- By Tom Eastman with Karen Cummings
Carroll Reed's Story of Success
Skiing and Carroll Reed go together. Unfortunately, in the public's mind, this may only be the case because the Carroll Reed Ski Shop has been known for selling quality ski clothes and equipment since first founded in 1937. Most people are not aware of the pivotal role that Reed has played in the ski industry of the Mt. Washington Valley and the Northeast since he first traveled north in the early 1930s to try the new ski trails cut by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
On Saturday, October 25 , the village of Jackson, New Hampshire, kicked off its "Jackson Skiing Legends" program with the unveiling of a bronze plaque mounted in granite to commemorate the founding of the Eastern Slope Ski School by this same Carroll Reed in 1936. Celebrating 50 years of organized skiing, the plaque is a replica of the original sign for the ski school which read, "Eastern Slope Ski School/ Headquarters/ Carroll Reed/ ESSS/ American Branch/ Hannes Schneider's Ski School/ St. Anton Am Arlberg, Austria/ Benno Rybizka/ Ski Master." Carroll and his wife and business partner, Kay Reed, were the special guest hosts for the ceremony.
Now 81 and a summer resident, with Kay, of Kearsarge, New Hampshire, Carroll will probably always be better known as the namesake of the clothing and sporting goods store than as an early ski promoter. Those unknowledgeable about skiing's heritage in the Northeast might even be surprised to know that a person named "Carroll Reed" really exists.
Raised in Boston, Reed was working for John Hancock Insurance in that city and attending night school at Boston University when he took his first ski trip to the White Mountains in the early 1930s. Staying at the Moody Farm in Jackson--now known as Whitneys' Village Inn and Black Mountain--Reed and his colleagues took to the early ski trails and farm pastures that dotted the Wildcat River Valley with the hell-bent abandon and energy of youth, honing their technique from their mistakes.
It was on a ski trip to the mountains in the spring of 1934 that the then 29-year-old Reed suffered a serious fall which broke his back, an accident which unknowingly propelled him onto later achievements.
After climbing and skiing Mt. Chocorua one afternoon, Reed and his companions headed north to Pinkham Notch to enjoy another full day of schussing on the notorious Wildcat Ski Trail. On the last run of the day as the sun was setting behind Mt. Washington, the soft corn snow turned to ice and at a spot where a brook ran from the woods across the trail, the conditions were particularly icy. Reed was the group's lead-off man, and hit the patch at full tilt. Losing control, his skis came out from under him, and he careened off the trail into a tree.
The accident immediately paralyzed him from the waist down. In those pre-ski lift days, there was no such thing as a ski patrolman--just concerned fellow skiers. Eventually, they were able to drag a toboggan up from the bottom of the mountain and carry the injured Reed down the icy, rough trail to a truck which transported him to Memorial Hospital in North Conway.
A week after being operated upon by a neurosurgeon brought up from Mass. General, the feeling in Reed's legs began to return. It wasn't until19 weeks later, however, that he was able to leave the facility. While recuperating, Reed read a story in an issue of Appalachia magazine about European ski schools which predicted that they would, in time, also proliferate in the United States. Told at the time by former Olympic skier Charlie Proctor that Jackson was an ideal spot to locate a school because of the blow over of snow from Mt. Washington, Reed decided that the time had arrived in the area then known as the Eastern Slope Region, and set about the task of convincing others to share in his endeavor.
"I felt that the ski school could accomplish two major goals," Carroll recalled. If others could earn to ski properly, he noted, then perhaps the risk of skiing accidents similar to his would be lessened. Furthermore, the sport needed the influx of knowledgeable instructors from Europe if it was to continue developing, a growth which ,in turn, would benefit the then-slow winter economy of the local mountain villages. As Reed said at the time, "It goes without saying that the Ski School should bring to this area the prestige that is necessary to build the Eastern Slope to be the ski center of the East. Naturally," he added, "it will take time for us to build up the reputation that this section should rightfully have, as well as the cooperation of everyone to put the program through."
