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Mt. Sunapee’s Main Man Earns Top Honor

  • Frank MacConnell of Newport is the winner of the 20th annual John W. McCrillis award for support of skiing. MacConnell has owned Bob Skinner's Ski and Sports in Newbury, NH for 29 years. Thursday, March 27, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Frank MacConnell of Newport is the winner of the 20th annual John W. McCrillis award for support of skiing. MacConnell has owned Bob Skinner's Ski and Sports in Newbury, NH for 29 years. Thursday, March 27, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Frank MacConnell, of Newport, owner of Bob Skinner's Ski and Sports in Newbury, NH, greets a customer Thursday, March 27, 2014. MacConnell was recently given the John W. McCrillis award for supporting skiing. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Frank MacConnell, of Newport, owner of Bob Skinner's Ski and Sports in Newbury, NH, greets a customer Thursday, March 27, 2014. MacConnell was recently given the John W. McCrillis award for supporting skiing.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Frank MacConnell of Newport is the winner of the 20th annual John W. McCrillis award for support of skiing. MacConnell has owned Bob Skinner's Ski and Sports in Newbury, NH for 29 years. Thursday, March 27, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Frank MacConnell, of Newport, owner of Bob Skinner's Ski and Sports in Newbury, NH, greets a customer Thursday, March 27, 2014. MacConnell was recently given the John W. McCrillis award for supporting skiing. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Newbury, n.h. — Before Bob Skinner would agree to sell his ski and sports shop at the base of Mount Sunapee Resort to Frank MacConnell, he required MacConnell to promise to honor two important principles.

“He said, ‘Don’t forget about the school programs, and take care of local clientèle,” MacConnell recalled last week in his office. “He knew the elementary school programs represented the future of our industry, and that local people are people we have the opportunity to see every day. They’re our friends and neighbors. All of that was important to him and those are principles that I share.”

MacConnell, 57, was recently given the John W. McCrillis Award, issued annually by the Mount Sunapee Area Ski Club to recognize individuals who make significant contributions to the sport of skiing. It was founded in 1995 by the family of McCrillis, a 1919 Dartmouth College graduate who officiated the first U.S. National Downhill Championships on Mount Moosilauke in 1933 and co-authored the 1932 instructional book, Modern Ski Technique.

MacConnell, the youngest to ever receive the award, was honored at a banquet March 15.

“It means a tremendous amount to me, and it was a big surprise,” MacConnell said. “All the other gentlemen on the list are people who have done so much to keep the passion alive for the sport of skiing in our area.”

That list includes Skinner (1998) and Ted Niboli (2003), MacConnell’s coach at Newport High in the 1970s. Niboli actually began coaching MacConnell while the latter was in junior high, and he petitioned the NHIAA for him to compete as early as seventh grade.

“I think what he said was, ‘We’re going to be bringing this kid to the races anyway, so you might as well count his results,’ ” MacConnell said.

Niboli recalls things somewhat differently.

“There was a bit more politics to it than that,” Niboli said in a phone interview. “The fact was, Newport was a small school, and other small schools in other sports had (junior high) athletes. I was on the ski committee, so I made my case and Frankie was allowed to compete.”

MacConnell excelled at all disciplines, earning a spot on the U.S. developmental team his junior season, when he also won the NHIAA Skimeister award, given to the individual who earns the most points combined across ski jumping, alpine (giant slalom and slalom) and cross country races.

“The USD thing was short-lived, because the time and financial commitment was just too much,” MacConnell said. “But the Skimeister award was a big deal for me. That was an important goal both for me and (Niboli).”

Niboli was nearly as impressed with MacConnell’s organizational skills and enthusiasm as he was with his skiing ability.

“He was always helping out at the meets, whatever you needed him to do,” Niboli said. “He was a great young man to work with.”

MacConnell was recruited to ski at Johnson (Vt.) State College, whose ski teams competed in NCAA Division II. Though humbled by the level of competition at all disciplines but ski jumping — “All of a sudden, the guys around me were a lot better than I was,” he said — MacConnell continued to compete and helped Badgers coach Jed Guertin begin a much-needed jumping program.

“They didn’t have one at the time, and all of the (team scores) at the meets factored in all of the disciplines,” MacConnell recalled. “We didn’t have a shot to win as a team without jumpers, so (Guertin) made me the coach. Before I knew it, I was competing and coaching ski jumping and coaching men’s and women’s alpine as well.”

The team finished second nationally during MacConnell’s junior year in 1977, and he thought he had a shot at the individual title as a senior. While training at Gunstock Mountain Resort the day before competing, MacConnell did a somersault in midair, landed on his back and was rendered unconscious.

“I still competed the next day, but I wasn’t at my best,” he said.

MacConnell was hired immediately out of college to coach a ski team based at Mount Crested Butte in Colorado. He spent three years there before he returned to New Hampshire in 1981 to coach the Colby-Sawyer College ski team. He later managed Claremont’s Arrowhead Recreation Area before going to work for Bob Skinner in 1984.

“He knew he wanted to sell me the place as soon as he hired me,” MacConnell said. “He was a mentor of mine and he knew I cared about skiing in the area as much as he did.”

Almost 30 years later, area youth programs and local skiers still turn to Bob Skinner’s Ski Shop for services and amenities. Elementary school skiing outfits from Sunapee Elementary School and Newport Montessori School can rent full ski gear for $40 for a five-week program.

“We want to make it inexpensive for families, and it’s not just me, but everyone who works here who makes it happen,” MacConnell said.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.