GILFORD — Bob Bolduc continues to collect important parts of New Hampshire's skiing history, some of which are on display at Piche's Ski Shop on Gilford Avenue.
One of the most recent acquisitions are jumping skis which were made right in Laconia at the Lund Ski plant on Fair Street in Laconia in the late 1930s. The plant opened in 1938 as a subsidiary of Northland Ski Manufacturing Company, which was at that time the largest ski manufacturer in the world.
Bolduc says the 8-foot, 6-inch-long jumping skis were given to him by Madeleine and Pat McGrath and were once used by Madeleine's brothers, Phil, Bob and Ray Roux, all of whom were ski jumpers who took part in ski jump competitions at the Belknap Mountain Recreation Area, now known as Gunstock Mountain Resort.
"They know I collect old skis and wanted to make sure they'd be taken care of," said Bolduc, who has been working with skis since he was a teenager, having gotten his start in the business by installing bindings, tuning skis and grinding edges for Piche's Ski Shop in the 1950s. He purchased the business in the 1980s from its founder, Francis Piche.
Over the last 60 years he's seen just about every innovation that came along and witnessed the transformation of skis from wood to metal and then to fiberglass, and during that time has amassed a collection he estimates is between 7,000 to 10,000 pairs of skis, which may qualify as the world's largest individual collection.
His collection includes hundreds of old wooden skis dating back to the 1920s and 1930s, many of which were actually built in Laconia. He even has the machinery used to produce those skis at the 40,000-square-foot Lund plant, which closed in 1965.
"After they closed, I was able to get some of the machines they used to bend and shape the skis. Some day I'd like them to part of a museum devoted to the history of skis," said Bolduc, who is himself a member of the New Hampshire Ski Hall of Fame.
"The skis were made out of hickory and they were all hand made," said Bolduc, whose collection includes dozens of skis which were once used as rentals at the Muehlke Farm on Belknap Mountain Road in Gilford, where ski bunkhouses were set up in the 1930s for skiers visiting the ski slope run by the Gunstock Lift Company, which had a 3,100-foot rope tow up Gunstock Mountain. The area, which was on the west facing slope of Gunstock Mountain, closed in 1940, unable to compete with the Belknap Mountain Recreation Area, today's Gunstock Mountain Resort, which was on the east-facing side of the mountain and was built as a WPA project in 1938.
He says that over the years he saved about half of the skis taken as trade-ins and stashed them away in order to amass a collection which shows the evolution of skiing technology and the wide variety of skis produced over the years.
His collection includes Head skis from the 1950s, the world's first successful metal ski, which were made of a sandwich of wood, aluminum top and bottom, plastic sides and one-piece step edges. Heads could be turned out on a production line, unlike handmade, and by the early 1960s accounted for nearly half of all ski sales.
There are also early K2s, one of the most popular of the early fiberglass skis from the early 1960s, as well as the Rossignol Strato, a fiberglass sandwich ski with a stiff tail soft-tip pattern which, starting in 1966, became the premier women's racing ski. It was popular with racers and recreational skiers alike and was for 20 years a best seller, said Bolduc.
There are also Army skis, used by the 10th Mountain Division in World War II, as well as modern cross-country skis, including a pair signed by Olympian Bill Koch of Vermont during a 1988 visit to Piche's.
There's a ski which was made at Lund for the legendary Hannes Schneider, an Austrian skier who fled his native country after Germany took it over in 1938 and brought the world-famous Arlberg skiing technique to Cranmore Mountain in North Conway in 1939. There are also skis used by Paul Rich of Gilford when he skied for the University of New Hampshire in the late 1940s and by Roland Mailloux, former owner of Labbe's Oil in Laconia, when he competed against the Dartmouth Ski Club in 1936.
One of the more unusual skis in his collection is a 1956 Italian ski, made by Ferruccio Lamborghini's firm in honor of Italy hosting the 1956 Winter Olympics at Cortina. Only 50 pairs were made by the then tractor maker, who had yet to start making luxury sports cars. The skis were donated to Piche by Sig Jensen of Gilford, who had attended the 1956 Olympics to watch local skier Penny Pitou, who skied for the U.S. Women's Team at Cortina and went on to win two silver medals in the 1960 Olympics at Squaw Valley.
Bolduc said the shaped skis which came into vogue in the early 1990s and are used by the likes of Olympian Bode Miller of Franconia represent a new generation of innovation. He said the latest trend in skis, which is just hitting the East in full force, are the so-called park skis, which have identical tips, back and front, and are popular in terrain park skiing, where many maneuvers call for skiing backward as well as forward.
One of the most recent skis in his collection shows that the idea for park skis isn't that new. It's a handmade ski from 1895 which was built in New Ipswich and was donated to him by Bill Currier of New Ipswich and has a curved tip at the front of the ski and a flat tip at the back.
He also has a rare early snowboard, signed by Jake Burton Carpenter, which dates to around 1979 and was one of the first ever made at Carpenter's Vermont workshop.
Bob Bolduc holds wooden skis made at the Lund Ski Factory in Laconia in the 1930s. He owns what is possibly the world's largest ski collection, estimated at between 7,000 and 10,000 pairs of skis. (Roger Amsden Photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)
Bob Bolduc of Piche's Ski Shop holds one of the very first snowboards,which had holes in the front edge for attaching a rope which would help control the board. (Roger Amsden Photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)
A rare early snowboard, signed by Jake Burton Carpenter, dates to around 1979, and is part of Bob Bolduc's collection. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)