As a young man growing up in Quebec, Tom Corcoran knew at least two things about skiing: that Europeans were bound to be dominant over skiers in the Americas; and that if ski areas gave up on race training, it would only get worse, the subtle technique at the center of skiing — that hard carved turn performed as quick as possible by punching the ski edge — lost.
As credentials for what he preached about, Corcoran, in the 1960 Olympics at Squaw Valley — turned in a fourth-place finish in giant slalom for the U.S. Ski Team, the best Olympic GS result by an American until Bode Miller scored silver in 2002. What turned Corcoran into the amazing turner he was for his age was mastering the ice steeps of the Eastern Townships on technical skis.
Decades later, as a Harvard MBA but no less passionate about skiing, Corcoran was able to follow his dream and build a ski area in central New Hampshire — Waterville Valley.
At Harvard, Corcoran met and befriended the Kennedy family, and he was especially close with Robert, who had perhaps more enthusiasm than experience. It was the Kennedys who backed the loans to make Waterville Valley happen. Whether Corcoran ever actually coached his friend has never been written, but it’s clear Kennedy preferred one central trail where he practiced diligently on the slopes. For starters, Corcoran discouraged stopping mid-run. “Skiing the whole run stretches you,” he used to point out to members of the Black & Blue Trail Smashers, a club of amateur racers he started at Waterville. “If you stop to regroup, you’re not teaching yourself anything, and you’re not going to learn much.”
Not too surprising, Robert Kennedy and his family became a common sight at Waterville Valley, and his ski form never quite rang more enthusiasm than the term “adequate.” But one Corcoran trait usually seen in RFK’s runs was the tendency to blast right ahead down the trail without ever putting on the brakes. This also was attributed to his attempt to ditch the paparazzi that dogged the whole family in those days.
The run that RFK favored was a standard, fast cruiser of its day, and after Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, Corcoran renamed it “Bobby’s Run.” Upper Bobby’s Run starts in a fairly wide plate for dispersing crowds, and letting you get into the rhythm that your run will become. There is an abrupt left-hand bank and drop, but plenty of room to avoid, while the eye is drawn well out over the declining peaks of the White Mountain National Forest.
In about 30 yards comes a face that gives a nice speed boost, and now coming off with speed you can get into your turns. For another 80 yards let your conscience guide you, as there’s a chance for serious speed with a wonderful plunging roll that ends at an island (go left). That side of the island is less traveled and drops you further into this pleasing pitch. Shift to your left for a turn that lines you up for an outrun chute that pulls no punches but drops you at the lift, ready for more.
Corcoran did more than perhaps any other operator in the East to bring top World Cup racing from its European stronghold to American slopes. Waterville hosted 10 top World Cup races beginning with the 1969 finale won by Austrians Karl Schranz and Gertrud Gabl. Such notables as Ingemar Stenmark, Julie Parisien, Alberto Tomba and Tamara McKinney performed on Competition Hill at Waterville, a fulfillment of Tom Corcoran’s dream.