Tom Corcoran, 85; Olympic racer founded Waterville Valley ski resort

FILE - In this Dec. 31, 1966 file photo, Waterville Valley ski area developer Tom Corcoran, far left, and his wife Roberta, pose with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Paul Pfosi, far right, a Swiss skier who headed the ski school at Waterville Valley, N.H. Corcoran, an Olympic skier who founded New Hampshire's Waterville Valley ski area and built it into a destination for racers and celebrities alike, died Tuesday, June 27, 2017. He was 85. (AP Photo)
Associated Press file/1966
Ski area developer Tom Corcoran (left) with Senator Edward Kennedy and Swiss skier Paul Pfosi, who headed the ski school at Waterville Valley, N.H.

Tom Corcoran’s strategy was simple on a late February day in 1960 as he flew down a Squaw Valley, Calif., mountainside while competing in his second consecutive Winter Olympic Games. “I just went like hell,” he told Sports Illustrated.

His fourth-place finish in the giant slalom, six-tenths of a second behind the bronze medal winner, was at that time the highest an American had ever placed in a men’s Olympic alpine skiing event.

Speaking with reporters afterward, he called it “the best giant slalom run I ever made” and added that “the only way you can tell you are really going fast is to feel that you are barely hanging on. That’s the way I felt.”


He was the 24th skier to head down the mountain that day in an era when courses weren’t groomed at intervals to ensure that competitors lower on the list enjoyed conditions similar to what the early racers experienced. “Nine or 10 times I might have slipped out farther than I intended on the corners,” he said after the race. “My skis were chattering on most corners, but not badly enough to louse up my run.”

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Mr. Corcoran, who went on to found the Waterville Valley ski resort in New Hampshire and become one of the most significant figures in New England skiing, was 85 when he died Tuesday. Jan Stearns, a former longtime executive assistant, told the Associated Press that Mr. Corcoran died in his Seabrook Island, S.C., home after a brief illness.

After launching the resort for the 1966-67 ski season, Mr. Corcoran brought big-name races to Waterville Valley, including World Cup competitions and the finals in 1969. He also turned it into a destination for skiers in Greater Boston and many of his high-profile friends, among them Robert F. Kennedy. Mr. Corcoran named one ski trail Bobby’s Run after Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.

In 1994, Mr. Corcoran sold his resort to S-K-I Limited, the parent company of Vermont’s Killington ski area, after Waterville Valley filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The family of New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu purchased the resort in 2010.

“Tom wasn’t just the founder of Waterville Valley, he was the spirit that grew it into one of the most storied destinations in New England,” Sununu said in a statement.


When Mr. Corcoran opened his resort in the mid-1960s, the population of Waterville was barely in the 20s. “They were about to lose their status of being a town,” Mr. Corcoran recalled in a 1989 Globe interview. “There were no taxes. No laws. No zoning.”

His own history with Mount Tecumseh in Waterville Valley dated back to his racing years as a teenager, when skiers often hiked up hills without chairlifts and skied down.

He returned in the 1960s with plans to transform the tiny ski area at the base of the mountain into a resort that resembled ones he had seen in Colorado. A Harvard Business School graduate who had won four national skiing championships, Mr. Corcoran brought to the task prowess on the slopes and in the boardroom.

“I won’t say it will be better than Stowe,” he told the Globe in 1965, referring to a Vermont ski resort, “but it should be one of the best areas anywhere.”

Thomas A. Corcoran was born in Japan, according to online biographies on skiing and sports websites, and grew up in the Quebec community of Saint-Jovite, in the Laurentian Mountains region.


“We skied to school or rode the runners of the garbage sleigh, and skied every afternoon on the rope-tow hill behind the Gray Rocks Inn,” he said in an interview for a ski industry group. “At some point in those early St. Jovite years, my parents realized that I could ski, but couldn’t read, write, add, or subtract very well despite our tutor’s best efforts.”

He was skiing for a team from neighboring Mont-Tremblant when he first visited a small ski area in Waterville. Mr. Corcoran later was an All-American skier for Dartmouth College and competed internationally, including at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. He raced in competitions while on leave from serving in the Navy and later graduated from Harvard Business School.

After the 1960 Winter Olympics, he worked in Colorado’s ski industry before buying about 400 acres along with the Waterville ski area and an inn from a family that had run them since the 1940s.

From that humble beginning, Waterville Valley was transformed by Mr. Corcoran into a resort community that eventually attracted about 300,000 skier visits annually. In addition to developing and expanding the trail and lift systems, he added hotels, condominiums, shopping, and restaurants.

Mr. Corcoran, who also had a development company, constructed the region’s Golden Eagle condos in the 1980s. The units quickly attracted buyers, but a federal tax code change that affected second-home exemptions prompted many owners to reconsider.

“We went from 100 percent sold to 10 percent sold,” Mr. Corcoran told the Globe in December 1994, after selling the resort. “And that was just one of the adverse things that happened to us all at once.”

The downturn in condo sales, along with credit and banking difficulties, pushed the resort into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. The experience was a reminder, Mr. Corcoran told the Globe, that “it always takes a lot longer to do what you want to get done, and it takes a hell of a lot more capital than you think.”

Mr. Corcoran, who stepped down from day-to-day management of his development company in 1999, had served in leadership roles with the National Ski Areas Association and US Ski Association. He was inducted into the US Ski Hall of Fame in 1978 and was honored in 1991 by the US Ski & Snowboard Association with the Julius Blegen Award for his lifetime service to the sport.

Mr. Corcoran’s wife, the former Daphne Andresen, died in February. According to the family’s obituary information for Mrs. Corcoran, the couple sailed extensively in retirement, including a lengthy trip in which they circumnavigated the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

Complete information about other survivors and a service were not immediately available.

In a 2010 interview with WIS-TV in South Carolina, Mr. Corcoran called his fourth-place finish in the 1960 Winter Olympics “the culmination of my career” and added that he probably would have done better in the giant slalom if he had started higher in the order of competitors.

“If I’d had the chance to run earlier, within the top 15, I felt in my own heart, and still do, I would have gotten a medal, and maybe I would have won it, because I was skiing with the best at that point in time,” he said. “There wasn’t anybody that was any better than I was.”

Representing the United States at the Olympics, he added, left a lasting impression. “You feel a sense of responsibility and it’s very emotional,” he said. “I can almost cry thinking about it.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at