By Tom Eastman
CONWAY — Ski industry icon and community leader Phil Gravink was saluted as a mentor for legions in the ski industry when he was presented with the 2015 Bob Morrell Award for civic entrepreneurship at the 25th annual meeting of the Mt. Washington Valley Economic Council.
The well-attended event was held at the Red Jacket Mountain View in North Conway.
Gravink, 80, a resident of Jackson for 29 years and a past president and CEO of Attitash Mountain Resort in Bartlett, was recognized for his and wife Shirley's years of community service and business leadership. They recently moved to a retirement community in Saco, Maine, to be closer to their family.
He was saluted not only for his work at Attitash but also for having served on various boards in the valley during his 23 years here, including the Mount Washington Observatory, for which he once was interim director; the New England Ski Museum, for whom he still serves as a board member; and the MWV Economic Council.
Gravink was introduced by Nancy Clark, owner of Drive Brand Studio of North Conway (formerly the Glen Group). She worked for Gravink right out of college as marketing director at Attitash, and she hailed him for his steady and quiet leadership.
Above all, like the late Bob Morrell, late co-founder of Story Land, Clark said Gravink was a mentor to all.
"It all comes back to vision," she said. "He is the type of leader who allows you fail, knowing you will learn from those lessons."
She cited several Attitash employees who learned under Gravink and went on to major positions in the resort industry, including former general manager Tom Chasse, now of Schweitzer Mountain of Idaho; John Urdi, now executive director of Mammoth Lakes Tourism in California; Ralph Lewis, now of Loon; Ben Wilcox, formerly of Attitash and Bretton Woods, and now president and general manager of Cranmore Mountain Resort; and Tom Caughey, former general manager of Wildcat Ski Area and now of White Mountain Oil and Propane.
"He gave us confidence. He let us fly," said Clark, a board member of the MWVEC in addition to running her marketing business.
Gravink was also saluted by Chuck Henderson, North Country assistant to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H) and a member of the Morrell Committee.
(Both Shaheen and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., sent video greetings to Gravink at the start of the meeting, saluting him for his work on behalf of the state of New Hampshire).
Henderson told of how late North Conway benefactor Harvey D. Gibson (1882-1950) mentored ski school and ski shop founder Carroll Reed (1905-1995). Reed then employed Morrell as a young man. Morrell, in turn helped others, such as 2005 Morrell Award winner and Mountain Ear co-founder Steve Eastman (1949-2008) and so many others.
In his remarks, Gravink noted he had learned much from his weekly lunches at Glen Junction with Morrell. Later on, he continued those lunches, helping Bob and Ruth Morrell's son Stoney as he took over Story Land. Sadly, he said, like his parents, Stoney Morrell died of cancer in 2006.
Gravink said while he was honored to receive the award, "the real trophies are not the ones that sit on a shelf, but the people" who have gone on to success in running or owning successful businesses.
In addition to Clark, Wilcox, Chasse, Urdi and Lewis, he included in the list of people he helped mentor his son Brad, director of operations at New York's Peek'n Peak Recreation Corp., the ski resort Phil ran as a young man.
He saluted his family, especially his wife of 59 years, Shirley. "As many times as I tell her I love her, not a day goes by — whether planting the garden, battling cancer or biking around the wold together, that we don't give each other a high five and say: We're a team!"
Gravink noted that in addition to his achievements, he was dismissed from two jobs in his life — though he said sometimes he wanted to thank those former bosses for having opened the door to the opportunities that followed. He added that he has been blessed to work in an industry he loves.
He also acknowledged one of his major disappointments in life was missing out on being an Olympian: His Cornell crew team narrowly lost in the Olympic trials to Yale, which went onto represent the United States at the 1956 Olympics in Australia and captured the gold medal.
Still, he has led a full career and has no regrets.
After graduating from Cornell with a degree in agriculture, he started out helping run his family’s farm in New York State before founding Peek'n Peak in 1963. In 1976, he became general manager of Gore Mountain, also in New York.
A year later, he and Shirley moved to New Hampshire, where he served as president and general manager of Loon Mountain for 14 years. Next he became a senior associate at Sno-Engineering.
He was director of skiing for the state-owned Cannon Mountain and Sunapee in 1991-92, and became president/CEO of Attitash Mountain Resort in 1992.
At Attitash, he worked for a board of directors that included Bob Morrell, Sandy McCulloch and the late Thad Thorne. After Sunday River's Les Otten purchased the area, in 1994 he oversaw the layout of Bear Peak in 1994-1995, as well as the building of the Skimobile Express quad chair at Cranmore Mountain Resort during the year that Otten owned the North Conway area. He retired in 1999.
A member of the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame, Class of 2012, and the New York Ski Hall of Fame, Class of 2015, Gravink was a key player for 35 years at the national level in ski area management.
He said his and Shirley's time here was the best of their lives. "Our 23 years here were everything we could have hoped for," he said. "Thank you, Mount Washington Valley!"
He ended with a favorite poem, once shared with him by a Cornell teammate, which has guided him over the years. Written by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919), it is called "The Winds of Fate":
"One ship drives east and another drives west
With the self-same winds that blow;
'Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
That tells us the way to go.
Like the winds of the sea
are the ways of fate
As we voyage along through life;
'Tis the set of a soul
That decides its goal
And not the calm or the strife."