Who is Walter Foeger and What is Natur Teknik?

View from just below the Inglenook Lodge of Little Jay, Big Jay and North Jay circa 1965

View from just below the Inglenook Lodge of (L to R): Little Jay, Big Jay and North Jay circa 1965, in pre-aerial tramway era, showing trails serviced by the Jet T-Bar at left and the Bonaventure chairlift (Photo courtesy Tom Emrich)

Up until this point, Jay Peak had been owned by local stockholders, mostly individuals with a share or two, and Walter as vice-president and general manager naturally had a large influence with the corporation’s board of directors. He knew, as they did, that it was either move forward or fall behind – no standing still. Jay Peak’s needs had grown beyond what local fund- raising could provide. Forestry products giant Weyerhaeuser Co., with local interests, was looking to diversify its portfolio into recreational fields – and maybe pick up public relations points at the same time. The Jay Peak board agreed the time had come to make a bold move and sold the idea to the stockholders.

Walter on summit of Jay Peak, pointing out his vision of the area to Weyerhaeuser officials in 1965

Walter (on left) on summit of Jay Peak, pointing out his vision of the area to Weyerhaeuser officials in 1965 (Photo courtesy Tom Emrich)

This would be best for the whole surrounding area, with economic spin-offs for everyone. Some folks were less than happy with the proposed offer for their shares, which barely matched their original investment. Abe Brown of Enosburg Falls (local entrepreneur and one of Jay’s early directors) recalls one of his associates lamenting, ‘Worst investment I ever made’. Abe replied, ‘That was the best investment you ever made. How many (widgets) a year did you sell before they started skiing up at Jay, and how many (widgets) a year do you sell now?’ The same was true throughout the two counties. Business had picked up significantly in all areas of the economy, and created some new ones. But there was a chance now of this growth leveling off. In January 1966 stockholders voted to sell their shares to Weyerhaeuser.

View of the tramcar approaching the SkyHaus, seen from top of Ullrs Dream

View of the tramcar approaching the 'SkyHaus', seen from top of Ullr's Dream (Photo courtesy Tom Emrich)

With Weyerhaeuser’s backing, Walter could now build the Jay Peak of his imagination. The Von Roll aerial tramway, and the new base lodge, the ‘Tram Haus’ (in Austrian Tyrolean style, naturlich) were completed and ready for the January 1967 skiing crowds (and for Montreal’s Expo 67). The ‘Skyline’ double-chairlift was added as an alternative, or supplement, to the tramway. Debarking at the top of the ‘Bonaventure’ chairlift, skiers could hop on this upper lift for a ride to the summit. The Skyline could also be used for late season skiing. To further facilitate this top-of-the-peak, late-season-skiing, a portion of the ancient Pomalift was reused on the upper section of the new ‘Ullr’s Dream’ trail (which led into the existing ‘Long Trail’ ski run). These two upper lifts also took crowd pressure away from the base where all of the other lifts started. Continuing to innovate, Walter had a pond dug high on the northwest flank of Big Jay as a reservoir for the snowmaking equipment that began to operate there, stretching the ski season at the higher elevations into early June (in an attempt to add competition to the Tuckerman’s Ravine Headwall spring pilgrimage).

Grainy frame, from an old 16mm film reel, of Walter leading a group of instructors down the Open Slope

Grainy frame, from an old 16mm film reel, of Walter leading a group of instructors down the Open Slope (Film clip courtesy Jo Cota, Montgomery)

His ski school that same year offered the new technology of closed-circuit video recording as an instructional aid (this was possibly one of its first uses for this purpose). The ski school was teaching record numbers. The future was looking rosy. Only one year later, in May of 1968, Walter would leave Jay Peak and, shortly thereafter, skiing. Used to the almost unquestioned control he had wielded prior to Weyerhaeuser’s stewardship, he now bristled under the corporate constraints placed on his enthusiasms and his once spontaneously conceived and executed projects. Walter did not fit comfortably in the suit of a middle manager, who must first produce a dry appropriation request before getting an approval to act. The board of directors in the early days of Jay Peak, Inc. had curtailed some of his projects that simply did not have present funding, but managed somehow to leave him his dignity, realizing that his personality, vitality, and inspiration were key to the area’s success.