Franconia, NH – More than 140 New Englanders have represented the U.S. in the Winter Olympics in skiing and snowboarding since winter events were first held in Chamonix, France in 1924. The New England Ski Museum recently opened a new exhibition at its home in Franconia, N.H. — Five Rings, Six States: New England Skiers in the Winter Olympics — that profiles the contributions of many Winter Olympians from the region in every Olympiad from 1924 through this year’s Vancouver Games.nThe most popular items on display in the exhibition have proven to be the five Olympic medals won by Bode Miller, a native son of Franconia and Cannon Mountain ski area. Miller won two silver medals in 2002 at Salt Lake City, and three medals — one gold, one silver and one bronze — in Vancouver this past winter. Miller is the only New England alpine skier to have participated in four Winter Games.
Another notable new item in the Museum, not related to the Olympic exhibit, is a ceremonial sword and sheath presented to the civilian father of the 10th Mountain Division, “Minnie” Dole, by the commanding general of the 10th, George S. Hays in appreciation of his creation of the unique mountain military unit. Soldiers of the 10th found the sword in an Italian villa belonging to former dictator Benito Mussolini at the close of hostilities in 1945. The sword is said to have been obtained on behalf of Mussolini when Italy occupied Ethiopia in the mid-1930s. The Museum’s mission recognizes the relevance of the 10th Mountain Division for their impact on the development of skiing.
New England skiers, defined for the purpose of the exhibition as those who were either born, raised, schooled or settled in the region, have participated in every Winter Olympics. The US team gave a notable performance, mostly forgotten today, at the 1952 Games in Oslo, Norway. There, Andrea Mead Lawrence of Rutland, Vt., won gold medals in slalom and giant slalom, Imogene Opton of North Conway, N.H. was fifth in slalom, Bill Beck of Kingston, R.I. took fifth in downhill, and Brooks Dodge of Jackson, N.H. was sixth in giant slalom.
In a later double-medal performance in 1960 at Squaw Valley, Calif., Penny Pitou of Gilford, N.H. won silver in downhill and giant slalom. The Museum will honor Pitou with its Spirit of Skiing award this coming November at its annual meeting.
Most recently, with the important exception of Bode Miller, New Englanders have found the most Olympic success in freestyle and snowboard events rather than alpine skiing. Freestylers Nikki Stone and Hannah Kearney both won gold, Stone in 1998 and Kearney in 2010, while Ross Powers, Kelly Clark, Hannah Teter and Seth Wescott have all won gold in various snowboard events.
Five Rings, Six States: New England Skiers in the Winter Olympics will be on view at the Museum in Franconia Notch through the end of March, 2011.