Some of Vermont’s best known ski Olympians trace their roots back to the same hill: Pico Peak in Mendon.
Andrea Mead Lawrence, Suzy and Rick Chaffee, "Rebel" Ryan and Mike Gallagher all called the venerable resort home at one time.
And many are looking back fondly on the mountain and the extraordinary couple who started it this year as Pico celebrates its 75th anniversary.
Brad and Janet Mead opened Pico Peak in 1937.
"It’s an interesting story in the beginning because Brad and Janet Mead were a young couple from New York City, a couple of free spirits," said Linda Goodspeed, author of a history of the resort. "Brad was an artist."
And he was independently wealthy. The couple was unconventional and dramatic. Instead of a house, they built a castle in Mendon called North Towers complete with a moat.
Goodspeed says the Meads were avid skiers who dreamed of opening their own ski area. Pico Mountain, which was nearby and just off Route 4, seemed perfect. But the couple had to convince landowner and future governor Mortimer Proctor to lease them space for this newfangled sport.
"Brad painted a whole series of murals depicting Pico in various stages of development to show Mortimer Proctor so he would kind of envision what would happen there," Goodspeed said.
It worked and the Meads put up a rope tow and opened Pico on Thanksgiving Day 1937. That same year, a group of local skiers formed the Otter Ski Patrol at Pico, the oldest volunteer ski patrol in the nation.
Mendon resident Joe Jones was an early patroller who went on to become a well-known race coach.
"Brad – I knew Brad very well," Jones said, "because Wednesday nights we used to have a little slalom race. That’s where I learned how to ski. I’ll never forget it. I fell 13 times the first time out of about 25 gates. But we used to get the Dartmouth ski team over here and the Woodstock skiers. They were Olympic skiers back in those days. It was fun."
Pico’s popularity grew in a large part, Jones says, because of Brad and Janet’s personalities and vision. The couple worked hard to incorporate the latest ski technology from Europe, installing the first T-bar in North America and hiring Swiss skiing sensation Karl Acker to head up their ski school and racing program.
But Pico’s rapid growth was derailed by two eventsL the start of World War Two in 1941 and Brad Mead’s death less than a year later in a freak speed boat accident. While many ski areas closed during the war, Janet fought to keep Pico open.
"You had to know Janet Mead to understand that," said Frank Heald, who began skiing at Pico in the late 1950s and was its long time general manager decades later.
"It’s very difficult to explain the strong will that that woman had," Heald said. "She was far ahead of her time in terms of what we think of today in terms of equality of the sexes. She was a dynamo in her day and didn’t know the meaning of can’t do it."
Those were traits she passed on to her daughter, Andrea Mead Lawrence, who skied into history when she won two gold medals in the 1952 Olympic games.
Two years later Janet sold Pico to Karl and June Acker. Janet died in 1990. She and her husband Brad are buried near the summit of the mountain they loved.