Sitting in their sunny living room I asked Jane and Al Hobart, Fayston: “But how did you discover the Mad River Valley?” Turns out Al had skied Mad River Glen when he was in college.
“I had the feeling that I should be making something out of my life, but the other feeling won, which was to do something really athletic that I was really interested in.” The year he was recounting was 1962. He had graduated with a degree in government from Tufts and got his MBA from Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth when he was 25 years old. A financial windfall enabled him to strike out and try to figure out his true calling. He arrived in The Valley in 1963, making a perfectly timed entrance.
The local paper the Echo reported, “The Mad River Valley, which was well off any beaten track in winter 15 years ago, has boomed with the influx of skiers. This is shown by a study made by the Northfield Savings Bank that has some $1 million invested in the area.
In Fayston, where Mad River Glen is located, there were 25 houses with a value of $50,800 in 1947. As of spring 1963, there were 74 places with a total value of $1,625,190, an increase of 3000% in valuation.” So, the area was really starting to take off just as Al showed up. Jane would soon join him after finishing a BA from Wellesley College and MA from Brown.
Al: At 25 years old. I wanted to see how good I could become as a ski racer.
Jane: That was old for just getting serious about ski racing.
Al: I didn’t have a coach or anything. I just wanted to see how far I could go. One of the things I learned is that you have to practice a lot. I decided to see if I could develop a ski racing area at Mad River. There weren’t many places that were set up well to improve ski racing, I guess….”
Jane: He had to invent one.
Al: So, Roland Palmedo (Mad River Glen founder/owner) gave the go ahead and we started the Mad River Slalom Hill.
Jane: He believed in you.
Al: It appealed to him. I used to ride the rope tow up and sidestep down to pack the snow on the trail. Sometimes Roland helped but his system was to traverse the hill, do a kick turn and traverse the other way.
Jane: They didn’t have the kinds of machinery to pack such a steep trail back then.
Al: It was a very small ski area within a ski area. What’s interesting is that Janie was the person who ran the rope tow. She sat in the little house with a window looking up the hill and sold tickets from the side window.
Jane: The rope tow was funny, because riders had to go about 100 miles an hour or they couldn’t hold on all that way. It was so steep. They had to be trained just when to let go before they got to the top. Otherwise, they’d go flying into the woods.
Al: And the snow was deep too, so we had to constantly pull the rope out of the snow.
Jane: That lift shack is now the Kent Thomas Nature Center but we called it the Slalom Hillton with two LLs back then.
At this point we all dissolved in laughter, because we already knew how this story turns out. Around 1968 Jane and Al had a young baby so the Slalom Hill ended and Al focused on coaching with the Valley Junior Racing Club that skied at all three ski areas. George Hall, Mary Kerr and Joe Kerr became a kind of board for the endeavor of training kids, but it was clear that young people couldn’t really be competitive just skiing on weekends. By 1970 Burke and Stratton had started full-time student programs and were getting the best athletes.
Al had won some Masters’ races and was coaching with other well-educated friends -- John Schultz and Bill Moore. The three wanted more challenge so they decided to start their own academic and ski racing program in the Mad River Valley. Al handled the business, Bill taught humanities and John physical science and math. And Jane? It was Al who told me she specialized in life sciences but was a master of many subject areas. When the need arose, she could teach everything from biology to French. Ashley Cadwell came on board with an actual teaching license that helped them to get acceptance from the state of Vermont.
By November of 1973 12 families had committed their children to the new ski program. Four lived with the Hobarts. They also rented the nearby Bride house for the other eight student athletes. There were no classrooms yet. All that would come later. The next year they moved to the Schultzes’ house and barn in Moretown. Then in 1978, Dick Brothers approached the group when his mother wanted to sell the family farm on Moulton Road. That’s where Green Mountain Valley School was born. The original farmhouse is still on the campus along with a newer structure, the main office/dining space, now called the Hobart Building.
Mary Kathleen Mehuron lives in Waitsfield and writes novels. She taught math and science at GMVS for 13 years.