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  • by Tom Eastman

Making a Sporting Contribution

On the Slopes with Norma Haynes

Norma Haynes can spot a good skier when she sees one, but her analysis doesn't stop with how well a person stems or parallels. In her observant eyes, a person's skiing style provides as much of an in-depth insight into their character and personality as any Rorschach inkblot test does.

"You can tell a lot about a person by watching the way that they make their way down a slope," Norma asserted while reviewing the techniques of a few hotshots as they bombed down Mt. Cranmore last Saturday afternoon. When one uses the same method to assess Norma's smooth skiing, it quickly becomes apparent that the energetic co-director of the Hannes Schneider Ski School knows more than a little about how to enjoy life.

A ski instructor at Mt. Cranmore ever since she was asked by Hannes Schneider to join his staff to help teach children in 1951, Norma is very much a product of the ski community of Mt. Washington Valley. Exuberant and friendly as well as knowledgeable, her enthusiasm for the outdoors in general, and skiing in particular, have always been Norma's trademarks. Fit and active, she shows little sign of slowing down at age 52, and is proud of the fact that she has never missed a day of work at the ski school in all of the 30 years that she has been working there. In the process, she and her husband Bob have helped raise a family of four children, two of whom both serve as ski instructors. If, as Norma believes, there is a certain gift or knack for ski teaching, it can be safely said that the Haynes all have uncovered it.

"When I took up skiing as a young girl, there weren't that many other girls skiing. I certainly never envisioned that I'd ever have the opportunity to make a living at it," Norma commented during a chairlift conversation on the way up Cranmore. Feeling very much at ease in her natural element in the outdoors, she explained that skiing has afforded her and the Haynes family with a variety of rewarding and memorable experiences. "We've always enjoyed skiing and it has allowed us to meet people whom we might not otherwise have been able to. But we've also always tried to stress that there are other things in life, and that while skiing has its place, it's not the most important thing in the world," Norma stated.

A lifelong resident of Mt. Washington Valley, Norma was the third of six children and the third of three daughters born to the Ashnault family who lived on Artist Falls Road in North Conway. Although the sport of skiing was still in its early stages of development in the Valley in her youth, it was already a strong tradition in the Ashnault family. Norma's uncles, Bernie and Owen Ashnault, were active ski jumpers and had finished first and second in competition held in 1922 at the old Whitehorse Ledge ski jump in North Conway. Norma's parents also enjoyed the outdoors, and often took the family sledding in winter and on summer mountain climbs. When guests or her mother's relatives came to visit from Massachusetts in the summer, Norma and her brothers would guide them on hikes in the Valley. By the time she was 12, young Norma had already scaled all of the 4,000 footers in the White Mountains.

"I always was a tomboy, much more so that my older sisters," recalls Norma. "I seemed to identify more with my younger brothers." Whether horseback riding, hiking or skating on a pair of skates given to her by a close family friend, Mrs. Harvey Dow Gibson, Norma relished the exercise. She was also extremely appreciative and aware of the support given to her by the small town community which Mt. Washington Valley was in those days in the 1930s.

"I've felt very lucky to have been brought up in the Valley when I was, and it sometimes bothers me to think that we might have lost some of the nicer things about life here when the community was a lot smaller," Norma explained. Recalling the individuals who helped her and other local children of modest means get their start in a number of activities, Norma said the Valley in those days we still small enough for an individual to make a real difference. "North Conway back then was a place that was still very much a close-knit community. There were a lot of adults such as Chubb Whitaker, Gladys Carter, and the Gibsons who really took an interest in the children to make life more enjoyable for us. They all influenced us in many ways by teaching us how to skate, offering us prizes, and encouraging us to test ourselves." Norma stated.

It wasn't until the winter of 1935-36 that Norma expanded her variety of outdoor activities to include skiing. Receiving her first pair of skis at the age of six, she recalls that their versatility compensated for what they lacked in cosmetic appeal. "They were blue and beat-up, but when you attached a jar rubber or strip from an inner tube onto them to serve as your binding, they could be used both as a cross country and downhill ski," Norma laughed. "They may have been large and crude, but unlike kids today, we didn't know any different. We simply enjoyed the chance to ski."

