Ford Sayre Ski Club, , ’88 Olympic SJ Team
Thetford Center, VT
He had jet black hair, combed back, kind of a pompadour. Always perfect, nothing out of place, I don’t remember it being any other way. I picture-perfect teeth, a stoop in the shoulders, and his cackling laugh.
I’m not sure what Fran’s title was; I do know that he ran the shop for ORDA at the jumps in Lake Placid. His job was to keep mechanical things running. The garage was his fiefdom. It was neatly kept and I don’t ever remember just going in there and grabbing tools. That didn’t happen.
I can’t attest to most of what Fran did because I was young and stupid and unaware at the time. But what Fran did do that we were all very aware of was drive the cat. This would’ve been in the early 80s when no one in the east was driving a cat up and down landing hills and I’m not sure anyone was…anywhere.
Before there was a cat there was a rope. A blue and white rope that ended with a knot at about 88 m. After walking up and down that jump, 10 times for me, 12 times for the really driven people, you would pack down that landing hill and walk up one more time. Most people always packed, some people never did.
I also remember skiing in conditions best described as cobby, or even sketchy. Before cats, and Thiokols ran up and down ever-flattening landing hills, there were times when you might be thinking “should I even be skiing today?” I say this knowing that jumpers 20 years before my day were skiing 5 feet higher in boots that felt like well-supported bowling shoes. Helmets? Gentle transitions? I don’t think so.
I think they anchored the winch to the take-off on the 70M (normal hill). I don’t remember if it was the take-off, or if it was something on the knoll for the 90M (large hill). Adirondack ingenuity. The first time must have been exciting.
It was like the cavalry, Fran driving that cat up and down whatever landing hill he might be working on. The cable, guitar string tight, looked like something you didn’t want to be in the way of. I remember thinking “that looks kind of hairy”. I imagine it was.
Huge piles of man-made snow would methodically be groomed into shape behind Fran’s well-developed skills, saving all of us jumpers countless hours of hard work. It was really the beginning of the era of all of us skiing groomed blue square landing hills! I single out Fran for this story because he always had a ready smile and that cat driving skill was a godsend. Obviously, there were others; Chuck Berghorn who worked his magic on the in runs, Matt Bimonte who used to bar pack both landing hills and to the many others, Thanks.