Today is Wendy Cram’s 90th birthday. My first job was folding ski sweaters at Wendy’s Ski Shop in Manchester Center, Vermont when I was in 8th grade. He’s one of those rare adults who never treated me as a little kid and his stories and lifestyle left a big impression on me.
I recently spent the day with Wendy in Stowe, VT. He re-told some of my favorite old stories over a glass of red wine and laughs. Wendy (Wendell) was born in Bridgewater, Vermont in 1920, near the home of Bunny Bertram’s famous rope tow in Woodstock. The rope tow, being within miles of his home had a huge influence on Wendy’s life.
Learning to ski on long wooden skis and using ski poles made from wooden dowels capped with tin can lids for baskets, Wendy proved a natural athlete and excelled at skiing.
Setting the Rope Tow record at Suicide Six
By 1937 Wendy was a strong skier and a budding racer. He decided to take on the challenge of logging the most skiing vertical in one day at Suicide Six ski area (325’ vertical drop) using Bunny’s rope tow which was powered by a Model T engine.
As Wendy tells the story, “We were getting all these reports of records being set in Europe for the most vertical skied in a day using lifts, so we decided to try to set our own record on the rope tow!”
He continues to explain how a banked snow ramp was built at the bottom of the lift so he could ski up to the rope without slowing down, grab on, and be pulled up the hill without missing a beat. The rope tow’s speed was accelerated for the day.
Starting at dawn and running until dusk, he ate sandwiches on the short ride to the top of the hill to keep his energy up. Though, he can’t quite remember the total vertical feet, he skied a hundred and some runs and says his record still stands. “I went through three pair of mittens on the tow that day,” he laughed.
Wendy around 1939
1940 Olympic Ski Team Member
Wendy was named to the 1940 Olympic Ski Team in Norway, the year the Olympics were cancelled due to World War II. His navy blue Olympic sweater now hangs in the Vermont Ski Museum in Stowe, VT.
Wendy with his 1940 Olympic Team sweater
The 10th Mountain Division
In 1943 he shipped out to Camp Hale, Colorado as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division. Because he was an expert skier and racer he was assigned to the elite position of ski instructor. There soldiers trained at altitude to fight and survive under the most brutal mountain conditions, on skis and snowshoes, and sleeping in the snow in white canvas tents.
We stopped by the Vermont Ski Museum’s 10th Mountain exhibit after lunch. Wendy reminisced about carrying a pack weighing a staggering ninety pounds and the rugged training they underwent. “We sang a lot of songs to keep our morale up, most of ‘em you wouldn’t want to repeat in polite company!” he chuckled.
Wendy reviews the 10th Mountain Division exhibit at the Vermont Ski Museum
The Storm Trooper
The same day, we visited “Storm Trooper” a bigger than life bronze statue of a 10th Mountain soldier located in Stowe. Two hundred and fifty-six Vermonters enlisted in the 10th Mountain Division and they are commemorated on a granite plaque near the statue.
Wendy visiting The Storm Trooper statue in Stowe, VT
Sun Valley Days – The Diamond Sun Race
After the war Wendy went back to the glamorous Sun Valley resort in Idaho where he hobnobbed with the rich and famous and taught his fair share of movie stars. He even used to bring the budding filmmaker Warren Miller a hot breakfast every morning in Miller’s unheated trailer next door.
Every year the Diamond Sun downhill race was held at Sun Valley. According to Wendy the two mile course ran from the top of the Baldy lift to the base. There were no control gates and there was no padding on the lift towers or trees. It was every skier for himself. The goal was to break a pre-determined specified time. Skiers picked their own lines. As Wendy points out, there was no grooming and ski areas were a little more “natural” then than they are today.
Wendy was awarded the coveted a Diamond Sun pin for breaking the time in 1 minute 47 seconds – a gold pin in the shape of the Sun Valley sun logo with a diamond in the center. The race was cancelled a few years later; too many skiers were getting seriously hurt in the race. He still wears the pin on special occasions.
Wendy’s Ski Shop & Stratton
Wendy moved back to Vermont and opened his ski shop in the 60’s. I spent my teenage and college years working at Wendy’s. Even after the shop closed down in the late 70’s Wendy remained involved with skiing. Up until he hung up his skis for the last time a couple of winter’s ago Wendy was one of the most sought after ski instructors at Stratton and one of the area’s biggest personalities. He never missed a day of skiing.
Most requested ski instructor at Stratton - 1980's
So here’s a toast to Wendy on his birthday – “Thanks for the inspiration to keep us all doing what we love the most!” Wendy is living proof that skiing is a lifelong sport that keeps you young at heart.