New England Ski Industry Biographies

Walt Schoenknecht Biography
Walt Schoenknecht
Walt Schoenknecht
Died:October 1987
New England Areas:Brodie, MA, Mohawk, CT, Mount Snow, VT
Walter R. Schoenknecht was born in Connecticut in 1919. While a member of the New Haven Outing Club, Schoenknecht met his future wife, Peg. During World War II, Peg served as a nurse, while Walt served stateside with the Marine Corps. The couple was married in 1945.

After the war, Schoenknecht leased a small rope tow area in Massachusetts, Brodie, from a person known locally as the "Mad Russian," Gregory Makaroff. After operating the area for the 1946-47 season, Schoenknecht headed south.

Back in Connecticut, Schoenknecht leased property in the Mohawk State Forest. Starting the project in February of 1947, new trails were cut around the old Mohawk Trail with the help of his wife and father. Schoenknecht invested $45,000 into the project, opening Mohawk Mountain for the 1947-48 season as a rope tow area. Just before the ski area opened, Schoenknecht's daughter (and future Mohawk Mountain owner) Carol was born.

While the ski area was initially successful, a snow drought in the winter of 1949-50 brought operations to a halt. Ever the creative thinker, Walt brought in countless truckloads of ice and used a massive chipper to create a snow surface, which allowed the area to open on one slope, served by multiple rope tows. At the same time, he was also taking part in preliminary experiments compressed air snowmaking. Further work was done in the fall of 1950 with Larchmont Engineering equipment at Mohawk.

While searching for an area to develop in Vermont, Schoenknecht stop atop Mt. Pisgah in over a foot of snow one October in the late 1940s. In May of 1953, Schoenknecht purchased land owned by Reuben Snow at the foot of Mt. Pisgah.

Named after the farmer, as well as what it would be covered in, Mount Snow opened on December 12, 1954 as a lower mountain, chairlift served area. The upper mountain would open a year later.

Mt. Snow would be a big success, growing into what some considered the "World's Largest Ski Area" in the 1960s. The 1960s also brought word of Schoenknecht attempting to have nuclear bomb testing near the mountain in order to increase the vertical drop. While this didn't work out, he was able to build outdoor an outdoor heated pool, a space car lift from the Snow Lake Lodge to the main mountain, and a geyser in Snow Lake (which created an artificial mountain in winter that would be host to summer time ski races).

Mt. Snow was also an innovator in lifts - the first chairlifts were designed with chains, making for an interesting, loud ride. Later, in March of 1965, a "Telecabine" gondola opened. This design was brought forth because Schoenknecht wanted to be able to ride a gondola without taking off his skis, due to back problems.

In 1971, due to financial struggles, Mt. Snow merged with the Davos Corporation. Schoenknecht likely left Mt. Snow after the 1973-74 season.

Mt. Snow-Davos parent company Okuraya ran into severe financial problems in 1974-75, eventually resulting in bankruptcy and the subsequent sale of Mt. Snow to competitor Killington's Sherburne Corp.

Throughout the rise and fall of his Mt. Snow empire, Schoenknecht kept Mohawk Mountain running, elevating it to chairlift status in 1960. Slowed by prostate cancer in the early 1980s, Schoenknecht transitioned control of the area to his daughter Carol. Walt Schoenknecht died in October 1987.

Walt Schoenknecht Related Resources on
  • Brodie
  • Mohawk Mountain
  • Mount Snow

  • Walt Schoenknecht External Links:
  • Vermont's Phenomenal Snow Man - Sports Illustrated

  • Last updated: April 5, 2011
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