In a basement of a ski lodge in Sugarloaf Mountain, Maine, the contents of Natalie Rines Terry’s locker are exactly as they were left last spring after she passed away of natural causes on April 22, 2020 at the age of 96. There is a snowflake hat, a fleece and a reminder pin. Not far away, on her official tombstone, she reads “Sugarloafer Since 1951, Lifelong Member of PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America)”.
From the late 1930s on, Rines Terry drove sand through a time when school sports weren’t even available for girls. “She used to feel a little different as a strong athlete, but she always found a way to be competitive,” says her daughter Sarah Carlson, who now works as a ski trainer. “Rines Terry has taught more students than anyone in the East,” her co-workers and friends kept telling me. She was the most sought-after Sugar Loaf teacher in history, teaching tens of thousands of students over the course of her 50-year career. In 1996, Ski Rines listed Terry as one of the Top 100 Ski Instructors in North America, and in 2012 she was inducted into the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. But more than any accolade, she had a real love for sport.
On a cold January day, during Sugarloaf Mountain’s first ski season without Rines Terry, I pull myself over to Carlson on the trail named after her mother Natalie’s Birches. On one side of us is the path to one of Sugarloaf’s earliest condos, first owned by Rines Terry and now Carlson. On the flip side is where Rines Terry got on her skis every week of the season for 50 years. “We’d see Nat come from her apartment, a little unsteady with her walking stick, and just as we were about to help her the click of her ties would make all the tightness and instability go away. It would flow down the hill, ”says longtime friend Tom Butler, Sugarloaf’s vice president of ski services. Next to the lift at the end of their run is a chapel where their planned memorial service on the mountain never took place due to the pandemic.
(Photo: Courtesy Sarah Carlson)
Carlson and I crawl up the cable car and watch the path that started it all 70 years ago. In 1951, long before this or any other chairlift existed in the Sugar Loaf, Rines Terry and Sugar Loaf founder Amos Winter were on seal skins right there. They hiked on the only path cut on the mountain at the time: the winter path. Growing up in Waterville, Maine, Rines Terry and her friends taught themselves to ski by climbing a hilly pasture and plowing snow. Until 1939, they hopped in tow as part of the ski club at a local resort, Titcomb Mountain. She was among the lucky ones to take lessons from the Austrian Hannes Schneider, one of the pioneers of the modern ski course. Rines Terry was “the woman who excelled in everything that interested her,” said a letter from her lifelong friend Lorrain Norton. “The PSIA exam included a giant slalom. Many of the men failed. Not nat. She was happy and we were so proud of her. “She was a housewife in her forties when the then Director of the Ski School, Harry Baxter, discovered her perfect curves and later hired her as a teacher in 1969.
The temperature drops below zero about 4,000 feet above the Skyline Lift, but “It’s the perfect day for a Natalie run,” says Carlson. “Nothing stopped them.” It was like a diesel engine that was powered by a number of students, even in bad weather. When she saw that she shouldn’t be teaching a lesson, Butler says, “She would sit there with her hands on her hips and dare you assign a student to her. She loved a challenge. ”
(Photo: Courtesy Sarah Carlson)
Rines Terry was a natural athlete – in her younger years she was a figure skater, competitive diver, swimmer, and later a tennis player and golfer – and she could watch a skier make only two turns before realizing the subtlest change to improve her technique. But it was about more than flawless technology. As a customer service professional long before this was considered standard practice, she genuinely cared about each of her students. The evidence was in the piles of books and folders full of newspaper clippings she’d left behind: the piles of magazines with meticulous notes on every student she ever taught. Rines Terry kept in touch with them all year round, and during the summer she sent out cards with her schedule for the following winter. She also kept detailed records of the weather and snow conditions during these 50 seasons. “Would you like to know what the weather was like on March 10, 1981? Natalie could tell you, ”says Butler.
Carlson and I are walking west in the sun like Rines Terry’s husband George “Tim” Terry would have done. “Dad always worked his way out of the way to get the best light all day,” says Carlson. Tim was involved in the early development of Sugarloaf and was Rines Terry’s Rock, all the more so when their only son died in a bicycle accident in 1987 at the age of 33. Tim saw her family through the unexpected loss of Carlson’s husband in 2002 and Rines Terry’s own battle with cancer. But Tim died of cancer in 2011, and after that, Rines Terry’s students became even more important to her.
It’s rough days on the mountain like this one when the wind blows sideways and you can’t feel your toes. Rines Terry was famous for making it. She drove on – simply because she loved it.
Our last run of the day on Whiffletree was the last Rines Terry ever did in March 2019. As I ski and wish I could be one of her students, at least I can still learn from her approach: to make sure every lap counts.
Main Photo: Courtesy of Sugarloaf