Honor sits well with ex-Olympian Pitou
Penny Pitou is flattered and humbled that Gunstock, in Gilford, N.H., is naming its new beginners’ chairlift after her, but the first American to win an Olympic downhill medal would be moved even more if a young skier rode it to a podium finish.
“Wouldn’t it be something if a young girl or boy learns to ski there, rides the lift, and one day is standing on the podium at an Olympic event?’’ the 1960 double silver medalist said by phone. “You have to start somewhere.’’
Pitou grew up skiing at Gunstock at age 8 when it was called the Belknap Recreation Area. She started beating the boys in high school races, hiding her blond hair under her hat since no girls were allowed on the team. One day she fell during a race and the secret was out. She was asked to leave the team.
“That made me angry and put the fire in my gut,’’ she said.
Pitou, who owns a travel agency in Laconia, N.H., went on to win silver medals in the downhill and giant slalom at Squaw Valley. She also competed in the 1956 Cortina Olympics.
Married to Austrian Olympic skier Egon Zimmerman, the pair also ran the Penny Pitou Ski School at Gunstock for several years.
The new Penny Pitou Silver Medal Quad is part of a $3.5 million expansion and is the focus of a renovated beginners’ area at the Lakes Region ski area. Pitou plans to be on hand for the Dec. 12 dedication.
She’s also set to attend a 50th reunion at Squaw Valley in January with family members, including her ski-racing grandkids, Zane and Zoe Zimmerman, ages 9 and 7.
“I’m going to ski with my grandchildren on the downhill,’’ she said. “It’ll bring back old memories and some of my teammates will be there as well.’’
After a long-anticipated exchange of federal and state lands last March, 100 acres of the upper portion of Mittersill joined New Hampshire’s network of state-run recreational property. In exchange, the 244-acre Sentinel Mountain Forest, which is near the Connecticut River in Grafton County and contains a quarter-mile section of the Appalachian Trail, was handed over to the US Forest Service.
According to Cannon’s website, the terrain on Mittersill will be managed as a “lift-accessed backcountry area.’’ Some offseason thinning and brush cutting has improved ease of access, but care has been taken not to disturb the rough, natural character of Mittersill, which will initially have no snowmaking, little grooming, and limited patrolling. Because of this, the area will be designated “extra hazardous.’’
A shuttle service will transport skiers from the base of Mittersill to the existing base lodges at Cannon on weekends and holidays. A new Mittersill double chair is expected to be operational about a year from now.
Freeman’s effort was the best non-sprint World Cup finish by an American male since 1983, when Tim Caldwell took second in an Anchorage 15-kilometer race.
“The coaches have worked with him to develop a better race-long pace,’’ US Ski Team spokesman Tom Kelly said in an e-mail. “He had had a tendency in the past to go out really strong, then fade in the final stretch.’’
Freeman, from Andover, N.H., placed 22d in the 15-kilometer freestyle World Cup opener in Norway last month. He plans to compete in the World Cup Dec. 12-13 at Davos.
Michigan (38), Wisconsin (34), and Pennsylvania (32) rank second through fourth in number of operational areas. New Hampshire is seventh, with 26 resorts. Farther down the list are Vermont (24), Maine (19), Massachusetts (13), and Connecticut (5).
Rhode Island is one of four states with only one active ski area. Trying to come up with the other three - Alabama, Maryland, and Tennessee - is a good way to kill time with trivia on a chairlift ride.
Globe correspondent Marty Basch contributed to this report