W. Averell Harriman had better luck standing up than he did sitting down on Saturday, Jan. 25, 1958.
Averell, then New York state’s governor, was avid about skiing. So he was probably looking forward to his duties during the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center’s dedication in Wilmington that day. So were others — about 5,000 showed up for the festivities.
Harriman smiled with the appropriately named Priscilla Snow, a Whiteface skating instructor whom he crowned mountain “snow queen.” And he posed for photographers who wanted a few pictures of the state leader sliding over snow.
The center was dedicated to the 10th Mountain Division, whose members had fought on the Italian front and in the Aleutian Islands during World War II. Mr. and Mrs. Fred Winter, of 217 Seward Place in Schenectady, were present for the honor. Their son, Burdell “Bud” Winter, a second lieutenant with the division, had died fighting with the 10th in 1945.
Harriman, then 66, had been instrumental in the development of the $2.5 million ski area. Two double chair lifts with a combined length of 10,400 feet were part of the price tag. They would carry skiers to the top of little Whiteface, 3,660 feet high.
Seven miles of trails and a two-story lodge also were crowd-pleasers. The lodge had a restaurant and lounge with plenty of windows. Decorations included plaques representing 48 New York ski clubs. A ski shop was in the basement.
Harriman made some friends when he announced during the dedication ceremony that guests would be served a free lunch in the new lodge.
But Whiteface later played a trick on the governor. The politician and the center’s general manager, Arthur G. Draper, strapped themselves into a double chair for a ride to the mountain’s mid-station. A mechanical failure stopped the lift, stranding Harriman, Draper and dozens of other people, for 45 minutes.
Harriman stayed cool. The politician would later serve in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and died in 1986.