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Monday, Jun 24, 2024

From the Archives: Skiing at Middlebury

“From the Archives” is an opportunity for various writers to visit the Middlebury Special Collections and write about a different artifact each week. The Special Collections boasts over 10,000 historic items, and through this column we encourage writers to explore not only the college’s history, but also the history of the world around us.

With the first snow on campus, eager students are already anticipating winter trips to the Snow Bowl to hit the slopes. While many consider skiing a crucial aspect of outdoor recreation in Vermont, the Snow Bowl and ski culture at Middlebury only rose to fame relatively recently.

Students started officially celebrating the winter season with the first Winter Carnival, originally Winter Holiday, in 1920. Initially, competing athletes skied down Chipman Hill, where a 27-meter ski jump was constructed.

Serious interest in the sport exploded in the 1930s after the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. “Ski fever” gripped New England. The first trails at the Snow Bowl were cut in 1934, and Middlebury hired its first paid ski coach just three years later. The Middlebury men’s alpine ski team put itself on the map with its first Winter Carnival victory in 1939. The women’s alpine team also rose to fame in the 1940s, with a roster which included Middlebury’s first Winter Olympian, Becky Fraser ’46.

Although the popularity of skiing declined during World War II, it rebounded after the war’s conclusion, and the program created more Olympians, including Leslie D. Streeter ’55. Streeter, pictured in this 1954 photo, won the NCAA Skimeister Title in 1955 and continued skiing after graduation. He raced in almost every international competition from 1953 to 1957, and in 1956 he was named to the U.S. Olympic Ski Team and competed in Italy.

Streeter was a lifelong skier, and he opened a ski shop in Vail, C.O. before dying in a plane crash in Wyoming in 1986. Despite this tragic end, Streeter remains one of many impressive athletes from the college’s early ski days.

Before the days of printed plastic ski bibs, athletes like Streeter used cotton cloth bibs.

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This ski pinny was worn by one of Streeter’s teammates, captain Peter Webber ’57. This artifact from Special Collections is from the 1956 NCAA Skiing Championships held in Winter Park, C.O. That year, Middlebury established itself as a skiing star, finishing in third behind the University of Denver and Dartmouth College.

Over the next couple of decades, the college worked to improve the Snow Bowl. Ralph O. Myhre, its manager from 1951 to 1978, helped pioneer the development of a more modern facility.

In his book “The Strength of the Hills,” historian David M. Stameshkin estimated that in the 1960s and 1970s, about 30 percent of students purchased passes and 90 percent of students who skied frequented the Snow Bowl.

In addition to old skiing action shots and team photos, Special Collections contains various Winter Carnival and Snow Bowl-related paraphernalia, including colorful decals that would have been placed on notebooks and suitcases..

Today, the Snow Bowl is one of only two college-owned ski mountains in the country and remains a popular destination during the winter months for skiers of all levels and ages. Although cotton bibs and notebook decals have been upgraded to printed bibs and water bottle stickers, a love for the Snow Bowl and skiing endure at Middlebury.

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Charlie Keohane

Charlie Keohane ’24 (she/her) is an Editor at Large. She previously served as the SGA Correspondent and a Senior Writer.   

She is an environmental writing major and a psychology minor from Northern California. Outside of academics, Charlie is a Senior Admissions Fellow at the Middlebury Admissions Office. She also is involved with the women’s track team and hosts Witching Hour, a radio show on 91.1 WRMC. In Spring 2023, she studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, watching Greta Gerwig movies, polar plunging, sending snail mail, and FaceTiming her rescue dog, Poppy.