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Cannon ski instructor marks 50 years in the United States

Maggie Doughty, in her trademark hat, leads a group of young skiers down the Gremlin trail at Cannon Mountain. Photo by Meghan McCarthy. (click for larger version)
February 06, 2013
FRANCONIA—Maggie Doughty is something of a celebrity at Cannon Mountain. She normally has a neat line of children trailing behind her on the slopes, gliding like a ribbon through a gentle breeze. And wherever she skis, she is greeted by waves and shouts of, "Hi, Maggie!"

"My students ask me, 'How come everybody knows you?,'" says the veteran ski instructor, who has worked at Cannon for more than 30 years and retains a clipped Austrian accent a half-century after her arrival in the United States. "I just tell them that I have taught most of them and that I have been here a hundred years."

While Doughty, 71, has not been at the ski area for quite 100 years, she has taught many hundreds of children to ski at Cannon, through the Junior Development program, local school programs, the Franconia Ski Club, and regular ski school classes. Those children grow up and bring their own kids to Cannon, and so Maggie is now teaching her second generation of Cannon kids.

"The kids love her accent and how she's demanding, but kind and patient and caring," says Keith Wilding, whose daughter skis in Doughty's seasonal junior development class each winter weekend. "Or maybe that's why I like her."

Maggie arrived in the United States in December of 1962, a young woman – then Magdelena "Nene" Biack. Back then, it wasn't unusual for young Austrian ski instructors to set up shop in the States, but nearly all of them were men.

"It was always a dream," she says, recalling the day a family friend mentioned the opportunity for her to come to the United States. "Until [then] only young men went to America to teach skiing. Nobody ever tried to hire a girl."

She arrived in Hoboken, N.J., via ocean liner because she was afraid to fly; nearly two decades after the World War II bombing of her native Vienna, planes still invoked terror for Maggie. During the war, when she was barely more than a toddler, her family had fled Vienna for the Austrian countryside. It was there she learned to ski.

"Since it was winter and I was a very spunky three-year-old, one of the farmers took a liking to me and made me a pair of wooden skis from a wine barrel. He nailed a pair of warm felt boots right onto the skis, cut me two little hazelnut poles, stuck some baskets on the bottom, and my skiing career was born," Doughty says. "I took to skiing like a duck to water."

When she was 17, she started teaching younger school students, who would receive instruction during week-long ski outings. It was during one of those outings, on a trek to a remote Alpine hut, that Doughty and her group were caught in an avalanche. Maggie was one of nine students of the group of 22 buried by the surging snow. One hand was the only part emerging from the snow, but it was enough for her friends to spot, and they quickly uncovered her. Four students died in the avalanche.

Despite the tragedy of that day, Maggie continued to ski and to teach. She left Austria when she was 21 and began working at Greek Peak in upstate New York, where she was the only woman on the ski school staff. Her second year there, Maggie met Marshall Doughty, whom she married in 1964, the same year she achieved her Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) certification. The couple would go on to instruct at and direct several ski schools in Vermont through the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1981, Maggie came to Cannon as a private ski coach. She's been at the mountain ever since, working as both a coach and an instructor.

"Once I got hooked on teaching at Cannon, there was no way I would go anywhere else," Maggie says. "I just love the variety of the trails, the wonderful views from the top of Cannon, the people… I went through a lot of changes over the years, and I would not trade Cannon for anything."

She is like a proud mother at the ski area, recognizing children she taught last year or a decade ago or two or three decades ago. She relishes when past students seek her out on the mountain. She tells her current students stories about when their parents or aunts and uncles were young skiers. Maggie has two grown sons and three grandchildren of her own, but she calls all these children and grown children she has taught through the years "my kids."

"Everyone loves Maggie up here," says Cannon general manager John DeVivo. "She's got a bit of a sharp European wit, and she holds nothing back, so there's no lack of personality there. She's a great ambassador for Cannon, and for many she represents everything that Cannon is about – taking folks from all walks of life and welcoming them into the family."

Maggie is easy to spot on the mountain. Trademark blonde braids emerge from either side of her hat, which is topped by spiky red llama hair. Her standard protection against the elements is simply a layer – or two, depending on the cold and wind – of Bag Balm on her face. And in a skiing era when wide skis have created a lower, wider stance, Maggie's measured turns are made in the more traditional tall and narrow stance: smooth, steady, graceful.

"Maggie loves to ski. It doesn't matter how warm or cold it is or if it's raining or snowing," says Jack McGurin, former ski school director at Cannon, who describes Doughty as a hard and willing worker and true professional. "For many years, parents of the Franconia Ski Club's youngest skiers admired her organization of the youngsters and the results she achieved. As the season progressed, Maggie's groups would be seen skiing in an orderly fashion, in a line like a snake… Were they racing? No, but they sure were learning about skiing."

For her work as a ski instructor, Ski Magazine named Doughty one of the best 100 ski instructors in North America in 2003. The following year Doughty was one of eight female instructors honored by the Veteran Ski Instructors Reunion for their significant contributions to ski instruction.

Next year, Maggie Doughty will earn her 50-year PSIA pin, making her by far the most experienced instructor at Cannon. She says she'll keep teaching skiing for as long as she can: "I love it. I absolutely love it."

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