chapter 3 – Minnie Dole’s Injury is the Inspiration

Charles Minot "Minnie" Dole

Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole

<<<  In our last chapter, Minnie Dole was injured in a ski accident so severely that they thought he might never walk again, let alone ski.

While still on crutches and convalescing from his broken leg earned on the Toll Road in Stowe in 1936, Minnie Dole’s good friend and ski companion, Franklin Edson III, came to visit. Frank informed Minnie that The ASCNY had asked him to round out a race team to compete at an interclub meet that was to be held in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Races at this time were truly “downhill” races, with no speed control sections or gates, just a start and finish between a long segment of open trail.

Minnie protested and told Frank that he did not think that Frank was ready for this level of ski challenge as Dole felt he was only a fair skier, about at his same level. Frank, known for his adventuresome spirit, was not deterred. He insisted he would participate in the race. On March 8, 1936, Franklin Edson III started down the Ghost Trail hoping to help his team and club have a good showing. He did not finish the race.

The newspaper clipping reported that “While racing down the steep and slippery Ghost Trail, Mr. Edson lost his balance and hit a tree.” The impact broke his right arm and also fractured four ribs and punctured his lung. One day later, Franklin Edson III would die of his injuries at the Sisters of Mercy Hospital in Pittsfield.

Injuries while skiing were well known. Participants in the sport were viewed by non-skiers as daredevils and risk-takers. However, death related to skiing was unknown. Edson’s untimely death, caused while participating in their beloved sport, was so cataclysmic that it spurred the club to examine their sport and more specifically, ski safety.

The President of the ASCNY asked Dole, as Edson’s best friend, to chair a committee to study ski safety. Dole agreed. The first task of the committee would be to find out about ski accidents of all types. A questionnaire was compiled and sent out to all of the ski clubs requesting information on the types of injuries that were happening to club members and how those accidents were dealt with.

Dole later recalls that the responses were “less than satisfactory.” Many were not returned. And of those that were returned, many did not support the idea of skiing safety and accused the committee of being “sissies, spoilsports, and frighteners of mothers.”

Dole persevered. Much of the anti-safe skiing sentiment was centered in the Boston area clubs so Dole traveled to meet with them. He was able to convince them to participate and assist the ASCNY Safety Committee. The committee eventually published its findings related to ski safety.

They found that the cause of most accidents was the result of one of three main factors:

  1. The skier was skiing on terrain beyond their ability,
  2. The skier was skiing too fast for the conditions, or
  3. The skier was skiing when fatigued.

Most patrollers will recognize these same factors almost 100 years later. Another finding from the committee was that there should be improvement in trail design and offered several suggestions on ways to make trails safer.

One of the final ideas of ideas recommended by the committee was the formation of ski patrols. Clubs were encouraged to create groups within their clubs and trained in first aid to assist injured skiers. Clubs in Burlington, Vermont, and Pittsfield, Massachusetts were the first to do so.

Dole continued the study of ski safety and wrote articles for newspapers, club papers, and ski almanacs. He would later say that he believed that these articles were responsible for linking his name with the topic of ski safety. Within a year of Edson’s death, the first blocks of the foundation for a national ski patrol were being laid.

Rick Hamlin, National NSP Historian

Rick Hamlin, NSP Historian

To Be Continued

Rick Hamlin is the NSP National Historian and he plans to contribute regularly to Trail Sweep. Please watch for our next chapter in future issues of Trail Sweep.
_____________________________________
If you would like to learn more about the history of the National Ski Patrol and its founders and the early days of skiing, the following are excellent resources:

“Roland Palmedo, A Life of Adventure and Enterprise,” by Philip F. Palmedo, (2018), published by Peter E. Randall

“Adventures in Skiing,” by Minot (Minnie) Dole. (1965), published by J. Lowell Pratt and Company, Inc.

“The National Ski Patrol, Samaritans of the Snow”, by Gretchen R. Besser (1983), published by The Countryman Press.

“Skiing in the Americas”, by John Jay (1947), published by The MacMillan Company.

“Ski Sentinels, The story of the National Ski Patrol” (Video), A Rick Moulton Film produced by the New England Ski Museum.

NSP History – Chapter 2 – A Fateful Day For Minnie Dole

Charles and Jane Dole

Charles and Jane Dole

<<<  In our last chapter, alpine skiing gains a toehold in North America, and the Amateur Ski Club of New York is formed.

