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Off-The-Slopes-Day: Snowsport Museums Offer Memories, Heritage, Interactive Fun

Alf Engen museum exhibit

“Seeing is believing” and there is nothing like gawking at the 14-foot “longboards” that miners used in ski races or checking out the cross-country fashions and gear of 1978 unless it’s taking a gander at the original ‘snow board.’ Make a visit to a snowsports museum an off-the-slopes day must on your next ski vacation.

Even looking at the equipment of the 1970s or 80s can evoke a chuckle as can the photos of ski areas when they were ‘new’ 75 years ago.

But for the biggest thrill of all, you might want to get on board the new interactive “rock’n roll” ride offered at a new exhibit at the Alf Engen Museum in Utah’s Olympic Park in Park City.

Thrill seekers can enjoy a history lesson as they sit in a quad chair that gives a life-like ride and “sail over Mount Superior in Little Cottonwood Canyon” Click here for a YouTube video of the ride.

Engen Museum Executive Director Connie Nelson told SnoCountry.com the “virtual ski experience ride” was made possible by Marshall Miller. a local enthusiast. A video was captured of “speed flying” where he skis off the top of a mountain with a parachute and flies over the majestic snowy scenery of Utah.

The quad chair is attached to a motion base platform that moves to reflect the movement and experience of speed flying -- a unique chair ride for sure.

Ski museums have gone hip, cool and digital as they recall the past and the contributions of so many to winter sports, or celebrate the present with exhibits dedicated to the Olympics. With libraries, theaters that screen ski films and documentaries, halls of fame, and intriguing displays, they foster a keen appreciation for the history of snow sports and provide après-ski fun and educational outings.

There are major ski museums in 21 nations and 8 in the U.S. A dozen or more have archives or smaller collections. Major museums take up entire buildings while smaller ones usually consist of a room or rooms dedicated to winter sports, either as part of a local community museum or as an added attraction at a ski area. Most are free, some charge a small admission fee, and others request donations.

Here’s a look at some of the other museums well worth your time, now that you known about the Alf Engen Museum:

Colorado Ski And Snowboard Museum

The Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum in Vail, Colo. is found on the third Level of the Vail Village Parking structure and is open daily from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. It features an updated exhibit on snowboarding, including Sherman Poppen’s Snurfer, which provided the impetus for Jake Burton Carpenter to design Burton boards while Tom Sims was similarly cooking up his snowboards -- also on display.

Visitors will also appreciate the Vail -- Dream Realized exhibit, which chronicles the growth and development of Vail and the valley and features Roger Brown’s video Vail, the Rise of America’s Iconic Ski Resort.

Innovative interactive elements include: Two audio sound boards; a flat screen TV showing the film Wilderness to World Class; a set of moving cubes highlighting different decades; and a characters section.

From the Olympic history exhibit (currently being updated) to the state’s ski history, to an exhibit highlighting the famed 10th Mountain Division of World War II, the displays of equipment, gear, clothing, 10th campsite diorama, and the award-winning film Fire on the Mountain are not to be missed.

Also located in the museum is the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, which features a kiosk touch-screen with profiles of some 194 members.

U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum

US Ski Museum

Founded in 1954 in remote, but worth a visit, Ispeming, Mich., the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum is “America’s first museum and the largest in the world,” notes CEO and President Tom West. Its location is remote, but  that’s significant as Ishpeming is “the birthplace of organized skiing.

“With the founding of the National Ski Association of America (now USSA), Ishpeming is to skiing, what Cooperstown is to baseball,” West added.

Within its walls, one can discover the story of the ancient Birkebeiners (1206), see Sun Valley's first snow groomer, and learn about the historic 10th Mountain Division and its contribution both in wartime and peacetime to the development of skiing.

The building’s architecture represents both the Nordic and Alpine traditions of ski sport. Its 20,000-square feet of artifacts and archives, and the Hall of Fame of almost 400 men and women make it “worth the effort to visit,” says veteran ski writer and author Mary Kerr. You can't take a day off the slopes, but it works as a stand-alone getaway.

