The Mountain Times

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Once Upon A Time in History: Finding an active way of life

There are many couples who have found a "tie that binds" through skiing and mountain living. That was the case for Donna and Burnie Martin.

Burnham "Burnie" Martin fell in love with New England and skiing while a student at Dartmouth College. Donna first skied as a youngster in Grove City, PA where she and her friends carried their wooden skis with a single strap up local hills to ski down. No lessons, just kid-styled fun.

That changed when Burnie asked her to marry him. He had previously "dragged me to a small ski area - rope tow on a farmer's hill," Donna said, adding, that while she had shared his interest in skiing, when he proposed, she had said, "Yes, but no skiing on the honeymoon."

So where did they go? Skiing, of course. Donna recalls that he skied on one side of Mount Tremblant and she had lessons on another section of the mountain. It was her first bona fide ski instruction. That was 1959.

Although they had returned to his native town in Ohio for Burnie to work in the family real estate business after they had married, Donna acknowledges that it didn't take too many trips back East to convince her to move to Vermont or New Hampshire.
Burnie was scouting for a job when he stopped in at Killington and found out that Pres Smith was looking to start a real estate department. The Martins moved to town in 1963, and while he went through the Vermont licensing process, Burnie worked for Killington doing various jobs, from construction to PR. In 1964 the Killington real estate office he had set up began operations.

Feeling he could better serve the ski area as a separate entity, Burnie left Killington to set up his own brokerage firm - in an A-frame (now the site of a bakery) "with a card table for a desk and a cardboard box for a file cabinet." Later her formed Martin Associates with partners Walt Findeisen, Charlie Wise, and Bob Johnstone (1969).  Later yet, the partnership changed to Martin and Findeisen, and Donna joined them from 1978-1988, handling rentals with Judy Findeisen. Burnie retired in 1993 but not before serving on Vermont's Board of Realtors for many years.

During this time, the Martins had leased and operated the Snow'd Inn for the 1963-64 season and then bought a farmhouse on River Road, which Donna operated as Happy Hill Lodge from 1964 to 1967. She gave that up to focus on raising their four children and later joined the Mountain Times (1973) where she did a variety of jobs from staff writer to ad sales. She also served as a substitute teacher and was an active volunteer, serving on many boards and committees and was a founding member of the nursery school and Sherburne Historians.

As with many other families who settled in Killington when it was still a growing town, the Martins have fond memories of being part of a group who were actively supporting a new and growing ski area and at the same time building a community that could offer many opportunities and advantages for children.

The Martins cited the sense of community and the feeling of family that developed early on in the town. "Sue Smith used to call when she was going into Rutland and ask if I needed anything," Donna recalled of the way people looked out for one another and newcomers to the community. They agreed that there was a definite sense of "being in this together," and Donna noted that she has referred to their generation as the "new Killington pioneers" because there was a strong sense of building a community and a living for those who took up residence there.

"You didn't have to have a lot of money to fit in or to make it work here. A lot of people were doing things on a shoestring, and there were lots of young people. . .  you weren't the only ones. Killington really can be defined as a sweat-equity town that was built on skiing," Burnie noted.

The building of the original Killington Gondola was an exciting highlight, Burnie said, recalling that, "It spurred on the real estate business. There were 29 lots that sold for $1995 an acre before the round lots in Killington East, which were developed with the new 1968 Master Plan.  The gondola spurred the sale of land there with lots going for $6,000 to $8,000. By 1988 a trail-front lot went for anywhere from $100,000 to over $200,000 depending on number of bedrooms permitted."

Burnie also observed that an unusual benefit came to the real estate business when the 'no-gas era' struck in the 1970s. "Before that time, buyers had to put down 50 percent on vacation homes. But with the economic and business slowdown caused by the gas crisis, the banks in Rutland learned that skiers did not welch on loans and as a result 80 and 90 percent loans became available. Those years were difficult because they dipped into cash flow and revenues, but they also illustrated the importance of the second-home industry," he commented.

One of the greatest benefits from their move to Killington was to provide an environment where the kids could learn to ski, which they all did as preschoolers as well as through the elementary school's ski program and Sunday lessons in the Killington Junior Recreational Program. All four went on to try racing or freestyle programs, and Bill also participated in the Junior Ski Patrol while son Chuck went on to freestyle competition, in combined (moguls, ballet and aerials) and bumps and to compete in the Olympics (moguls).

Both Martins noted that being able to ski midweek when the slopes weren't crowded was a nice plus, adding that they met many customers while riding the lifts. Quite a few people who rented ski houses also moved up and became good friends, they added.
Donna and Burnie, who moved to Chittenden in 1988, enjoy summers at their Lake Champlain cottage as well as western travels to visit family and playing and singing in the folk group the Potluck Trio.

Donna noted that their kids have remained "outdoors oriented," whether camping, mountain biking, river guiding, skiing or snowboarding, commenting that their upbringing in Killington provided "a healthy lifestyle and shows that we were right to move here."

It's a lifestyle that has been passed on to their grandchildren, which with their own ongoing love of the outdoors and natural world, pleases both Martins immensely.