Ski notebook

Honor sits well with ex-Olympian Pitou

By T.D Thornton
Globe Correspondent / December 3, 2009

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Penny Pitou is flattered and humbled that Gunstock, in Gilford, N.H., is naming its new beginners’ chairlift after her, but the first American to win an Olympic downhill medal would be moved even more if a young skier rode it to a podium finish.

“Wouldn’t it be something if a young girl or boy learns to ski there, rides the lift, and one day is standing on the podium at an Olympic event?’’ the 1960 double silver medalist said by phone. “You have to start somewhere.’’

Pitou grew up skiing at Gunstock at age 8 when it was called the Belknap Recreation Area. She started beating the boys in high school races, hiding her blond hair under her hat since no girls were allowed on the team. One day she fell during a race and the secret was out. She was asked to leave the team.

“That made me angry and put the fire in my gut,’’ she said.

Pitou, who owns a travel agency in Laconia, N.H., went on to win silver medals in the downhill and giant slalom at Squaw Valley. She also competed in the 1956 Cortina Olympics.

Married to Austrian Olympic skier Egon Zimmerman, the pair also ran the Penny Pitou Ski School at Gunstock for several years.

The new Penny Pitou Silver Medal Quad is part of a $3.5 million expansion and is the focus of a renovated beginners’ area at the Lakes Region ski area. Pitou plans to be on hand for the Dec. 12 dedication.

She’s also set to attend a 50th reunion at Squaw Valley in January with family members, including her ski-racing grandkids, Zane and Zoe Zimmerman, ages 9 and 7.

“I’m going to ski with my grandchildren on the downhill,’’ she said. “It’ll bring back old memories and some of my teammates will be there as well.’’

Off-trail at Mittersill
Cannon Mountain is making progress in the reawakening of the adjacent Mittersill Alpine Resort, which ceased operation as a commercial ski hill in 1984 but has long been coveted as a not-so-secret, out-of-bounds stash for skiers who explore off piste.

After a long-anticipated exchange of federal and state lands last March, 100 acres of the upper portion of Mittersill joined New Hampshire’s network of state-run recreational property. In exchange, the 244-acre Sentinel Mountain Forest, which is near the Connecticut River in Grafton County and contains a quarter-mile section of the Appalachian Trail, was handed over to the US Forest Service.

According to Cannon’s website, the terrain on Mittersill will be managed as a “lift-accessed backcountry area.’’ Some offseason thinning and brush cutting has improved ease of access, but care has been taken not to disturb the rough, natural character of Mittersill, which will initially have no snowmaking, little grooming, and limited patrolling. Because of this, the area will be designated “extra hazardous.’’

A shuttle service will transport skiers from the base of Mittersill to the existing base lodges at Cannon on weekends and holidays. A new Mittersill double chair is expected to be operational about a year from now.

Freeman eyes podium
Kris Freeman is in Davos, Switzerland, stepping up his training with the Olympics in his sights following a career-best fourth-place showing last Sunday in a 15-kilometer classic race in Finland.

Freeman’s effort was the best non-sprint World Cup finish by an American male since 1983, when Tim Caldwell took second in an Anchorage 15-kilometer race.

“The coaches have worked with him to develop a better race-long pace,’’ US Ski Team spokesman Tom Kelly said in an e-mail. “He had had a tendency in the past to go out really strong, then fade in the final stretch.’’

Freeman, from Andover, N.H., placed 22d in the 15-kilometer freestyle World Cup opener in Norway last month. He plans to compete in the World Cup Dec. 12-13 at Davos.

Surprising standings
Based on data compiled by the National Ski Areas Association, there were 481 active ski resorts in the United States at the start of last season. Intuitively, you might think the bulk of those businesses would be clustered in the Northeast or in the Rocky Mountain states. But once you get past list-topping New York (50 commercial mountains), the state-by-state standings take a discernible shift toward flatter territory.

Michigan (38), Wisconsin (34), and Pennsylvania (32) rank second through fourth in number of operational areas. New Hampshire is seventh, with 26 resorts. Farther down the list are Vermont (24), Maine (19), Massachusetts (13), and Connecticut (5).

Rhode Island is one of four states with only one active ski area. Trying to come up with the other three - Alabama, Maryland, and Tennessee - is a good way to kill time with trivia on a chairlift ride.

Dancer still has dream
Louie Vito is done dancing and now focused on an upcoming Olympic halfpipe qualifier, the US Snowboarding Grand Prix at Colorado’s Copper Mountain Dec. 12. The Sandy, Utah, rider who attended Vermont’s Stratton Mountain School was a contestant on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars’’ and still found time to train. “I’ve been working out and trying to be really strong and get the tricks you need to nail to qualify. It’s kind of just like a dream come true if you make it. It’s a goal of mine and any time you reach your goal it’s a rewarding feeling. So I’m going to do it,’’ he said in a statement. Vito’s the back-to-back US Snowboarding Grand Prix tour champ who failed to make the US Olympic team in 2006 . . . Mount Sunapee has a couple of Cares and Shares Days Dec. 6 and 13. Donate five nonperishable food items and purchase a $30 lift ticket. Okemo has its own Cares and Shares Day for local families and food shelters Dec. 13. A donation of at least three nonperishable food items, a new kid’s toy, or clothing item nets a $25 lift ticket. Bring three cans of food to Sugarloaf’s Tin Mountain Round Up Dec. 5-6 for a $30 lift ticket . . . Sunday River’s gearing up for its 50th birthday bash Dec. 19 featuring a Dave Matthews tribute band, fire dancers, and fireworks. The River plans several $50 ticket deals throughout the season, beginning this weekend. Look for $50 tickets again Jan. 19-22, but you never know when they’ll have a special online or at the ticket window . . . Waterville Valley is responding to requests from families who want to take a lesson together instead of being separated into different age groups by instituting two new programs. First Trails is designed for parents and with kids ages 7-12 who have never skied; the Trail Along package is designed for parents who want to take part in their younger kids’ (ages 4-8) learning and snow time.

Globe correspondent Marty Basch contributed to this report