“The architecture is spectacular. I’ve been there three or four times. Ski museums have popped up all over the U.S., but for me, Ishpeming’s captures the mystique of what skiing is all about,” she said, noting “it represents all aspects of skiing here and abroad.”

That inclusiveness extends to naming adaptive athletes (those with disabilities) into its Hall of Fame. Inductees are athletes and others who “have made contributions with national impact,” West said.

Open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. year-round, the museum is also the administrative headquarters for the International Skiing History Association (ISHA) and will bring the Ishpeming International Film Festival and Jerry Awards for best ski films to ISHA’s Skiing History Week in Park City March 31-April 6 as that resort celebrates its 50th year. The Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will be the concluding event.

New England Ski Museum

The New England Ski Museum, located at Cannon Mt., N.H., features a new exhibit relating to the series of 75th anniversaries celebrated by ski resorts nationwide, from Shawnee Peak in Maine to Timberline in Oregon. The Ski Area Survivors: Prewar American Ski Centers with a History exhibit harkens back to the 1930s when the concept of a ski area was new and based on the invention of ski tows and aerial lifts for skiing.

Open Daily 10 a.m.– 5 p.m. from Memorial Day to March 31, the museum has an extensive film and book library and maintains three satellite exhibits — at the Intervale Scenic vista, in the Eastern Slope Inn (North Conway, N.H.) and at Bretton Woods Mountain Resort, also in N.H.

Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum

Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum

The new Jeff Brushie Exhibit at the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum on Main St. in Stowe, Vt. contains artifacts and photographs from Brushie’s personal snowboarder archives and those of The Vermont Slope Posse. Brushie and his Slope Posse buddies were among those who pioneered snowboarding in the Green Mountains. Their podium appearances were legion, and their camps helped raise the level of local riding throughout the state.

The museum’s new Kick and Glide display looks at the many facets of Nordic, including development of athletes, competition, cross-country ski areas; evolution of technique, equipment, disciplines; and the impact of Vermonters on the sport. From the latest in skis to the new grinds in cross-country skis that potentially make a trained skier move an inch or two farther with each stride, there are some fascinating developments captured in the displays. (See SnoCountry's full story by Roger Lohr on the new XC exhibit).

Also new is a satellite museum at Pico Mt., which joins an earlier one at Suicide Six.

Ski Museum of Maine

Ski Museum of Maine in Kingfield is featuring a newly adapted and digitized version of a 1930s short film on the Paris, Maine wooden ski manufacturing process called From Tree to Ski. In addition to displays and a hall of fame, a series of programs called Made in Maine provide an interesting look at the skis, boots and other skiing-related products manufactured in the Pine Tree State from the 1800s to the present.

The Lake Placid Olympic Museum in N.Y. exploring the legacy of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Games, and the Western Skisport Museum at Boreal Ski Resort near Lake Tahoe, Calif., exhibiting snow sports history of the West round out the main U.S. snowsports museums.

Others like the Pennsylvania Snowsports Museum at Camelback, Ski Liberty, and Bear Creek resorts and the Mammoth Ski Museum at Mammoth Lakes, Calif. feature exhibits within base lodges while many “ski towns” such as Sun Valley, Telluride, Aspen, Crested Butte, Steamboat Springs among others, showcase local ski history in community museums.

What all offer is the opportunity to discover an exhibit that resonates and cements your connection to snow sports. A visit to any one of them is perfect on a ski/ride vacation when a day off the slopes makes sense, or when a family member doesn’t ski or snowboard but still wants something fun and entertaining to do.

The museums foster a deep appreciation for just how far snow sports have come.

Photos: Top: Simulated ride at Alf Engen Ski Museum, Utah (Alf Engen Museum); Left, middle: U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, Mich. (US Ski and Snowboarding Museum); Bottom right: Vermont Ski Museum (Vermont Ski Museum)

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