While sidelined from skiing due to an injury in 1931, Roland Palmedo, president of the Amateur Ski Club of New York (ASCNY), wrote a letter to the Postmaster in Stowe, Vermont. He had been to Stowe in the summer and knew that Mount Mansfield was a significant landmark, but was there life in Stowe in the winter? Did the town have the facilities to host the ASCNY if they arrived in the winter to ski? The reply came not from the Postmaster but from the Secretary of the Stowe Civic Club, and the response was very positive. Stowe and Mount Mansfield became regular destinations for the club. The response from the town would also eventually lead to the biplane flight in 1939. Our story, the story of the creation of the National Ski Patrol, falls in the intervening years between those two events.

The ski conditions on Mount Mansfield in the first few days of 1936 were far from ideal. It had rained, and the snow was soft, sticky, and very dense. The rain and poor conditions did not deter the four members of the ASCNY, who were determined not to let the long drive from Connecticut go to waste. The intrepid party was made up of Franklin Edson III, his wife, Jean Edson, Jane Dole, and her husband, Charles Minot Dole, who was known to his friends as “Minnie.” Minnie had fallen the previous day and was still nursing a twisted ankle but was undeterred.

After a climb up the Toll Road and a short rest, they started their descent. One hundred yards down the trail, Dole initiated a stem christie. His weakened ankle does not cooperate, and his ski fails to edge properly. He would later describe his fall as an “egg beater.” His ankle now points in an unnatural direction, and it is clear that he has broken his leg. It was clear that he would not be skiing or hiking off the mountain.

Jean and Jane went down the mountain to seek assistance. There was a rudimentary ski patrol at that time serving the trail network on Mount Mansfield, but they did not “patrol” the slopes in a regular manner. Franklin stayed with Dole, who was getting chilled and starting to feel the onset of shock.

Eventually, Jane and Jean returned with Bob Cheesewright and Howard Black and a piece of roofing tin. Dole was placed on the short piece of metal sheet and he was dragged a quarter of a mile off the mountain. X-rays at the hospital in Morrisville confirmed a severely broken ankle. Dole was placed in a temporary splint and sent back to New York City via train to have the ankle reset.

His doctor believed that the damage was so significant that it would be unlikely for Dole to walk correctly again, let alone ski. This depressing news did not deter Dole and his rehabilitation efforts. He would later say that an accident like this might have started him thinking about ski safety, but it didn’t. Breaking your leg was just a hazard of the sport. It would take a much greater tragedy for Dole to focus on ski safety.

Rick Hamlin, National NSP Historian

Rick Hamlin, NSP Historian

To Be Continued

Rick Hamlin is the NSP National Historian, and he plans to contribute regularly to Trail Sweep. Please watch for our next chapter in a future issue of Trail Sweep.

_____________________________________

If you would like to learn more about the history of the National Ski Patrol, its founders, and the early days of skiing, the following are excellent resources:

“Roland Palmedo, A Life of Adventure and Enterprise,” by Philip F. Palmedo,  (2018), published by Peter E. Randall

“Adventures in Skiing,” by Minot (Minnie) Dole. (1965), published by J. Lowell Pratt and Company, Inc.

“The National Ski Patrol, Samaritans of the Snow”, by Gretchen R. Besser (1983), published by The Countryman Press.

“Skiing in the Americas”, by John Jay (1947), published by The MacMillan Company.

“Ski Sentinels, The story of the National Ski Patrol” (Video), A Rick Moulton Film produced by the New England Ski Museum.

Interview with NSP Executive Director Stephanie Cox

Stephanie Cox, Executive Director, National Ski Patrol

Stephanie Cox, Executive Director, National Ski Patrol

Stephanie Cox was hired as the Executive Director of the NSP just over a year ago, in October 2022. She is the third Executive Director of the NSP in the last few years. Trail Sweep asked Stephanie if she would agree to be interviewed to discuss the challenges of the job and her plans for the future. We asked her about what skills she brought to the job, how she felt about the turnover of her predecessors, her plans for the growth of sponsorships and fundraising, and her plans to help resolve issues with the NSP website.

We appreciate Stephanie’s willingness to respond and her openness in her comments.  Here is the interview:

 

What experiences and skills do you bring to the NSP as Executive Director?

