• By Rick Kahl

    Photography by Hubert Schriebl

    It took incredible courage, strong vision, persistence and a large dose of naïveté to launch a ski area back in the 60s.

    The 60s—Yodel-ay, we’re on our way!

    Racing was a part of Stratton’s heritage almost from the start. In the glow of post-Squaw Olympics glam, Stratton hosted one of the first-ever pro ski races, in 1963. Ski gods including Stein Eriksen, Anderl Molterer, Ernst Hinterseer and Christian Pravda came and raced. They also put on a trick-skiing demonstration, a forerunner of today’s freestyle and big air. Squaw medalists Hias Leitner and Hinterseer raced under Stratton’s banner and helped launch Stratton’s racing program, providing instant cachet.

    Organized junior racing was in its infancy, and Stratton was at the forefront here, too. The young families who bought Stratton stock and bonds eventually got their kids into the racing program. Before long, junior racers were traveling the southern Vermont circuit in a luxury motorcoach, compliments of Lehman Brothers chairman, local homeowner, and ski fanatic Warren Hellman. The converted Greyhound bus was the Hellmans’ commuting vehicle, and it doubled as team transport on Saturdays. Other teams showed up in parents’ overflowing station wagons and eyed the Stratton bus with envy and, truth be told, were often psyched out.

    Elinor and State Sen. Edward Janeway helped found the Stratton Arts Festival.

    The Stratton Arts Festival, a month-long celebration that spanned the foliage season, rounded out the Stratton scene. The festival showcased a wide range of artists and craftsmen, from pitchfork makers and batik artists to folk musicians and raku potters. The range and quality of the show was as spectacular as the fall foliage.

    By the end of the 1960s, Stratton itself had become pretty spectacular. The trail system was nearly complete. The Sun Bowl and golf course (18 holes, anyway) were in place, and hundreds of private homes nestled on the mountainside. Stratton was thriving and poised for more; the company drew up plans for a second base area in the Sun Bowl.

    Ah, well. Mountains endure, but times change. As the ’70s dawned, environmental restrictions, a cooling economy and a slowing industry put Stratton’s plans on hold. Ski weeks would eventually decline, and an evolving ski culture would erode the Tyrolean atmosphere. But in the beginning, Stratton was a bold and largely realized dream. What has survived, throughout its evolution, is a glorious mountain and a strong desire to be the best—just as its founders envisioned. ◊

    Rick Kahl is a nationally recognized ski writer now living in Colorado who got his start at Stratton Magazine.

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