Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Woman Behind the First American Ski Lodge

Pecketts on Sugar Hill, an illustrious northern New Hampshire resort in the early 20th century, didn't start out as a "ski house" at all...but it evolved to have a special place in the history of American skiing.  And it was a woman who made that happen.

Pecketts on Sugar Hill was originally an upscale resort that catered to clientele who vacationed in northern New Hampshire in the summertime:

But after studying culinary arts in Europe, the inn owner's daughter returned home with new ideas that went way beyond cooking skills.  She had noticed that the resorts in Europe embraced the winter, and offered their guests winter activities -- particularly skiing.  So she encouraged her parents to develop their business by introducing skiing into their business model.

And thus, Katherine Peckett (1906-1999) was largely responsible for starting the ski resort /ski school industry in America.  Although Sig Buchmayr was credited with establishing the first ski seems that Katherine actually deserves the credit. Not to take away from the substantive contributions of Sig Buchmayr (and others), but as was typical of the pre-war (WWII) era, women just didn't get the credit they deserved.  It was Katherine that took note of the ski industry in Europe while she was there to study culinary arts.  She was the one who then encouraged her parents, to develop their winter business by offering guests skiing.  It was Katherine who in 1928-29 recruited two German, and then three Austrian skiers to come to teach skiing at their inn. And it was she who, in 1929, actually cleared and developed a ski slope on their property, thus establishing America's first ski school (which she staffed with those European ski instructors including Sig Buchmayr) to promote winter business at the inn.  (Skiing Heritage, Sept. 2005, Vol. 17, No. 3).

Peckett's-on-Sugar Hill is widely recognized as the first ski school in America...

          ...but it seems to me that Katherine should have at least been mentioned on the historical marker, too.

Further glamorizing the new winter sport of skiing, the Pecketts (...probably Katherine with her European culinary ideas) also introduced al fresco winter picnic lunches cooked over an outdoor fire in the snow, and cozy apres-ski "teas" in front of the fireplace (according to Franconia and Sugar Hill, by Arthur F. March, Jr.).  It must have been glorious in the 1930's!

Pecketts-on-Sugar Hill became the first ski resort, and remained the only New England ski resort for the next ten years, hosting an array of impressive guests such as Nelson Rockefeller, Averill Harriman, and Lowell Thomas.

A few rare old post cards of Pecketts-on-Sugar Hill reveal a glimpse of the elegance of the inn in its heyday:
(you can see the edge of what looks like a huge stone fireplace in what appears to be an expansive living area/sun-room/sitting room...

...and for even more "apres-ski" elegance, this was the dining room...

What remains today are a few of the smaller buildings on the property of Pecketts-on-Sugar Hill.  You can even rent some of them (check them out on vrbo).

To me (especially now during Women's History month) the most significant thing about this ski house, is that it led to the now ubiquitous ski-school that we all expect at the ski resorts we go to, and it led to the creation of an entire new business model, the ski lodge.  And it seems to me that none of it would have occurred (at least not as early as the 1920's and 30's) if not for the efforts of Katherine Peckett.  And for that, she is the one who deserves a mountain of credit.  While things continue to improve, the imbalance still occurs today, almost a century later:  women routinely take / receive less credit for their work than men do.  So, on Women's History Week, (despite the bronze plaque giving the full credit to a man)...I want to give Katherine Peckett her due.  After all,  she deserves the credit for envisioning the American's first ski school and New England's first ski lodge, and taking the steps to make them happen.