- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

FARMINGTON, Maine — The popularity of skiing snowballed in America in the 1920s and ‘30s, creating a new industry for a number of companies that cropped up all over schuss-happy Maine. Then came World War II.

“Please have patience,” Maine’s Bass Boots advertised to anxious ski-boot customers after it turned its attention to making cold-climate boots for troops. After the war ended, a new Bass ad in 1946 proclaimed the good news: “You can buy Bass boots again.”

That’s just one snippet of history on view at the new Ski Museum of Maine, which opened Dec. 1 in this college town in the heart of Maine ski country.

The history of skiing goes back thousands of years to Northern Europe and Asia. Pieces of skis dating back 5,000 years have been found in peat bogs, and cave drawings just as old suggest early use of a form of skis, says Glenn Parkinson, author of “First Tracks: Stories From Maine’s Skiing Heritage” and a ski museum board member.

The new museum helps secure Maine’s place in the sport through its collection of wooden and newer skis and equipment; ad displays reflecting earlier eras of skiing; and a growing archive of records, documents and memorabilia.

It’s more than just a collection of artifacts, Mr. Parkinson says. It’s also a place where Maine’s skiing heritage is preserved, where visitors can relate what they see to their own feelings and memories.

“Heritage is the feel of the wet wool and the taste of the hot chocolate from the years gone by,” Mr. Parkinson says. “It touches on the soul of the sport.”

The museum is in the same building where the Sugarloaf USA logo, a blue-and-white triangle that’s well-recognized in Maine and beyond, was designed, according to the museum’s consulting curator, Megan Roberts, a lifelong skier who is pictured in a couple of the photos on display.

Sugarloaf Mountain, in Carrabassett Valley, and the Sunday River resort, in Newry, are sponsoring the museum’s opening exhibit, which runs through March.

Maine follows other states, notably Colorado, New Hampshire and Vermont, in establishing a ski museum. The New England Ski Museum, of which Mr. Parkinson is president, is in Franconia, N.H. Vermont’s ski museum is in Stowe.

Sugarloaf played an indirect role in the creation of Maine’s museum about a dozen years ago. The Sugarloaf Ski Club was looking for a place to preserve old documents, banners and other items in its possession. It also wanted a place where similar items from across the state could be kept, Mr. Parkinson says.

Artifacts first were stored in an old schoolhouse in Kingfield, then moved to Carrabassett Valley. In the meantime, organizers obtained grants for proper archiving of documents, trail maps, patches, ski magazines and other items.

The timing of the museum’s opening is important. With the first generation of Maine skiers who took up the sport in the 1930s and ‘40s dying, a cache of historically valuable items in basements, attics and garages is being unearthed, Miss Roberts says. People seem more than willing to donate or lend the museum their antique equipment.

On the day the museum opened, many of the 200 people who stopped by offered old skis, poles and boots. When it was clear their donations would be accepted, some returned with armfuls of additional gear, Miss Roberts says.

The museum has ample displays and more in an archive and storage area upstairs, but it hasn’t reached the point of turning things away, she says.

The oldest piece on display is a ski resembling a weather-worn barn board with a slightly bowed tip believed to date from the 1890s, a decade or so after the sport first caught on in Maine. Miss Roberts says it probably was handmade and used by a farmer to get around in Maine’s deep snow.

A pair of 8-foot wooden jumping skis as well as numerous sets of long wooden skis also are in the collection. The bindings, ranging from primitive leather toe loops to bear traps and more modern variations as the sport grew in popularity, reveal the ages of the skis.

Some are accompanied by bamboo poles with worn paint and baskets fashioned from leather and metal or wood.

A set of white skis and accompanying gaiters (a protective shell worn from knee to ankle to keep snow out) pay tribute to Mainers who were part of the famed 10th Mountain Division, an Army unit that trained in Colorado for winter and mountain warfare.

The 2006-07 exhibit focuses on Maine businesses that blossomed around the sport, such as Wilton’s Bass Shoe, Norway’s W.F. Tubbs Co. and Bangor’s S.L. Crosby. At Paris Manufacturing Co., a ski maker, Finnish-American craftsmen skied to and from work, Miss Roberts says.

An early catalog of Theo. A. Johnson Co. of Portland, whose boat-building venture turned to skis a little more than a century ago, trumpeted “The Winter Sport of Skeeing.”

A Tubbs catalog gave a more elaborate pitch: “More and more, as people realize that an outdoor winter vacation on snow-clad hills and highways, on frozen lakes and rivers, is health-building — a tonic as essential as a summertime vacation in the open; skis will be in even greater demand.”

The museum’s present site may or may not be the permanent one, says Greg Sweetser of the Ski Maine Association and a Maine Ski Museum board member. Farmington “is a great first home base,” he says.

• • •

Ski Museum of Maine, 109 Church St., Church Street Commons, Farmington, Maine; visit www.skimuseumofmaine.org or phone 207/491-5481; open 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday year-round. Free admission.

Vermont Ski Museum, 1 S. Main St., Stowe, Vt.; vermontskimuseum.org or 802/253-9911. Open noon to 5 p.m. daily except Tuesdays. Closed mid-April to Memorial Day and Halloween to Thanksgiving. Admission $3, families $5.

New England Ski Museum: Exit 34B, Interstate 93, Franconia Notch Parkway, Franconia, N.H.; www.skimuseum.org or 603/823-7177. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed April and May. Free admission.

Colorado Ski Museum, Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, top of the Vail Transportation Center, Vail, Colo.; www.skimuseum.net or 970/476-1876. Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Free admission.

Ski Maine: www.skimaine.com.

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