In German, berg means “mountain.” Does that mean Howard Trachtenberg was fated to love mountains? Those who know this cheerful man may well think so. In his home, at once cozy and sun-filled, that he designed, he leads the way to a comfortable study. The walls are lined with mementos such as a pastel portrait—obviously the gift of a friend—of Howard knee-deep in a brook, with fly-casting paraphernalia and a huge grin.
To celebrate his years of work and enjoyment at Quechee’s ski hill, where he and some of his colleagues founded and developed a ski patrol, family and friends donated a weather station to honor Trachtenberg’s 80th birthday. “They decided to do this since I spent the better part of my time on the ski hill, neglecting my children and grandchildren…,” he laughs. In fact, the hill was where his descendants learned to ski.
The dedication of the station, at the top of the chairlift, happened this past summer. Soon skiers will be adding information to their recreation, even accessing real-time readings online. Ken Lallier, property manager for Quechee Lakes Landowners Association, describes the new equipment. “The station measures temperature, wind speed and direction, and barometric pressure. And rain.” Rain?!? “Well,” he explains, “a machine can’t measure snow, not accurately.” Ski area personnel keep a running total of new snow through the season, and the area now has 100 percent snow-making coverage.
When it started, the area relied on natural snow, but now has fan guns that use a relatively small amount of compressed air, making them cheaper to run. They put out big piles of snow, which are then distributed with snow machines. Machine-made snow is more durable than natural snow. Those who remember the early days of snowmaking, when heaps of ice were an all-too-common occurrence, appreciate today’s sophisticated and effective guns.
Living Quechee’s Ski History
Trachtenberg has been involved with Quechee skiing almost from its beginning. He bought property in Quechee around 1971, when the Quechee Ski Area opened. He had grown up in New York City, so he “hadn’t done a whole lot of skiing.” When he married a Boston girl and realized he was going to be spending a lot of time in New England, he looked around for winter entertainment and took up skiing.
Trachtenberg’s friend Lenny Berliner joins the conversation, noting that he and his wife, Rochelle, bought land in Quechee around the same time, but didn’t build for several years. The two men have become good friends, and have traveled “all over the place—out west, Europe” for skiing. “We’ve probably skied every area in Vermont,” says Berliner. “And of Ski Magazine’s national top 25, we’ve probably skied 20.”
Over the years Trachtenberg has seen evolution on the ski slopes. “The biggest change is snowboards,” he notes, “and also the design of skis has changed dramatically. Even at my tender age of 80, I’m skiing better! Of course, the snowmaking and grooming help.” Berliner adds, “We were taught a lot in beginner-ski classes. Now it’s about skiing parallel as soon as possible, but we learned the snowplow and Stem Christi. When you got in trouble, you had something to fall back on. Patrollers have to snowplow and sideslip to get a toboggan down.”
At Quechee, people realized early on that the lack of a ski patrol was a hazard. “My son and I took the American Red Cross first aid course,” says Trachtenberg. “That was about it for training back then.” Trachtenberg is an anesthesiologist, but his expertise in the operating room did not supply most of the information he needed on the ski hill. The non-profit National Ski Patrol, founded in 1938, is the “go-to” organization for the necessary training and systems. Their Outdoor Emergency Care courses (“a training program… tailored to the non-urban rescuer”) teach emergency management as well as first aid. Their programs and techniques have grown over the years, in sophistication as in number. There are now over 28,000 members serving more than 650 patrols. At Quechee, Russ McClennan was the first Patrol director, followed by Nancy Schwartz, and then Dave Courtney, the current director.
“We’ve both been patrollers for 30 plus years, and I’ve been the medical director,” says Trachtenberg. “I’m officially retired now,” interjects Berliner, and Trachtenberg adds, “I’m hanging on by a thread.” Both men laugh. Nowadays most of the volunteer patrollers are EMTs recruited among local fire and police, and medical personnel from the hospitals. One lure to the job is the season’s passes for the patroller’s family, but recruiting volunteers can still be a challenge.
Most accidents on the hill are minor. Trachtenberg recalls being summoned from the hill to the Clubhouse where a wedding was in progress and the mother of the bride had fainted. On occasion the patrol has had to evacuate the chairlift. “We have a procedure we practice every year,” he says. One Martin Luther King weekend they had to evacuate the quad chair, which they managed to do in an hour.
“The ski patrol is great because it not only gets you out and about, but it’s a really nice group of people,” says Trachtenberg. “Wherever you go, patrollers are a great group. Here you can know everybody, and we’ve had that privilege for over 35 years.” With another big smile he adds, “There’s no place like Quechee and Vermont for skiing.”