One of Suzanne Snyder Johnson’s earliest memories is of piling into the car in Greenwich, Ct. and driving north every weekend to Stratton. “My dad had been a Stowe skier when he met my mom, who also skied there,” she recalls. “After they were married, he wanted to find a ski area that was a little closer to Connecticut but wasn’t south-facing, like Bromley.”
Her father was Frank Snyder, a lawyer and chemical company executive. “He felt strongly that southern Vermont gets a nice band of snow and wasn’t as windy as the northern part of the state,” she remembers. Her father set out to hike prospective mountains. “One day he dragged my mother along with him. They got started around 3:30 p.m. and bushwhacked up. It was dark when they reached the summit, and my mom was ticked because they didn’t have any headlamps. But when they got there, he said ‘This is it! This is the mountain!”
Snyder was not the only one exploring 3,936-foot Stratton Mountain—the highest in southern Vermont. He shared his vision with Brattleboro lawyer and 1960 Vermont gubernatorial candidate Luke Crispe and his son Lawrin, who had also been bushwhacking up there and skiing the tight trees. Snyder also pulled in Vermont Senator Edward Janeway, golfer Tink Smith and a buddy, ski racer and veteran of the 10th Mountain Division, Robert “Rainbow” Wright. They set up the Stratton Corporation, bought a 50-year lease from the paper company that owned the land, gathered investors, and mapped out a plan for trails and lifts.
On Dec. 29, 1961 —the same year daughter Suzanne was born—Stratton Mountain opened with three lifts, eight trails and a three-story base lodge.
Snyder had skied in Austria and his vision was to bring a little bit of the Tyrolean Alps to the Green Mountains. In 1961, Snyder recruited Austrian Emo Henrich. Henrich was a painter, a climber, a ski racer, and a singer. “My dad had sung Off-Broadway and he loved music,” Johnson says.
Henrich opened a lodge, the Birkenhaus, at the base of Stratton. One of his workers at the lodge was a young Jake Burton Carpenter, who began making snowboards in his spare time. Carpenter persuaded Stratton’s operations manager to allow snowboarding, the first ski area to do so. The Burton U.S. Open debuted there in 1985.
Many of the Austrians who came to Stratton were musicians, among them Stefan Schernathaner, a former member of the Austrian ski team who went on to win the 1972 National Freestyle Champion and lead the Tyrolean band The Stratton Mountain Boys. Another was a noted young mountaineer named Hubert Schriebl. Schriebl had climbed some of the highest peaks in the Himalaya and was adept with a camera. Schriebl came to Stratton for what he thought would be one season but fell in love and stayed. Schriebl became one of skiing’s top photographers. To this day, he documents the daily life at Stratton.
That daily life ranged from the music, yodeling and good times shared by the Tyrolean transplants to the high society guests who came to the ski area each weekend. They were socialites (Jaqueline Onassis among them), sports stars (Arnold Palmer founded the golf school), politicians (Gerald Ford) and ski racers. In 1972 the World Cup came to Stratton. That same year, Stratton Mountain School was formed. It has since turned out some of the top skiing and snowboarding talent in the world.
When Snyder passed away in 2006, the ski area renamed North American, Frank’s Fall Line. On Dec. 21, let out a yodel to salute the man who started it all, 60 years ago. n