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4/12/07 - Gary Allen Remembers the Gilford Outing Club

Written by Carol Anderson

In l946, a group of dedicated and energetic parents led by Gary Allen, Marty Hall, Sr., and Gus Pitou, formed the Gilford Outing Club. For over four decades this organization taught hundreds of children how to ski and trained four Olympians, all of whom called Gilford home. Just as important, however, these parents unleashed a golden era of volunteerism in Gilford.

The Gilford Outing Club began its 46-year life on a modest slope off of Schoolhouse Hill Road in Gilford. This organization began with skiing as its focus, because, as Gary Allen remarked, "It was right after WWII and people really wanted to get out and ski, but the Gilford Outing Club also was about hiking and swim meets in the summer." It continued to provide year-round family fun which encouraged friendship and community traditions. This mission of the Gilford Outing Club remained the same throughout its entire existence.

In l950, the G.O.C. moved its operation to Route 11A in Gilford. Remnants of it still remain on the land that, in l994, was donated to the town by Gary and Lucile Allen. Two buildings remain: the "tow shack" which sits at the top of the slope on Potter Hill and the "warm-up shack" at the base. Miscellaneous pieces of the tow rope operation still sit in the grass.

Perhaps one of the most dedicated and hardest-working volunteers of the G.O.C. was Gary Allen. His dedication not only to the training of future skiers but to the sport of skiing itself is phenomenal. Gary Allen fell in love with skiing at the l932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY. >From then on he was hooked. Throughout his amazing career in skiing, his love remained with the junior skiers. His desire to turn them into well-trained senior skiers was endless. He remained a volunteer of the G.O.C. well past the usual timeframe of most parents. As their children outgrew the program offered by the G.O.C., so did many parents' interest. Allen stayed past the point of when his children were no longer skiing in the program; he stayed to watch his grandchildren become too old for it.

The parents that did volunteer used teamwork to make the organization run like a well-oiled machine. Allen said, "One of the biggest reasons that the G.O.C. worked so well was the fact the fathers worked so hard and they were such great coaches." This was back in the days when mothers scheduled "shack duty" and served up encouragement, hot chocolate and refreshments by the warmth of the old wood stove. The fathers coached the junior skiers, and even though they were not professional ski coaches, they gave future Olympic skiers their start. "Once the kids turned 12 or 14 years of age, we sent them up to the area," said Allen. "The Area" was Gunstock Ski Area, which was growing rapidly during this time.

By the l980's, a shift in society was apparent and more parents were sending their children to Gunstock for their ski lessons. In addition to that, liability insurance costs began to skyrocket, which led to the demise of the Gilford Outing Club in l992. Allen remarked, "In the late 40's, we paid $150 per year for our insurance. Without ever filing a claim, the cost of liability insurance went up to $6,000 per year, and it became no longer cost-effective to keep the organization running."

Sadly, the days of family fun and individual growth with the G.O.C. were gone. Also gone were spring and fall barbeques at the town beach with vast quantities of clam chowder and barbequed chicken prepared by another great parent-volunteer, Don Chesebrough.

However, never erased will be the delightful memories for hundreds of Gilford residents who were lucky enough to have lived and skied in Gilford during the time of the Gilford Outing Club. For those of us who weren't fortunate enough to have been here during that time, we can all be extremely proud that such amazing people have lived and still live in Gilford. That fact certainly makes Gilford a very special place.

Today, some of the former ski slopes of the Gilford Outing Club remain as the town's sledding hill for area residents, thanks to the Allen's most generous donation. Despite a lack of abundant snowfall this year, more residents than ever used our sledding hill; using it as a way for their family to enjoy some winter outdoor time together - reflecting a small part of what took place on those slopes decades ago.

If you would like to share a story about Gilford's history or a family story, please feel free to contact Gilford's Thompson-Ames Historical Society at thomames@worldpath.net. For more information about Gilford's historical society and a listing of upcoming events, go to gilfordhistoricalsociety.org.