It did take time for Reed to get his plan for a ski school off the ground. As he enlisted the support of fellow Valley residents who had just recently formed the Eastern Slope Ski Club, he also became involved with the retail aspect of the ski business in the fall of 1936. Saks Fifth Avenue opened ski stores in both Sun Valley, Idaho, and tiny Jackson that year, with Reed hired by the president of the company as the manager of the latter shop at a salary of $25 per week.
Located in what is now the Wildcat Tavern, the small store sold ski apparel and equipment, both of which later became staples of Carroll Reed's business when he opened his own store at the same location the following winter. Upon the advice of his friend, Mary Bird, who had just returned from competing on the first women's US Ski Team in the 1936 Winter Olympics, Reed wrote to an Austrian ski instructor, Benno Rybizka, prior to the winter of 1936-37, about his plans for a ski school. Recommended both for his skiing ability as well as his command of English, Rybizka taught at Austrian ski great Hannes Schneider's school at St. Anton am Arlberg. The asking price for the season was $1000 down--big money in those days.
To finance the endeavor, Reed approached every innkeeper in Mt. Washington Valley from Conway to Bartlett and Jackson, asking for donations of $1.00 per room. "That would amount to a lot today, since the Valley has grown so much," Carroll now remarks, "but back then, this town virtually rolled up the sidewalks and hibernated in the winter and there weren't that many inns open." To supplement the amount donated by the innkeepers, Reed used his persuasive powers and down-to-earth integrity to convince others to contribute to the cause. "Ralph Bradley, a Boston businessman who also belonged to the White Mountain Ski Runners Club, loaned me $1000 to get the ball rolling," Carroll related.
Financing assured, Rybizka arrived n the winter of 1936-37 to teach at the school's headquarters in Jackson. The season proved to be one of the worst in memory due to lack of snow accumulation, with many of the classes conducted on the smooth slopes of the Eagle Mountain House golf course above Jackson Village. "We literally skied on a combination of light snow and sheep manure that winter," Carroll noted, saying that the golf course had been sufficiently fertilized prior to the start of the season. Combined with the light snow, it provided an adequate cover for skiing. "Something like ball bearings," he added.
Undaunted by the snow drought, Reed introduced Rybizka to Mt. Washington Valley. Free classes for locals were immediately scheduled, with Carroll asking a few local men to attend a training session with the' Austrian skimeister. "Benno didn't want to hire anyone as an instructor who already had learned how to ski," Carroll said. Preferring instead to work with young local athletic men whom he could train properly in the Arlberg method taught in Austria, Rybizka hand picked his instructors and soon had them enrolled in a strenuous program designed to create teachers.
Despite the lack of snow, Reed's Eastern Slope Ski School gave 6000 lessons that first year, with teachers and students skiing some days in raincoats. Innkeepers noted that what normally would have been a disastrous season turned out to be better than they'd hoped--the fascination of the ski classes held the winter visitors in the mountains even without the snow. So happy were the innkeepers whose rooms had been filled with the burgeoning number of students that they agreed to Reed's plan to send the local instructors to Austria that spring for further schooling in the Alps under Rybizka. The entire Valley contributed to the effort through various raffles and other fundraisers. Reed--as president and owner of the ski school--personally paid for half the trip himself, and also loaned each of his instructors $100 in cash. "All of the money we made that winter went for that trip," he said. The result was that the young men traveled to Europe with the skimeister, and arrived back home better schooled and more proficient in their new profession.
