Preston Leete Smith, 84, was honored with the Spirit of Skiing Award at aNew England Ski Museum banquet Nov. 1 at the Grand Hotel in Killington.
Smith, the founder of Killington, was recognized for exemplifying Otto Schnieb’s observation that “skiing is not just a sport, it is a way of life.” He was a pioneer who contributed to the sport to the benefit of all skiers, noted Bo Adams, chairman of the NESM Board.
In his acceptance remarks, Smith said he was “endowed with an innate love of winter” from the time he experienced his first snowstorm at age four and the snow was “above my waist” and “awesome.” He noted that one of his biggest challenges was to figure out how to “transfuse” the exhilaration and joy of skiing to all people.
Acknowledging impediments found in attitudes like “I hate snow, I hate the cold, and I hate winter” as well as the “long road to become a good skier and diehard participant,” Smith recalled spending long hours discussing the “fundamentals to get people off the couch.”
“It behooves us to protect the Alpine world from misrepresentation,” he said. He explained that the ‘wind-chill factor scares people into staying indoors,” yet only applies to naked or exposed skin. When it is 38 degrees out, the wind cannot drop the temperature to below freezing as is often stated on TV, he said.
“I have a novel idea for meteorologists when it’s going to be extremely cold. Rather than scare people, tell them to wear warm clothes, and we could stop creating wusses,” Smith suggested, eliciting gales of laughter.
It started with getting hooked on skiing at 16, Adams said, noting the next step came after college when Perry Merrill, then Vermont’s Commissioner of Forests and Parks, promised Smith that the state would build a road in to Killington if he would develop the unknown mountain. Smith and partners Joe and Mary Sargent (among others), grew Killington from humble beginnings that included a retrofitted chicken coop for a ticket booth and an eight-holer its first season (1958-59) to a highly successful resort. Sherburne Corp, its parent corporation, went on to acquire Sunday River (1972), Mount Snow (1977), and [as S-K-I Ltd.] Waterville Valley (1994).
Under Smith’s leadership, Killington developed such innovations as the ticket wicket, the long ski season with early openings and late closings, the Graduated Length Method (GLM), and one of the best management teams in the industry, Adams said.
Noting Smith’s inductions to the National and Vermont Ski Hall of Fames, he praised him for his “belief that skiing is one of the healthiest sports one can do in winter” … and a conviction that “everybody should have the opportunity to do it.”
Killington President Mike Solimano, former Killington VP Dave Wilcox, Vermont Ski Areas Association President Parker Riehle, and former president of the National Ski Areas Association Cal Coniff described Smith’s positive influence on the ski industry through his leadership, tenacity, focus on cutting edge technology and productivity, and sheer dedication to providing a good ski experience for all.
Through his influence Vermont remains the number one ski state in the East, Riehle noted. “Pres was from the great generation of ski industry pioneers,” Coniff said, praising his “knack for hiring good people,” ability to delegate, and “vision to build a good ski resort.”
Photo: Killington founder Preston Smith (left) receives Spirit of Skiing award from New England Ski Museum Chair Bo Adams (Karen Lorentz)