August 22, 2014

Ski matriarch dies at age 76

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The Associated Press

RICHMOND — Virginia Cochran, whose name has been entwined with Vermont's skiing heritage for more than four decades, has died at the age of 76.

Cochran, known as Ginny, started the Cochran Ski Area in Richmond with her husband, Mickey, in 1961 and over the years taught more than 10,000 children to ski. She also helped her own four children and 10 grandchildren become top skiers — with some joining the U.S. Ski Team and one winning an Olympic gold medal.

Cochran died Saturday at Vermont Respite House in Williston of complications from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Mickey Cochran died in 1998.

The Cochran Ski Area began as a family affair when the couple moved to a former dairy farm along the Winooski River. They soon constructed a rope tow for their children: son Bob and daughters Marilyn, Barbara Ann and Lindy.

Barbara Ann went on to earn the 1972 Olympic gold medal in slalom at Sapporo, Japan. In 1969, Marilyn was the first American to win a World Cup in the giant slalom.

“From the start, neighbors wanted to ski their hill,” said David Healy, a friend of the Cochrans, “so Ginny opened her back door and welcomed them in. Her kitchen became the lodge.”

The ski area was a modest business offering affordable access to the sport. “They ran a small mom-and-pop operation,” Healy said, “and it's the nation's first nonprofit ski area.”

In the winter nowadays, 800 schoolchildren come to ski at Cochran's each week, he said. Many of them are from area schools’ ski and ride programs, including one from Williston.

Ginny Cochran, who hailed from Hartland Four Corners, met Mickey on a ski trip to Stowe while both were UVM students in the late 1940s. They married in 1949 and moved to Windsor, where Mickey taught high school science.

“They skied with their kids at Mount Ascutney,” Healy said, “but they came back to Burlington in 1958. He worked as an engineer at General Electric.”

With the purchase of about 190 acres in Richmond, however, the Cochran clan didn't have to stray far from home to indulge their love of the slopes.

“The kids were already racing at Smugglers' Notch,” Healy said. “Mickey recognized they needed to practice during the week. His goal was to give them a place to train after school.”

As the ski area grew in popularity, the Cochrans added to the property. They bought another 140 acres in 1965. The facility includes eight trails, four lifts and a T-bar. Other lodges were built, allowing the family to reclaim its kitchen; the most recent one went up in 1984.

 

Observer staff contributed to this report.

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