Trove Of Found Skis Could Be Treasure, Or Could Be Trash

Dec 19, 2017

Rory Gawler bought a big, old farmhouse in Lebanon, New Hampshire about seven or eight years ago. It has beautiful views of the Mascoma River Valley and a little orchard in the backyard.

It’s mostly surrounded by open space, but next door — and really, right next door — is another house that’s not in good shape. Lebanon’s property records list it in “very poor” condition.

It’s run down and sprawling, with low ceilings and peeling walls. There are even trees growing up through the pool outside, Gawler said.

When Gawler bought his place, there was an older couple living next door. But a couple years ago, the house went into foreclosure. Gawler jumped at the opportunity to buy it.

He won the auction, but wasn’t given a key, he said. He had to break in on his own. It would have been hard to imagine what he’d find inside.

Walking through the house’s maze-like interior recently, he navigated to a small room in the back.

Inside, nearly filling the room, was a mountain of downhill skis. They were piled high, this way and that — some on racks, some scattered on the floor. 

Gawler estimates there are 400 to 500 pairs of varying brands, shapes and sizes. The skis are decades old, and some are not in great condition.

It turns out, this place was well-known in town back in the day. And the man that lived here, Jesse Truman, was something of a legend himself.

Truman passed away about five years ago, but Erling Heistad, a lifelong Lebanon resident, said his shop was a real fixture back in the day.

“You could go up there and he would fix you up with skis — not this year's model, for sure,” Heistad said. “But they would be skis.”

Rory Gawler stands in a storage room of a house he bought in a foreclosure sale. Without electricity, he uses a flashlight to illuminate the hundreds of skis he found inside.
Credit Britta Greene / NHPR
Erling Heistad stands in front of the tallest ski jump at Storr's Hill, a local Lebanon, New Hampshire, ski spot.
Credit Britta Greene / NHPR

Heistad used to coach the alpine ski program at a neighborhood ski spot called Storr’s Hill. He said kids would show up wanting to participate, but without having any skis. He’d send them over to Truman’s shop.

“They’d come back the next day, and they’d have a pair of skis — and a pair of boots and poles — and they’d be ready to start,” he said.

It didn’t matter if the kids had money or not, Heistad said. Truman would give them something to get them going — that was just his spirit.

“They’d come from Enfield, Canaan, Hanover, White River -- wherever,” he said. “Jesse was always there to supply you with another, longer pair than what you had for last year’s skis.”

Walking through the old shop now is like walking into a time capsule. In the back is a workshop area, where Truman tuned skis. Everything is still in place. There’s a tiny old television perched on a shelf and boxes of ski boots, never worn, stacked in towers against the wall.

“I would venture that a lot of this just has not been touched at all in 15 to 20 years,” Gawler said.

He’s tried to find a home for the skis, but no ski shops will take them, he said. Skis are made differently now, and these are too out of date. He’s tried posting on Craigslist and Facebook. He’s even tried calling people that make things like fences and furniture out of skis. No luck, he said.

As for the house, it’s just so run down, Gawler said, he has to have it demolished. That’ll happen in the coming days. Everything inside, too, will go with it.

“There could be some treasures in there, but they’re so surrounded by other stuff that you can’t find them,” he said. “So, unfortunately, it’s just all going to go into a truck and over to the landfill.”

Luckily, even if the equipment itself doesn’t endure, the memories do. And, that Storr's Hill, that old ski hill in town? It's still running off the energy of a whole team of community volunteers — people who share Truman’s commitment to good, old-fashioned, winter fun.

This report was originally published by New Hampshire Public Radio.