The Mountain Times

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Once upon a time in history: A Wise move

Charlie Wise was introduced to skiing after his father attended the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympics and "decided I should learn to ski. I was taught how to herringbone up the hill but not how to turn," Charlie said of learning on a Long Island golf course in the 1930s.

Later, while stationed outside Denver in the Air Force, Charlie recalled a first trip to Winter Park. "We took chairlifts one and two up the hill. Then I had to ski down, but I still had no idea how to turn but I soon learned," he said of becoming an avid skier.

While attending Hofstra College, Charlie skied at Mount Snow and worked on the Ski Patrol, which is how he met his wife Joan. Joan had encountered a problem with her bindings and Charlie came to her assistance, pulling out a screwdriver and tightening them so her boot would stay attached to her skis, they recalled.

Joan remembered having to get from her college campus to Boston with suitcases and ski equipment to catch a bus to Mount Snow, noting it was a lot to juggle.

Charlie related a ski patrol story of sleeping on top of Mount Snow one Easter Eve and finding the spring snow "as hard as a rock the next morning. John Plausteiner said to us, 'Come on fellows, it cuts like butter' with his Austrian accent. He had sharp edges and hopped down the trail," Charlie related, still marveling over the unforgettable "it cuts like butter."

A favorite memory from the 1950s' Mount Snow days was of staying at a place called Braun's Rest in Wilmington for $2 a night plus 25 cents for kitchen privileges.

Joan and Charlie married in 1960 and since "we both liked to ski so much we decided to give ourselves a wedding present of a vacation home." After checking out Sugarbush and Stratton, they drove up the Access Road, saw the view of the mountain from the corner by Bigelow's Lodge, and decided "Killington was it." 

They bought a lot on Telefon Trail from Oren Bates with Joan's brother (the late) Walter Findeisen purchasing half and each built an A-frame. In 1962 Charlie, Joan and baby Christopher moved in when Charlie found a teaching job in West Rutland. 

Having also bought a piece of land on the Killington Road, Charlie put up a Stanmar ski lodge and they went into the ski lodge business, operating as the Little Buckhorn from 1963-1967 while Walt and his wife Judy built and ran The Timbers.  Charlie also worked in the Killington Ski Patrol, earning "50 cents an hour" on weekends. Summers, he built spec homes and did other jobs until selling the lodge and joining Martin Real Estate in 1967.  He formed Wise and Company in 1976, built an office building on the Killington Road in 1982, and expanded his rental and real estate sales business to include property management. He retired in the 1990s, and the building that housed Wise Vacation Properties until recently, is now for lease or sale.

Joan stayed busy raising Chris and Suzanne, who went on to race for Dartmouth and Middlebury Colleges respectively, and worked part-time as a reading teacher at the elementary school, where she still enjoys "the challenge of her job," she noted.

Of life in town Charlie said, "The mountain was the community in the early days. In summer there were the Saturday night chicken suppers at the Happy Valley Camp run by the Priors with the "boom" fires made of piled brush and gasoline. Everyone attended them."

"Sue Smith and I started a nursery school/kindergarten for our kids in the basement of the White Church," Joan added of the days when young mothers pitched in to create the services that would provide better lives for their children.

The 1960s were also "the years of swimming in the Ottauquechee swimming hole and softball games with various local teams and a swimming pool and tennis court at High Ridge." The volunteer fire department was formed, and Charlie recalled helping Red Glaze's crew build the firehouse.

One early and difficult fire occurred on the cliffs above the Inn at Long Trail. "We carried water up with Indian Packs, but eventually they had to close Route 4 so we could use fire hoses," Charlie recalled. The fire had been started by kids using firecrackers and although they got it out, it kept starting up again and took several days to permanently extinguish, he said.

"In our first year as Vermont residents, Claus Bartenstein knocked on the door and asked if Charlie would be on the Select Board to replace 'Cap' Wilson who had resigned. They wanted one of the new people on the board," Joan recalled, adding, "That was the start of Charlie's civic career and commitment to the town."

He served on a variety of town boards and commissions as well as school committees, including chairing the Woodstock Union High School Board of Education, for many years. For the young man from New York City, this was a much desired and rewarding aspect to the move, Charlie noted, adding, "My Dad said 'in New York, you can't fight city hall,' but in Vermont you can make a difference and do good for the community.'"

Both Charlie and Joan found that living in Killington provided a good family situation.  "The family experience was good because you knew other pioneer families and because we all socialized and got along," they noted.

Joan added that skiing was a good experience for their children, who learned at age three and went through the recreational and competition programs. "They developed a degree of self reliance and independence along with body awareness and good nutrition due to race training," she said.

 "It afforded them the opportunity to do something that they could do well at. That was important for the sense of self worth it could give a child," Charlie added.

An avid outdoorsman, Charlie also took them on summer hiking/camping trips to places like Mount Washington and Tuckerman's Ravine, where he had skied and camped in his college days.

With all the good things to come out of the struggle to begin life in a new place, Charlie observes, "The thing that stands out about Killington is that it worked. The ski area was successful and grew. Killington did a good job, one I felt good about and was proud to be a part of and to be in the same town with. It wasn't Mascara Mountain or a New York mecca. It wasn't built by money, but by people working hard."

"The town was a great place to raise kids," Joan added, noting the opportunity it afforded people to participate and contribute. "It was unbelievable to be in on the beginning of things, and we were all in it together… there was a wonderful camaraderie."
Both agree that the one change they regret is the loss of the day-long town meeting that afforded more discussion and socializing.

"There is a set agenda now [for the night meeting] and attendance is less than it was for the day meeting," they said.
While some retirees have chosen to move south or winter in Florida, the Wises still find Killington a great place to live. Having put down roots in the area, they live in a beautiful and peaceful environment and still enjoy the outdoors.

"Long Island changed, but in Vermont the things we came for endured," Charlie concluded, while Joan added, "We still ski and appreciate the mountain."