Monday, August 19, 2013

Exploring Sunday River 30 Years Later (12/60)

When I returned from Indianapolis in 1979 to write, I discovered writing didn't pay a whole heck of a lot. As I've probably written in this blog somewhere, I made $5 in the first three months by selling a poem to Maine Life. But that one poem led to another... and then magazine articles... and then my chapbook Entering Weld. And then my soccer novel Play On!... But whoa, let's get back to the first few months.

To make money to support my writing life here in Maine, I substitute taught, coached skiing, and directed public relations at Sunday River. Back then, the area was in the hands of Les Otten who had come over from Killington and bought The River. I landed my job with that help of Jim and Jolan Ippolito. Jolan worked with Les Otten, and she told me about an opening in their leadership team.

Back then, working at Sunday River was like being in the wild west of ski area development. Each of us did a little bit of everything. During the busy Christmas holidays, I remember going around to pick up money at the various ticket booths. I'd stuff the cash into all the different pockets of my parka and then when I got to my Ford Torino Limited, I'd stick the money under my car seat and drive on to the next ticket booth.

One of my favorite stories about working at Sunday River happened during the snowless winter of 1980. The Christmas holidays were just days away and with no natural snow, the snow guns were cranking. However, there was no way at that time to snow certain sections of T-2 (T-bar #2 at Barker Mountain). Les, his wife Chris, Wendy, and I were in the office talking over options when I suggested bringing my ski team up to the mountain. We'd snow the T-bar line in exchange for ski passes so we could train during the vacation. At the time, Black Mountain did not have snowmaking.

One of my student-athletes worked up at Sunday River
in the 1990's; when they replaced signage, knowing
the story, he brought me this sign for my home gym.

The Rumford skiers--about 55 of them--descended on the mountain with baskets, boxes, and shovels. The kids formed a human chain and brought basket after basket of snow in and around T-2. I forget exactly how long it took us--my guess is the better part of a day, maybe 4-6 hours. When we finished, I saw Les in Barker Mountain Lodge and said, "It's done." He broke into this  huge smile and then gave me a big hug.

Soon, South Ridge Lodge was built. All of our offices were moved down there. Over the next few years, Les and a group of ski area architects made a plan for mountain development. That plan went up on his office wall in the form of a big map that included new lifts, trails, condos... In my mind's eye, with the blur of 30 years influencing my memory, that map looks a lot like what Sunday River is today.

So today, for my 60 adventures for my 60th birthday, I hiked around Sunday River. Bailey and I explored South Ridge, Barker, and some of the side trails... and I remembered fondly working in the wild wild west of Sunday River's development with some very nice people.


  1. I love this post for so many reasons and am thanking my lucky stars for snowmaking on T2! One of the other things to have changed since then is our internal Team Newsletter The Happy Place Chronicles. I am always looking for content and think that this would be such an incredible story to share. With your permission, could I add this to our next issue in September?

  2. I even remember back in "my day" working at Sunday River the winter of 1989-1990. Not sure HOW I got hired to run lifts on the weekend, but I did. Things have changed a lot since then. Then there was working the summers at the mountain bike park (the sign picture you posted is one of the trails I helped build), and then the summer building Jordan Bowl, various winters running more lifts (while in college), and then teaching and coaching later on. Good times right there.

  3. The part about stuffing the cash under you seat; what an outstanding image!

  4. Hi Darcy,
    Pretty funny... that'll teach me to post rough draft material on my blog! Anyway... I've revised and yes, feel free to use the piece. You may edit and trim, if necessary (or ask me to revise).
    Take care,

  5. This piece ( you sent is interesting in light of your involvement with The River so many years ago. Nice work, Rich.