MADISON, N.H. - For as long as there has been a King Pine ski area, there’s been a Hoyt around to teach skiing, sell lift tickets, and, when snowmaking was introduced, make snow.
“This is a way of life,’’ said general manager Bob Hoyt, 64. “I wouldn’t have chosen a different career. You become personally involved with the guests, which is so rewarding.’’
The hill is alive with Hoyts. The family connection extends well beyond the 1962 start of the small ski area along winding Route 153 south of Conway, which the Hoyts have owned for 50 years.
In the late 1800s, the first family members came and operated a mineral spring water bottling operation, shipping to customers in Boston and New York. The clan’s holdings eventually grew when Purity Spring Resort opened in 1911.
Today, skiers and riders largely come from the North and South Shores outside of Boston, and from southern and central New Hampshire, to learn first turns at the ski area opened by E. Milton Hoyt, a former West Hartford, Conn., teacher.
Bob is Milt’s son and when his daughter Alison graduates from Cornell, she plans to follow the groomed tracks set before her and join the fifth generation that also owns the adjacent Camp Tohkomeupog for boys dating to 1932, and the nearby Danforth Bay Camping and RV Resort and adults-only Bluffs RV Resort.
But first, she must spend at least two years outside the family business before returning. That’s a rule her father’s generation installed.
“By going outside the family, she can get a lot of experience and see how other people do things,’’ said Bob Hoyt. “Maybe she’ll come back with a few bright ideas.’’
Alison’s cousins came back. Andrew Mahoney, 43, spent a couple of years being a Vail, Colo., ski bum and working at a mountain restaurant. He’s now assistant general manager of King Pine. Steven Hoyt, 44, followed the hospitality route to Marco Island, Fla., and a New England hotel chain before coming home to manage year-round Purity Spring.
“Vail’s fast-paced environment gave me an insight into how a larger company worked,’’ said Mahoney.
With a century of mountain hospitality, rounding out the fourth generation working clan are semi-retired president Ted Hoyt, 71, and Susie Hoyt, 55, a bookkeeper. But job titles mean little.
“I worked as a teenager in the kitchen, as a camp counselor, on ski patrol, as a ski instructor and made snow,’’ said Bob Hoyt. “Hopefully you gain an appreciation of what the business is about and understand it.’’
King Pine is about families. The 17-trail ski area is only big to young children and novice skiers and riders. There’s a scant 350 vertical feet and nary a high-speed detachable quad. It’s not needed on the largely gentle terrain, about three-quarters geared to beginners and intermediates. Six lifts - a trio of triple chairs, a carpet lift, and nostalgic tow-handle and rope tow - transport largely young families (and often grandparents) to the runs.
Each trail has the word “Pine’’ in it, a historical nod to England’s King George I, who sent his men in the 1700s to acquire eastern white pines, including those on what was once called Mount Betsy, the site of the ski area.
Though most trails are mellow and short, and some serve views to frozen Purity Lake below, the expert Pine Brule offers a stomach- churning steep pitch, while the Twisted Pine Terrain Park has requisite air opportunities. Night skiing, tubing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, and other pursuits are offered, while locals tap their inner Bode Miller most Tuesday nights for the 150-person Pioneer Race Series, which was started about 30 years ago.
“We definitely want to have terrain for all abilities,’’ said Mahoney. “As kids get older, they want to challenge themselves a little bit more.’’
Skiing started on the Hoyt acreage about a generation before the first chairlift went in. Milt, son of property founder Edward E. Hoyt, was enamored by the new sport of skiing gracing northern New England and put in a rope tow comprised of Model A truck parts in 1938 on an area called Bald Ledge behind the Purity Spring country inn. Over the years, rope tows came and went. He even set up a weeklong winter ski camp (now with snowboarding) during February school vacations. The snow camp predated King Pine and will turn 75 next winter.
But he also realized the need to compete. Nearby ski areas such as Cranmore and Black were installing newfangled chairlifts. Rope tows didn’t cut it. In 1962, King Pine opened with three trails and a double chairlift.
“In the ski industry you are either on the leading edge or keeping up,’’ said Bob Hoyt. “My dad realized to hold on to winter business he needed a chairlift to maintain the business. We may be small, but we have to keep abreast of the industry.’’
That’s how snowmaking came to the area. After a dry winter in the mid-1970s that saw the area only open for a few days, the Hoyts put in snowmaking the next year.
“We survived that year because we have a summer business,’’ Bob Hoyt said, an idea that has returned to the ski industry as more resorts offer year-round amusements, from scenic chairlift rides to zip lines.
But keeping up isn’t always a smooth ride.
Bob Hoyt wasn’t a boarding fan when they were first introduced. Snowboards were banned and not carried in the rental shop.
“My theory was I didn’t want to rent them because I felt beginners on snowboards were a hazard to skiers. It took a few years, but now I’m one of them,’’ he said with a laugh.
The Hoyts are also trying to weather other changes in the snow- dependent industry, such as declining length of stays and declining ski days. But Bob Hoyt knows King Pine’s place.
“We are definitely a feeder area with our place in the ski world,’’ he said. “Unfortunately, so many learning hills near population centers have closed. If smaller areas were more alive, I think skier visits would be nationwide.“
As Mahoney, who oversees the boys’ camp in summer, said, “We’re a multigeneration of owner/operators with multigenerations of guests.
“This business is like the New England weather. The weather changes every season and so does your job.’’