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Legacy: 1955

Fall Line
posted: 09/23/2005

Fifty winters ago, Americans got a glimpse of skiing's future when a tall, frenetic, stuttering visionary by the name of Walt Schoenknecht opened Mount Snow in southern Vermont.

In a move that would be copied by ski-area operators everywhere, Schoenknecht created wide, inviting trails-ideal for intermediate cruising. Previously, Eastern trails were narrow, serpentine slashes through the forest, difficult to maneuver and often dangerously crowded.

But that was only the beginning for the born showman. Schoenknecht installed a heated swimming pool outside his base lodge and an ice rink inside it. An air-car (below) transported guests from the Snow Lake Lodge to the lifts. Resembling a spaceship from The Jetsons, the aerial car crossed a lake, from which erupted an enormous snowmaking fountain casting water 300 feet into the air, creating a mini-Matterhorn that could be skied into July. Inside the lodge, he sculpted "Japanese dream pools"-one hot, one cold-surrounded by tropical plants.

He envisioned Mount Snow speckled with cable car-linked villages, private clubs, hotels, shops and ski trails. He drew up plans for a heated, glassed-in boardwalk for strolling, a stadium for watching races, a natural history museum to learn about the environment. Schoenknecht unsuccessfully petitioned the Atomic Energy Commission in a bid to persuade them to detonate an atomic bomb on the north side of Mt. Snow. The explosion, he explained, would create a ski bowl a third of a mile wide and 400 feet deep-with the additional benefit of "the possible opening of a new water source." Radioactivity didn't seem to concern him.

In the end, Schoenknecht had more imagination than money, leading to bankruptcy and the sale of the resort. In a fulfillment of his prediction that ski areas would one day be owned by public corporations, Mount Snow was taken over by S-K-I (now the American Skiing Co.) in 1977. S-K-I removed the aerial car, fountain, outdoor pool and tropical garden. But it dramatically improved the skiing and the lifts, even as the exotic legacy of its flamboyant founder, ever the futurist, receded into the past.

MARCH/APRIL 2005

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