Peter Mackey saw skiing grow and evolve
MIDDLEBURY — When Peter Mackey learned to ski in the 1950s, the sport looked very different than it does today.
“It was all antiquated leather boots, unsafe bindings and unshaped skis. It was a time when kids climbed up into the backyard and learned to ski at home,” he recalled in a recent interview with the Independent.
Mackey had a front row seat to observe — and take part in — the evolution in skiing as the long-time general manager of the Middlebury College Snow Bowl.
On June 22 Mackey, 66, retired after working for 40 seasons at the Snow Bowl in Hancock.
Peter Mackey’s relationship with the Snow Bowl began in 1956, when he learned to ski there at age four. At the time, his father, Stub Mackey, was the basketball coach at Middlebury College. He learned to ski by chasing friends, the sons of the alpine ski racing coach, around the college’s ski facilities.
“My brothers and I soon figured out we could get out of Sunday School through ski racing, and the rest is history,” Mackey said.
He went on to be the quarterback of the football team at Middlebury College, from which he graduated in 1974. While there, he married his wife, Sue. After graduation, Mackey tried out for the National Football League, but decided to take a more stable job teaching and coaching high school football at Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans to support their two small children. After three years, he and Sue moved back to Middlebury to run her family’s business, Waterhouses, on Lake Dunmore.
Mackey started as the manager of the ski rental shop at the Snow Bowl during the winter of 1977-1978. He worked seasonally there for nine years, where he learned to make and groom snow and worked in the ticket office.
During that time, the Snow Bowl installed snowmaking equipment and its second chairlift (the first was installed in 1969). In 2006, several trails were expanded to make them safer racing hills.
In 1987, Mackey was hired on full-time as the assistant manager.
“During the winter, I worked seven days a week up there,” Mackey said. “Our four kids all learned to ski and race at the Snow Bowl, and that was how I got to spend time with them.”
In 1995, he became the ski area’s general manager.
This past winter, he got to ski with his youngest grandchild, who, at age two, skied the Lang Trail.
Under Mackey’s leadership, the Snow Bowl has opened its slopes to uphill traffic. He helped facilitate the resort’s “Boundary to Boundary” policy, which states that skiing and snowboarding off designated trails and in the woods within the ski area boundary is allowed — at the skier’s own risk.
“For as long as I can remember, kids used to sneak into the woods to ski off-piste. The fear was that it was more dangerous and harder to regulate.”
The policy change gave skiers access to some of the best woods skiing in Vermont.
Mackey said he believes in keeping skiing affordable for locals by running a no frills, skiing-centric operation. He experienced one of the proudest moments of his career at a recent home ski race, when he overheard a coach from Suicide Six Ski Area say to a racer, “Now this is a real ski area. Not a condo in sight.”
“We have no bar, no night skiing, no housing. We’re just a family-friendly ski area that hosts high-quality racing events and tries to remain affordable to the local community, in the hopes that they can enjoy this life-long sport,” Mackey said.
PETER MACKEY, LONGTIME general manager of the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, speaks at the Vermont Ski Areas Association Annual Meeting, June 18, at Stowe Mountain Resort, where he was given an Industry Achievement Award.
Independent photo/Abagael Giles
Mackey said that in his 40 winters at the Snow Bowl, he saw ample evidence of the unique passion Vermonters have for ski racing, especially when the Snow Bowl hosted its annual Masters Ski Race series.
He recalled one cold, sunny Saturday in January when he was called to the base lodge to help register a late skier. As he watched, a green, cab-less John Deere tractor rolled into the parking lot, toward the lodge and onto the snow, where the driver backed it in as though he were parking it at the outrun of the Ross and Proctor trails. As Mackey approached, the driver lowered the tractor’s bucket, dumping a pair of poles and a ski bag onto the snow. He said, “Did I miss the second run? I missed my ride from Rochester this morning!” Mackey registered him and he made the second run.
Looking forward, Mackey says Middlebury and other resorts around the state will have to adapt to Vermont’s changing climate. He said the rapid consolidation of America’s ski industry is also a concern. As of this spring, Vail Resorts’ $899 Epic Pass offers skiers unlimited season-long access to 19 resorts, with limited access to 46. “The impact of that remains to be seen. They can offer inexpensive season passes because they sell so many, which presents a challenge to smaller, locally owned places,” Mackey said.
In retirement, Mackey is looking forward to ice fishing and skiing at the Snow Bowl with his six grandchildren. He and Sue will continue to live on Lake Dunmore but hope to do some traveling. He remembers all the times he navigated the slopes with a shovel or a bundle of racing gates while doing his job; now he’s looking forward to doing more skiing with just a pair of standard poles. Though he prefers groomed trails these days, he’s determined to chase his grandkids into the trees.
On June 14, the Vermont Ski Areas Association honored Mackey with an Industry Achievement Award for his ability to do any job on the mountain with skill and create a high caliber ski racing facility.
“I’m proud that we’ve been able to maintain and build on the history of the Bowl as a family-friendly area that hosts great races and remains affordable to the local community,” Mackey said.
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