The Roth Family: Rooted in Sugarbush

Virginia and John Roth found their way to Warren in a circuitous manner. “Ginny” was a Boston native with a passion for skiing who took annual trips to Mad River Glen with her ski club, and yearned for the Utah powder shown in ski movies starring Norwegian ski jumpers Sverre and Alf Engen.

            Alf Engen had founded the ski school in Alta, Utah, which he now ran, and in the late fall of 1958, Ginny packed her bags and moved west. Upon arrival in Alta, Ginny found a job earning $10 per week at the Rustler Lodge, Alta’s slope side hotel. That Thanksgiving, Ginny took a fateful chairlift ride with a young land surveyor from Minnesota who, four months later, would become her husband.

            Newlywed ski bums Ginny and John moved briefly to Aspen. Ginny remembers it was during that season, in Aspen Highlands, when she and John first met Stein Eriksen. After that winter, the Roth’s traveled to Europe for a time, then back to the U.S. to put down roots.

            Because of John’s deep admiration for the writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, also a land surveyor, he and Ginny set about on a tour of New England locales Thoreau had visited. They went first to Maine, then to New Hampshire, and finally to Vermont, where a friend suggested they go to Sugarbush and meet owners Damon and Sara Gadd, and General Manager Jack Murphy.

            As we sit outside her Warren home overlooking the Valley on a sunny, fall day, Ginny recalls her first meeting with Damon and Sara.

            “Damon was his usual, wonderful, mannerly, cordial self,” she says, smiling, as if she were meeting him again for the first time. Ginny remembers Sara for her creativity, reflected in the original trail names Sara chose for Sugarbush, such as Cat’s Meow and Tranquilizer. Damon said he could give John some surveying work, so in the summer of 1960, the Roths moved to an A-frame house on Rt. 17 in Fayston.

            “It was very magical. . .” Ginny recalls. “Everything worked out.”

            Magical is a word that comes up more than once as Ginny reflects on their lives in the early days of Sugarbush. John worked with the Gadds and Murphy to survey land that would become future ski trails at Lincoln Peak. He did the same for the development of the original Sugarbush Village, as well as for its many surrounding homes and condominiums. (In recognition of his work, Roth was inducted into Sugarbush’s Wall of Fame in 2019.) He also taught in the ski school, founded and run by former Dartmouth ski team member and Harriman Cup Champion Peter Estin.

             In 1961, the Roths opened Roth Real Estate, spurred on by the many friends who were moving to the area seeking advice on land and homes to purchase. The Roths also began expanding their family. Ginny gave birth to their first daughter, Laurie, on New Year’s Eve in 1960. Two more daughters, Lisa and Maria, would follow.

            For the Roths and their milieu, skiing was essential to life in the Valley. Weekend afternoons were spent at the Wünderbar, one of the first on-mountain ski bars in the U.S. Damon and Sara Gadd would occupy their designated booth while dirndl-clad waitresses served cocktails to guests. (Sara was famous for her Pouilly Fuisse.) Jack Murphy would be in attendance, along with fellow Tenth Mountain Division member Sewall Williams. Williams’ brother Arthur, an original investor in the mountain, and his wife Hannah were often present, as well as New York City restauranteur Vincent Sardi and his wife at the time, Adele. Bandleader and future New York Pops conductor Skitch Henderson and his wife Ruth were also regulars.

            “They were great friends,”  Ginny recalls.  “Skitch loved the Valley, and would talk about it on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”

            The fun didn’t stop at aprés. Roth recalls lively dinner parties thrown by Bob and Jackie Rose showcasing Jackie’s fine taste and culinary training at France’s Le Cordon Bleu. Jackie opened The Store in 1965, an elegant homewares resource originally located in Sugarbush Village that subsequently moved to Main Street in Waitsfield. Jim and Brita Herman, who developed and ran the Sugarbush Inn and Golf Course, were known for hosting fabulous Christmas Eve parties at their “Hamilton House” home while dressed in traditional Norwegian attire. Architect, sculptor, and Sugarbush investor Harlow Carpenter, along with his first wife Gay, were also known for their parties. Ginny recalls one in particular, at their home off Main Street in Waitsfield, where she first met Grammy Award winning jazz musician Art Blakey and his wife Diana Bates.

            Carpenter, whose family founded the Bundy Time Recording Company which—would later became IBM—was also responsible for building The Bundy Art Gallery in Waitsfield. The Bundy housed Carpenter’s art collection, and served as an “experimental school” for children from kindergarten through sixth grade. The school was, in truth, for the children of Carpenter and his friends, who shared some trepidation regarding the quality of education in rural Vermont.

            John Roth would strap on cross-country skis and ski his three daughters to school. The director of the school, Betty Joslin, was a “no-nonsense” math teacher who provided strict guidance to students, including what was allowed in their lunch boxes.

            “No white bread, no Hostess Cupcakes, and no Devil Dogs,” Ginny recalls with a chuckle. Ginny, a lifelong musician who has played the organ and piano at the Warren United Church for 45 years, taught the students the recorder. Another teacher, Sam Whiteside, taught them yoga. Yoga is not uncommon in elementary-school curriculum these days, but it was in the 1960s.

            There were few restaurants in town then, though Ginny recalls The Alpen Inn with great regard, for its “Swiss dinner fare, swimming pool, and polo matches.” Skiclub Ten, the on-mountain private club, was an occasional aprés spot, though “too exclusive for many”. Henri and Rosie Borel ran the Club for a while before opening their own restaurant, Chez Henri, in Sugarbush Village in 1964.

            Roth has seen many changes in Sugarbush and the Mad River Valley over the years. Damon and Sara Gadd were beloved stewards of Sugarbush from the beginning, though their ownership ended with an offer from Roy Cohen to purchase the mountain in 1977. Like-minded owners would not be seen again until the arrival of Win Smith in 2001. And Smith’s tenure has recently sunset with the sale of the resort to Alterra Mountain Company in November 2019.

            Roth pours some home-brewed iced tea with fresh mint leaves, and encourages me to try some Von Trapp Farmstead cheese she has set on a plate with crackers and fruit. She couldn’t be a more warm or welcoming hostess. It is just a glimpse of the graciousness and charm that once inhabited this Valley, which makes me yearn for more. Not to say those elements are gone, but certainly there has been change. Children of some of the original families still live full-time or part-time in the Valley, while many others have moved on. Just so, new personalities have come to town, adding new energy and texture to this special place.

            Ginny observes, maybe with a tinge of longing, that she is not very sociable now. She sees her daughter Maria, who lives nearby, almost daily. But many of her friends have moved away, or passed on.

            “It was the right time, the right atmosphere, and the right people,” she reflects, referring back to that element of magic that enveloped those star-studded early days of Sugarbush.


about the author: Candice White is a communications consultant who served on Sugarbush’s Executive Committee from 2008-2018. During her tenure, she oversaw marketing, communications, brand, and and guest service.

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