"So then," said Sepp, "we had everything under one company except the Lodge." That fell in November 1950 to the tune of $250,000. The next year a 2,000-foot T-bar went up on Spruce Peak. The Toll House Inn was improved to the point of charging $8-10 a night; a swimming pool, tennis court and golf driving range were added to the Lodge for summer guests.
There was one more project that needed financing, a double chair lift complete with trails, restaurants, etc., on Spruce Peak. Cost: $750,000 plus another $250,000 for improvement in the entire area, a loan that C. V. Starr preferred not to float alone. To get the money, he and Sepp worked the final miracle in the conversion of Stowe. They got the local Vermont banks, some owned by the original antiski New Englanders, to come across with a loan of $500,000. Starr matched it.
That finished, for the time being, the construction of ski facilities, and the Mt. Mansfield Co., Inc. settled back for a brief period of leveling off. This past year, the first in which the Spruce chair was working, the company's profits were handsome. From a gross income of $1,136,776.02 the corporation took in a neat 6% gross profit—and immediately plowed most of it back into improvements on the buildings and ski slopes.
Last week at his penthouse apartment high above Fifth Avenue, the 63-year-old Starr wound his legs through the rungs of a dining-room chair, rubbed his jutting jaw with a surgically clean hand and reflected on the success of his hobby. Plainly, he was pleased. "When we came to Stowe," he mused, "there were five companies all fighting each other. Now they're all together, purring like kittens. And," he added, "I believe we're the only big ski resort that makes money."
Then he put the record straight on why he was in the ski business.
"I wasn't seeking any publicity, and I don't want any. I try to stay in the background; and I believe my manner is quiet." Starr's voice, as he said this, was indeed quiet and controlled.
He continued: "I'm just an angel, a backer. Really there is no difference in having a yacht, or a racing stable, or an actress, or a ski resort. It's no more expensive. But my business has very little to do with skiing." He gestured across the room to Sepp Ruschp. "Sometimes I find a man who has an inner fire—a man who is perfectly in his metier, his orbit. And when I do, I back him." He pointed to Ruschp again. "I picked you," he said softly, then turned to the listener, "and Sepp isn't the first. In my own business I've backed some of the greatest young insurance people. And," the hand again sweeping the air, "I've never been wrong—so far."
It was obvious from the nature of Starr's dwelling, from the quality of the food served and from the staggering $100 million per year in premiums that is taken in each year by the worldwide insurance empire, that Starr had made few mistakes in picking his business lieutenants. And it was equally obvious that he had made no mistake in picking Lieutenant Sepp Ruschp.
For Sepp, too, the ski business has been an unqualified success. Instead of living in a tollkeeper's hut, he and Hermine and their two children now own a handsome 10-room house at the base of the mountain. Instead of running a one-man ski school, he now occupies the sort of pine-paneled office that befits the president of a multimillion-dollar corporation.
And the local Vermonters? They have been converted, almost to a man. The road from town to the bottom of the mountain is dotted with inns and ski shops, none of them owned by the Starr interest and all of them making money from skiers. In the surrounding countryside there are an estimated 2,000 beds that will be filled weekends and holidays from Christmas vacation till the end of Easter. And the income which skiing has brought to the village of Stowe has been estimated at $2.5 million a year.