The Mountain Times

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Once upon a time in history: Carrying on the Ayer legacy

Susan "Susi" Ayer-Barto was one of Winslow and Polly Ayer's four children who grew up skiing at Killington on weekends and during school vacations.

But while her siblings also did seasonal work stints at the ski area, it is Susi who has carried on her dad's legacy of working for the ski area.

Winslow B. Ayer was an early investor and active supporter for the fledgling Killington. A Connecticut banker and later a commercial real estate and financial consultant, he was an ardent believer in Killington's future. He joined the board of directors in June 1959, built the first chalet-styled vacation home, financed the first restaurant and motel (the Skol Haus), and came up regularly in the early years to help out on the mountain.

His wife Polly could be found volunteering her services at the Killington Base Lodge cash register for many winters. The Ayers were also warm hosts who gave numerous parties, and Winslow became something of  "a social director" for the early mountain community.

Ayer also made a sizable loan to the corporation when its credit was not yet established. He financed the purchase of Killington's first bulldozer and also helped arrange bank loans for the Sherburne Corporation. He served on the board for 21 years, and was one of the eight original board members when he passed away in 1980.

With the family passion for skiing and the mountain, it's not too surprising that Susi's brothers John (race coach) and Winslow (ski patrol) and sister Cacky (ski instructor) worked some winters at the area and that Susi joined the ski area in 1971-72 as a ski instructor. She worked in that position for eleven seasons before transferring to the Alpine Training Center to become race secretary.

In 1984 she became a year-round employee and after a stint in corporate offices became secretary to the skiing department, where she worked with Leo Denis and Lee Patno among others and co-ordinated the Killington Junior Recreational Program from 1988 to 1997.

She was the administrative assistant in the planning department for three years and in 2000 transferred to the resort maintenance department where she enjoys a host of challenging duties as administrative assistant to the Manager of Base Area Maintenance and Construction Jim Shands.  In addition to working with Resort Maintenance, Susi keeps her hand in on permitting and planning for Mountain Operations.

As she looked back, she commented, "This is the beginning of my 42nd year working at Killington. I've seen so many changes that I can't begin to remember them all. Going from a small public company to one traded on the NASDAQ and then one on the New York Stock Exchange, and then back to being privately held has been a real learning experience. Change in ownership is not easy, but the resort is hanging tight and getting better all the time!

"The biggest challenge in my job today is dealing with the sheer size of the physical plant of the ski resort. Our department is responsible for the care and maintenance of all the buildings from Pico to Bear Mountain and everything in between, including overseeing the construction of the new peak lodge."

Asked about her teaching days, Susi noted that among her fondest memories are the many winters spent teaching mentally challenged children from the [former] Brandon Training School. "I have never seen such enjoyment or fulfillment from people learning to ski," she noted.

Through the auspices of the Junior Program, she and fellow instructors Ron Raymond, Paul Buhler, and Cacky Ayer, among others, were "able to teach kids who would not otherwise have ever learned to ski." Her involvement with the Brandon children also led to helping out with one of the first Special Olympics to be held in Vermont, another experience she cherishes.

She also volunteered to be a "special help" teacher for regular ski school classes. This entailed working with people "who needed a little extra attention in order to learn to ski. I guess I had a lot of patience, but what I really enjoyed was the challenge of finding the right words or means that would help someone understand what they needed to do in order to start enjoying skiing.

"I still remember a blind woman I taught- those were the days before the Vermont Adaptive program. It really was a privilege and joy to help someone from Rutland ski the slopes she couldn't see.

"The ski school made tremendous efforts to teach any and everyone to ski. We very rarely gave up on anyone. In the eleven years I was with ski school, there were maybe a half dozen people we could not teach to ski. And this was in the years when we were teaching three classes a day and putting thousands of people through the ski school each week!" she noted.

As a fully certified P.S.I.A. instructor, Susi also had her share of upper level and mountain classes (for advanced skiers). But of all the wonderful experiences she had with adult students, one of the most meaningful to her was her "first adult GLM class. At the end of the week, one of my students quit his job in Boston and moved to Vermont because he fell in love with skiing. He still lives here," she noted, proud that the results of that class live on.

Asked for her earliest memories, Susi said, "I was five years old and there wasn't even a trail cut. I watched the area grow from the "baby" Poma (for the beginner hill) and three "big" Pomalifts to the Killington Chair and on from there. I have distinct memories of the CCC Hut, Henry Biathrow's chili, and my mom running the cash register.

"I was so thrilled the day the Killington Chair opened to the public! I remember being on the fifth chair and thinking that was a big deal. There was a warming hut at the top then, and at one point there was a warming hut at the top of the first Poma on Snowdon, too.

"For some reason, my dad was given a yellow Poma seat, which the lift operators put on the baby Poma. I remember standing at the bottom and letting all the regular Poma seats go by just so I could ride on my dad's seat. 

Another thrill was riding the first (regular) Poma! I was so small that I would be lifted into the air when starting up the steep part of the hill. The operators on the third Poma [Glades Poma] used to hold the Poma bar back for some of us when we were kids. By doing that as we were loading, the Poma would snap forward, sending us off like a rocket!

In summing up the changes she has seen since those days, she commented that her "dad was absolutely right to see a bright future for Killington."

Although her husband Gary owns and operates the Cool Moose Café in Ludlow-she does the books for him-Susi continues to work at Killington. "I've stayed at Killington not only because this is my home but because of the wonderful people I work with. We are family," she said, adding "yes," she still skis.