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Janet Davis Mead, June Aker, Verlene Belden All Kept Pico Going And Growing, Despite Obstacles and Challenges.

Janet and Brad Mead started Pico in 1937.

Vermont’s Pico Mountain survived a war, two owners’ deaths, and a neighbor called Killington to become one of the 30 oldest continually operating ski areas in the country.

It’s a feat that was largely driven by women in its first 30 years, a time when the ski industry was known to be “a man’s world.”

Women also played major roles in Pico operations since that time, continuing the strong family influence that began with co-founder Janet Davis Mead.

A feisty woman given to exaggeration, Janet Davis told Brad Mead she had skied at the Lake Placid Club, so he invited her to go skiing.

“I had to follow him down what looked to me then like Mount Everest. I made it, but without poles,” she would write years later, explaining she had thrown them in the bushes, not knowing what they were for.

Her bravado paid off; they married and researched building a ski area.

Envisioning a year-round resort with mountainside homes, aerial tram, swimming pools, ice rinks, and tennis courts, the Meads leased Pico Mountain and opened Thanksgiving Day 1937 on Little Pico with a 1,200-foot rope tow and a rough-cut, 2.5-mile Sunset Schuss skiers could ‘skin up’ to the summit.

The Meads hired Swiss racer Karl Acker to run the ski school, added two tows, widened Sunset Schuss — renowned for downhill racing and the Pico Derby — and installed the first U.S. Constam T-Bar to the top of Little Pico.

After Brad died in a boating accident in 1942, Janet carried on with support from skiers, the Otter Ski Club, and Otter Patrol. When workers including Acker left for World War II, she kept Pico open despite hardships of rationing and shortages that caused many areas to close. Using her marketing skills, charisma, and tenacity, she gave special rates to schoolchildren and servicemen who visited on furlough weekends.

Karl and June Acker took over from Janet and continued to expand the resort.

Having survived wartime, Janet bought the mountain (1947) as Acker returned to teach and help operate Pico. (He coached daughter Andrea Mead, first American to win two Golds in the 1952 Olympics, bringing acclaim to Pico’s strong racing tradition.) As the first woman to own and run a U.S. ski area still operating, Janet survived four lean snow years, weak finances, and growing competition by lowering ticket rates and offering summer rides on chairs hung on the T- Bar (1950). With the ski boom on and her children not interested in running Pico, she sold to Karl and June Acker in 1954.

Karl added trails, a T-Bar, and a J-Bar. “The lack of access to funding caused him to do too much of the work himself; the long hours and the stress of the new J-Bar which he couldn’t get to work quite right contributed to his fatal heart attack” in May 1958, June told me in 2007.

“The three banks that had lent us money to purchase Pico had insisted on a life insurance policy on Karl. Because I was a woman they needed to know I could repay the loan if he died,” June said of becoming Pico’s owner at age 30.

She added trails, replaced a lift, and obtained financing for Pico’s first chairlift, a Stadeli double that went halfway to the top ($110,000 in 1962).

“Pico needed lift service to the summit to compete and survive.  Being a woman contributed to the banks’ reluctance to provide more loans,” June said, of her decision to sell to Bruce and Verlene Belden (1964) in hopes they would carry on a family-oriented mountain.

Bruce had helped build Mount Snow (1955-1964), while Verlene ran their 30-guest ski lodge and raised four children. With former guests investing, they became majority owners with Verlene as office manager. Her business acumen coupled with their strong family orientation and expansion of the mountain enabled Pico to survive the trying 1970s when all but five major Vermont ski areas changed owners, and most surface lift areas closed. Vermont had 81 areas in 1966 but just 39 by 1988.

When they retired in 1987, Pico had a reputation as the “friendly mountain” with strong racing and instruction programs and new base village engendering a loyal following.

Women played significant roles in achieving that reputation. “They taught youngsters to ski and race and were instrumental in the Pico Ski Club. They also ran various departments from ski shop to ski school, tickets to childcare. They contributed to the skier loyalty that saw kids who grew up at Pico return as instructors or coaches and bring their own families to the mountain,” noted former GM Frank Heald.

Current Pico Director of Operations Rich McCoy added, “Pico staff make people feel at home and welcome. That’s a legacy that women through their leadership roles have contributed to throughout Pico’s long history and still do today.”

Sunset Schuss: Had to skin up in the old days.

8 Comments

  1. Kathe Dillmann says:

    Excellent article. My parents often talked about doing the Sunset Schuss taking train up from NYC to Rutland after Pico opened. Fun to read this piece of ski history!

  2. Ronald Magray says:

    Enjoyed the article. Brought back many memories as a senior ski patroller on the Otter Ski Patrol, assoiated with the National Ski Patrol system.

  3. richard cook says:

    Enjoyed reading of the “family orientation” touch to running the early ski fields. As a 68 yr old Vancouver skier I can relate. The tiny fields provided lasting memories to young boomers who still enjoy the crisp run down a snowy mountain slope.
    Cheers Cooky

  4. Didn’t the Herbert family from New Jersey own Pico for some period of time in the 80’s?
    2 of my 3 children learned to ski at Pico. Great mountain and still one of our favorites. We bought a home in Okemo in the 80’s and my last child as well as my grandchildren learned to ski there. We still go over to Pico a few times a year. Still a great mountain. Kevin Toolan

  5. Eileen Fishkin says:

    I recently skied Pico after a hiatus of 35 years, preferring the much larger Killington. Still a friendly mountain, but nothing looked familiar. Not the lodge, which I remember, if you ordered lunch you had real dishes and silverware! Covid has hit them hard, but they are doing their best along with every other northeast resort.

  6. I remover going to Pico at the of 12 in 1960 and stayed in the Lodge. It was my first real Vermont skiing adventure and I loved every minute.
    I remember trying to learn how to balance on the “bongo board” in the Lodge.
    Great memories. Thank you!

  7. David P Wright says:

    “The Lodge” was LongTrail Lodge, at Sherburne Pass just up the road from Pico, run by my uncle, Grover Wright and his brother Arthur, my dad. The Chalet was built the summer after Pico opened, when the rustic LTL building on the other side of the highway proved impossible to winterize. It was the second ski lodge built in Vermont (The other was a converted CCC camp at Stowe.) After the rustic Lodge burned in 1968 the Chalet bercame the Inn at Long Trail, run by the McGrath family, with major improvements like the Irish pub. Last I knew thew “bongo board” was still there to challenge young and old! David Wright

  8. David Barrell says:

    Wonderful ride down ski memory lane. Karen, you dwelled on the female role at Pico, but you were remiss in not mentioning Lynn Bertram, (daughter of Suicide Six Bunny Bertram) who was the first female Ski School Director in the country, at Pico, and she also was the first non- French person certified by the French Ski Instructor’s group. Dave Barrell, Quechee,VT.

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