In addition to introducing Benno Rybizka and his modern teaching methods to the Northeast that winter, Reed also successfully aroused the interest of philanthropist and financier Gibson in the developing sport: Reed had paid a visit to the North Conway native and president of the influential Manufacturers Trust Company en route to meeting Rybizka in New York earlier in the year, relating his ideas about the school and the potential that skiing promised for the North east's economy. Impressed that Reed came only to talk and not to ask him for any financial help, Gibson later accompanied his step-daughter when she enrolled for a few ski lessons at Reed's school in Jackson the following January of 1937. A man of vision and action, Gibson thereupon decided that if Jackson could be a ski resort, then so could his home town of North Conway.
Buying North Conway's Lookout Mountain three weeks later for the purpose of developing it as a ski resort (after renaming it Mt. Cranmore), Gibson prevailed upon Reed to move a ropetow to the area from Jackson. Never used at its former location on Thorn Mountain due to the poor snow season in '36-'37, Reed agreed to Gibson's request. "Mr. Gibson said he'd pay to have it moved and said that I could retain ownership of the lift," Carroll explained. Gibson also bought the former Hotel Randall that summer to complement his plans for transforming North Conway into a major ski resort, and renamed it the Eastern Slope Inn. An outlet of the Carroll Reed Ski Shop of Jackson opened in the inn that fall, while a branch of the Eastern Slope Ski School was established at Mt. Cranmore.
As history has recorded, Harvey Gibson's plans for transforming North Conway were completed the following year when he used his influence to secure the release of ski great Hannes Schneider from the Nazis in February 1939. Gibson bought stock in the Eastern Slope Ski School from Carroll Reed, paying Carroll $25 a week for five years, and handed over the direction of the ski school to Schneider upon his arrival in North Conway. A new era had arrived in the development of skiing in Mt. Washington Valley, fulfilling both Gibson's and Reed's dreams of establishing the region as the major ski resort in the East.
With the capital from his sale of the ski school, Carroll and his wife Kay addressed their attention to the growing retail business. Moving from the Eastern Slope Inn to a small building on Main Street in the center of North Conway, they soon started expanding and produced their first catalogue in the fall of 1939. The Reeds worked together and with their faithful staff were able to make the business a leader in the clothing and sporting goods field over the ensuing years. "I always told my employees that they worked for our customers, and not for me," Carroll notes today. "We stressed integrity and quality, and it paid off."
Not ones to shirk from civic duties, Carroll and Kay spent half of their time overseeing their business and raising their family of three daughters, and the rest of the hours serving on community boards. From serving as president of the Eastern Slope Ski Club in the '40s, and as Memorial Hospital Trustees, to serving on the local school boards, the Reeds strongly believed in returning the favors that the community bestowed upon them in their years of business.
After working long and hard to nurture the business, the couple sold their nationally-known store in October1969, to Charles M. Leighton of CML, the current owners of the successful venture. At the age of 65, Carroll said that it was simple time for him to step down and let someone else take the reins of the growing company. "I'm a believer in the Peter Principle--everyone has a certain optimum capacity, and we'd reached ours," he explained. "It was time to let someone else with more business expertise take over and direct the company through that growth."
Now enjoying the warmth at their winter home on an island off the Gulf Coast of Florida, the Reeds recently helped to kickoff the "Jackson Skiing Legends" celebration. Filmed answering questions and relating the legendary tales of the people and circumstances that were instrumental in making skiing the primary winter sport that it is now, Carroll and Kay will be part of the golden anniversary celebration when it continues on Thursday, December 11, and runs through Sunday, December 14. Sponsored by the Jackson Resort Association, the commemoration, to be held throughout the village of Jackson, will include on-snow skiing demonstrations complete with period costumes and equipment, torchlight parades, film festivals and a return (on Saturday, December 13) to 1936 rates for lifts and ski school at Black Mountain. Though unable to attend the rest of the golden anniversary celebrations, the Reeds will always be a part of skiing history. As Dick May, longtime spokesman for Wildcat Mountain and a ski school student from that first season, noted, "I've always felt that Carroll was the key individual who provided the original inspiration here in Mt. Washington Valley for looking at skiing as a business that could benefit the entire region."