My prior leadership roles, where I had to manage large, diverse teams, make critical decisions, and motivate others – especially in difficult, changing, and complex environments — likely prepared me for this role. Having spent a lot of time in high-pressure, changing situations, I honed my problem-solving skills to handle challenges effectively and developed a lot of grit, courage, and adaptability. I think that those are important traits when dealing with industry and organizational change.

Effective communication is crucial for any leader. My very first career was as a journalist, and I learned to be observant, listen, and be curious. I hope my ability to communicate with staff, volunteers, stakeholders, and the public will help bring the community together even more. Being a leader in the humanitarian aid world taught me to be resilient, compassionate, analyze risks, and be adaptable as I spent most of my time overseas in war zones and unstable environments. When I pivoted to the start-up world and became an entrepreneur, I learned to lean into my vision and became more decisive. Venture capitalists are a tough crowd and a boys’ club, albeit that is changing fast – so I learned quickly to develop and trust my confidence. All of this has helped shape my leadership style, which I like to think of as “intentional.” But this is also a role where a deep passion for skiing is a key motivator. My true love for the sport – and people in the industry, especially my team – provides great fuel for the long days.

 

There has been a lot of turnover in the NSP Executive Director position in the last few years. How do you feel you can improve the rapport between the Executive Director and the NSP Board of Directors?

When I assumed the role of Executive Director in October for the National Ski Patrol, I did so with equal parts excitement and caution as I knew that there was much work to do to help the organization continue to recover from a tumultuous few years. Leadership turnover, COVID, societal shifts, and a changing landscape in the industry introduced uncertainty and delivered shocks to the organization. And while our member numbers remained steady, our progress slowed. Developing a positive, productive, and trusting relationship with the board was a key priority in order to get anything meaningful accomplished. I am pleased to say that I am thrilled to be working collaboratively with the Board of Directors on faster decision-making, governance, and accountability. We have an open line of communication. I respect every member of the board and enjoy working with them and guiding them towards a true governance role.

I encourage the Eastern Division members to go to the NSP website to read my Annual Member letter, see the 3-year plan (knowing we will soon be working on YR 2!), and read the latest BOD reports. All can be found in the document library or on the Leadership Structure page.

I very much look forward to visiting the Eastern Division this season and getting to know our fantastic members.

 

The NSP has lost several key sponsors in the last year. What are your plans to grow new sponsor relationships going forward?

I welcome this opportunity to clarify that the only sponsor that recently moved on from NSP is Subaru of America after 25 years of wonderful support. Like all relationships, the one between NSP and Subaru evolved over time, and we found ourselves at the end of our journey together. The world has changed since our partnership began in 1995, and the automotive industry, like the ski industry, faces many new challenges and opportunities. While NSP and Subaru have had many great adventures together, the time is right to look forward to new destinations and travel partners, even as we continue to stay connected with old friends. Subaru will continue to offer VIP pricing to NSP members until further notice, and we continue to support the Subaru brand. In the meantime, the partnership team and I are cultivating relationships across different industries with many new brands and are excited about what the future holds in this arena for NSP. Stay tuned!

 

Along the same lines, NSP dues increased significantly last year and could increase again this year. What are your plans to improve fundraising and donations?

Diversifying income in any organization or business is very important to keep up with the overall changing industry and economic conditions, such as inflation, to ensure financial resilience and viability. Fundraising represents one income stream for NSP. In order to fundraise properly and sustainably, the organization has to be in a strong position with its brand, identity, direction, and plans. Fundraising was not a priority in my first year as we had much housekeeping and administrative clean-up to do, along with recovering our brand from years of public turmoil. In fact, I asked the board to suspend the fundraising committee for a year until I felt we were in a position to go out to our membership and the public to ask them for their support. If we are to fundraise, then we must do it right.

Our membership is watching, and I want to show them results from the first and second years and then ask for their support. That means having a strategy, having good systems to back up the strategy, having human resources to direct it, and most importantly, follow-up and stewardship. By demonstrating accountability, transparency, and effectiveness in utilizing funds, we’ll be in a stronger position to ask for support from members and the public. We do currently offer online donations, and we absolutely want our members to especially consider NSP in planned giving. It’s all available right now on the new website. In fact, we are currently fundraising for Powderfall scholarships.

Visit the Donate Page

Donate to the Powderfall Scholarship Fund

 

Patrollers have complained of many problems with the NSP website. What are your plans to help resolve these issues?