Skiing's popularity had been growing significantly throughout the 1930s, but the sport was still very much the interest of collegians and urban dwellers rather than that of most North Country residents. Still, there were a few other local youngsters in the Valley along with Norma who were fortunate enough to receive a pair of skis. Strapping on their over sized boards with their rough bindings, the children would head to North Conway's Birchmont Slope - upon which now sits the Red Jacket's Mountainview Inn - or to the Thompson family's rope tow on Birch Hill on West Side Road. Although they received little if any formal instruction, the children benefited from skiing with locals such as Arthur Doucette who were then taking to the slopes and exerting a helpful influence.

More structured ski instruction began in the winter of 1937-38 with the foundling of the Eastern Slope Ski Club's Junior Program. At a time when few local youngsters could afford the cost of ski equipment, the program was founded to give as many youngsters as possible the opportunity to learn how to ski. Under the program, local boys and girls paid only $2.00 for an entire ski outfit.

Due to the Club's early financial limitations, the Junior Program originally permitted only one pair of skis per family. In the Ashnault clan, that one pair was allotted to Norma's older sister in accordance with the hierarchal structure common to many families. More often that not, however, it was Norma who strapped them on, "borrowing" them from her not-overly pleased older sibling.

"We had our arguments," Norma recalls, "but I was always the one more interested in skiing. My sisters weren't as active as I was, but it also was a matter of timing. They were older, while I was at an age to learn how to ski which coincided with the sport's growth and development here in the Valley." At any rate, Norma skied on the long 200 centimeter skis with an abandon and enthusiasm which has not diminished to this day.

North Conway resident Arthur Callan served as director of the Junior Program in those early years, fresh from taking his own lessons under the guidance of Austrian skiing great Benno Rybizka of the Hannes Schneider Ski School of St. Anton, Austria. The youthful Callan gave Valley youngsters lessons in Bartlett, Jackson, and in North Conway in those early years, with Norma Ashnault receiving instruction in North Conway. When the awards were given out at the Program's first annual banquet in 1938 by financier Harvey Gibson and his friend, broadcaster Lowell Thomas, Norma received the honors in the combined nordic and alpine category.

The years passed by and as the sport of skiing grew in Mt. Washington Valley, the Junior Program and Norma Ashnault grew with it. When Austria ski legend Hannes Schneider and his family arrived in the Valley in January 1939 to mark a new era in the sport and the birth of modern skiing in America, Norma was one of the school children involved with the Junior Program who welcomed them with an archway of ski poles at the North Conway Depot. Snow trains brought skiers up from Boston to the Valley's slopes as well, as interest in skiing was on the upswing.

Norma's own interest in skiing was heightened when she began racing in the winter of 1940-41 at the age of 10. Her first coach was Bob Davis, founder of A.D.Davis Insurance and an early organizer of the Eastern Slope Ski Club. Although not an active skier himself, Norma recalls that Bob made sure that the racers got to the races at Cranmore and the old Wildcat Ski Trail on time. "We'd have breakfast at Mr. Davis's house on race days and then pile into his car to head to the races," laughs Norma. "I was a good racer by that era's standards, but you have to realize the there weren't many girls racing, too. Skiing meant climbing up the slopes in many cases, and not many girls were that inclined to do so back then." While Norma's racing didn't do much for her popularity with her employers at Runnell's Hall where she worked as a waitress during high school, it did improve her skiing. "My managers at work felt that the racing interfered with my work schedule, but I went anyway," Norma elaborated.

The waitressing job had its educational benefits as well, however, as Norma learned some of the lessons which she says have helped keep her pointed in the right direction all her life. "My mother always taught us to smother people with friendliness rather than the alternative, In the old days, we catered to the people who came up from the cities, and you had to learn to be pleasant," says Norma. "On the whole, you learn the important lesson that you only get paid in life what you contribute."

Combined with patience, compassion, and equivalent amounts of enthusiasm and knowledge, it was that friendly, winning personality which led to Norma's successful career as a ski instructor. Following her marriage to fellow Kennett High School graduate and Cranmore Mountain ski patrol member Bob Haynes and the birth of three of her children, Norma began teaching youngsters in the Junior Program, which had contributed to her skiing background as a young girl. A phone call from Hannes Schneider one afternoon in 1951 when Norma was 22 opened the door for her invitation to become an instructor for the Hannes Schneider Ski School.