These systems will always be a work in progress as we continue to optimize functionality and keep information fresh for our members and partners. We completed phases I and II (cloud migration and minimal viable product) of our member management system, website, and store upgrades recently. There have been a lot of changes this year, and we are moving at high speed toward a common goal. At the same time, we have been conscious of the impact of this on the staff and membership. I am pleased to say that we are now on the upside of this tech adoption curve, with our new systems in place and functional. Every day you check back, you are likely to see something new and improved.

NSP History – Chapter 1 – The Birth of the National Ski Patrol

Roland Palmedo

Roland Palmedo

The sound of the biplane echoed off the valley walls as the powerful seven-cylinder radial engine drove the propeller through the air currents coming off the mountain. Those on the ground paid little attention. They had seen this biplane before. If they had looked up, they would have noticed that the second seat, which was usually empty, was occupied today, and the skis that were usually tied to the struts were missing. It was 1939, and things at the head of the west branch of the Little River near Stowe, Vermont, were about to change, and those changes would shape the course of NSP history.

For the very few paying attention, the change could have been predicted. Ten years before the first ski school had been created in New Hampshire. Three years later, the 1932 Winter Olympics took place in Lake Placid, and although there were no Alpine ski events, it brought the important understanding that winter could mean more than four to five months of hibernation. Two years later, in a farmer’s sloping field near Woodstock, Vermont, skiers tired of the long climb uphill for a brief downhill run were introduced to the rope tow, the first in the nation. The idea, imported from Quebec, was soon to be duplicated throughout the northeast. It created a new skiing experience, waiting in line for the ski lift. Alpine skiing was gaining a toehold in the attention of a larger segment of the population. Among those early ski enthusiasts were the members of the Amateur Ski Club of New York.

Amatuer Ski Club of New York Patch

The NY Ski Club patch

Starting with 71 members in 1931, the ASCNY had made regular pilgrimages to the mountains north of their home base of New York City. A well-coordinated organization led by Club President Roland Palmedo, it produced a regular newsletter for its members. The editor was known by the nom de plume “The Baron Dunski.” His friends knew him as “The Baron” or “Minnie.” We know him as Charles Minot Dole, National Appointment #3, and the founder of the National Ski Patrol.

The club may have had the word “amateur” in its title, but the skiers in the club were very serious about their skiing, and several of the members were world-class skiers in their own right. The club organized regular trips to the mountains of the northeast, always searching for the best snow and terrain. Friday evening saw them leaving the city. Driving into the night on roads that were mostly packed snow on gravel, their arrival was often in the early hours of Saturday morning. This did not deter them from a first-light ascent, climbing to the peak of the selected hill or mountain. After a full day of climbing and skiing on Saturday and Sunday, they would eat and sleep in farmhouses turned guest homes or hotels when they were available. Sunday night found them back in their cars, with heated bricks under the passengers’ feet to keep them warm for at least a part of the long drive home. Arrival in the city came in the early hours of Monday morning. It was, and still is, a very close-knit organization with camaraderie and the joy of skiing forming the key elements of its foundation.

Rick Hamlin, National NSP Historian

Rick Hamlin, NSP Historian

The ASCNY was a ski club that was very social, not a social club that had an interest in skiing. It promoted the sport through their travel and competition. Palmedo was a staunch believer in the amateur athlete, especially when it came to skiing. Many of the club members were racers and were well respected for their skills. Club racing and the competitive spirit that it fostered would result in a tragedy, which in turn would shape the trajectory of ski and world history.

 

To Be Continued

 

Rick Hamlin is the NSP National Historian, and he plans to contribute regularly to Trail Sweep.  Please watch for our next chapter in a future issue of Trail Sweep.


If you would like to learn more about the history of the National Ski Patrol, its founders, and the early days of skiing, the following are excellent resources:

Roland Palmedo, A Life of Adventure and Enterprise, by Palmedo, Philip F. (2018), published by Peter E. Randall

“Adventures in Skiing,” by Dole, Minot (Minnie). (1965), J. Lowell Pratt and Company, Inc.

“The National Ski Patrol, Samaritans of the Snow,” by Besser, Gretchen R. (1983), The Countryman Press.

“Skiing in the Americas,” by Jay, John. (1947), The MacMillan Company.

“Ski Sentinels, The Story of the National Ski Patrol,” video-based film documentary, a Rick Moulton Film produced by the New England Ski Museum.