The school at the time limited teaching to children who were at least of seven years in age or no older than 12. Simply put, Norma says that most of the male instructors lacked the patience for dealing with the young skiers and would have preferred not teaching them. "Hannes knew that I was good with kids, and called me to see if I'd be interested in working at the school handling the younger children. I was honored," recalls Norma.

At any rate, Norma became the first female instructor at the Hannes Schneider Ski School that winter, wholly in charge of teaching the youngsters. It proved to be a winning match. "I've always liked working with kids - you can fool adults sometimes, but not children," laughs Norma. "As long as you're fair, they'll do anything for you. As an instructor, you don't really teach them as much as give them the opportunity to learn. They'll then learn by rote, unlike adults who seem to be able to learn better from verbal communication."

Over the years, Norma has worked with three generations of skiers, many of whom now return to Cranmore with their children to learn from the same patient and fun-loving woman who introduced them to the sport. Students in the beginning were mostly non-local children whose parents could afford to have their children take lessons, but Mt. Washington Valley kids have become active in classes over the last two decades or so. among them have been such eventual skiing standouts as current Dartmouth coach Tim Fisher, Terry and Tyler Palmer, David Currier, and Abbi Fisher, as well as Norma's sons, Phil and Bobby.

Norma received her PSIA certification in 1962 qualifying her to instruct adults, yet she continues to devote the majority of her talents to teaching youngsters. whether working on the relatively flat lower parking lot area hill at Cranmore, or on Cranmore's slopes, her primary emphasis has always been to help her students enjoy themselves. "Anyone can go straight down a hill, and I'll be the first to admit that speed is fun, but turning truly is an art to be mastered and enjoyed. I try to get across to my kids that it's like driving a car - it's always important to be in control, and to make the ski turn where you want it to," explained Norma, "But you've got to be able to make it fun to learn, for both adults and children. A good instructor has to be able to analyze someone critically without making the student feel bad. It's a matter of patience and compassion.

After Hannes Schneider's death in 1955, the direction of his ski school was left to his son, Herbert, and Austrian ski meister Eddie Mall. Mall returned to Austria in the early 1970s, at which time Bernie Peters of North Conway stepped in to head the school with Herbert for a few years. When Peters stepped down from the post in 1973, Norma Haynes was named to succeed him as co-director of the Hannes Schneider Ski School. In addition, she served as director of the ESSC, Junior program for 10 years.

Handling everything from the public relations, supervision of personnel, and book-keeping, and various other tasks, Norma is in charge of 12 full-time and up to 55 weekend instructors at Mt. Cranmore. Serving as her technical instructor in charge of critiquing fellow instructors' techniques and teaching methods is Norma's son Phil. Meanwhile, son Bobby serves as director of the ski school at King Pine Ski Area in Madison. Husband Bob provides expert ski advice in the ski department of the Joe Jones Sports Shop in North Conway when not serving on the ski patrol at Cranmore on weekends as he has for the past 40 years.

"We're a skiing family, but we all realize that it is only a three month a year job, and I've always encouraged my kids to try out other ventures and experiences rather than be "ski bums" - persons who put skiing above everything else," Norma reflected while enjoying a warm cup of coffee inside the ski school building at the end of a fine sunny day at Mt. Cranmore. Thirty years before, she said that she preferred not to enter the building when she was the only female instructor, as she respected the unstated domain of the male instructors. Times change.

As a trail grooming crew headed out onto the glistening slopes in the Thiokol machine under the light of a nearly full February moon, Norma commented that skiing - and the Valley - are both nonetheless very special. "I've been a ski instructor for 30 years, and I'd have to say that I like it most because I enjoy being around people and because I love the outdoors," she stated. "I've always liked the skiing breed, and it seems to be the one thing that delineates people in this Valley - you either ski, or you don't. But there's a lot more to be enjoyed here on a year-round basis that's very special to us. We have our friends, the beautiful Valley, our sports - I'd say that we've received a lot of rewards from our experiences here."

Like those individuals who influenced her in her youth, Norma is living proof that the Valley is still a community where one person can make a difference. As she said, it's all a matter of getting paid back in life for what you contribute. One doesn't have to watch Norma Haynes ski down a slope to realize that she has contributed a lot.


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