Frederica “Freddie” Anderson, 90, disembarks the first ski train to return to North Creek in decades. Anderson is a Schenectady-are ski instructor who rode the very first ski train to North Creek in 1934.
The winter-brittled fanfare that welcomed the return of ski-train service to North Creek Dec. 30 warmed measurably as Freddie Anderson disembarked at the station.
Though the knot of townspeople attending the event were eager for the prospect of new business resulting from the service, there was a deeper celebration as Anderson, a 90-year-old Schenectady-area ski instructor, answered her applause with a broad smile and raised hands.
Anderson, known to almost no one as Frederica, rode the very first ski train as an athletically precocious 12-year-old in 1934, the year when the Great Depression finally began to release its death grip on the U.S. economy. Service started from Schenectady, where her physician father practiced.
“It was a different experience for me then,” she said, comparing that first trip and last weekend's. “At the age of 12 or 13, the interest is all in boys. And I went to an all-girls school, so the trip was very exciting.”
Accompanying Anderson on the inaugural run were her parents (both of whom were competitive skiers, figure skaters and tennis players), several of her girlfriends, a division of General Electric men and, as it happens, a fiddler who played for an impromptu square dance in the baggage car.
She'd already been skiing for nine years at that point, and had, in fact, skied an area near what's now the Ski Bowl, on a rope tow hill owned by Carl Schaefer, before climbing aboard the train.
In the intervening years, Anderson pioneered ski schooling in the Adirondack region, and launched the Schenectady Ski School, based in Niskayuna, in the late 1960s. Today, the school employs 59 instructors, 60 counting Andersen, at Maple Ski Ridge, in Rotterdam.
She’s watched the progress of time in changing ski and clothing styles, and evolving equipment, but, perhaps uniquely, in the faces of her students. Anderson has trained multiple generations in some families.
So, was her latest ski-train trip poignant?
“The thing that delighted me was that the weather was beautiful,” she said. “I sat on the river side of the train, of course. It's just a lovely passage.”
The trip spurred pleasant memories, Anderson said, memories she had no urge to share.
It wasn't as exciting as her first trip, but then “there weren't as many young people on board,” she said.
“I had a wonderful day up at Gore,” she said. “I feel as good as — or better — on my skis as I ever have. I can keep up with anyone in terms of style.”
If Anderson has a Zen relationship with the past, she eschews emotion for practicality when asked about the future. There were 38 passengers Dec. 30, according to 22-year-old train conductor Mark Ellsworth, compared to hundreds on the 1934 debut.
Does she see the new ski train returning yet again after its scheduled season ends in March?
“Life has changed so much since 1934,” she said. “People aren't going to take the snow train to ski. If nothing else, it's faster to just drive.”
Instead, people will more likely take the train today simply for the experience — to just enjoy the moment and the experience of an unworried present.
Perhaps that explains Anderson’s special greeting at North Creek. It's the winter of 2011-2012, and the U.S. is still struggling to recover from the Great Recession. Out of a train, of all things, came the undeniable evidence of improbable success — a 90-year-old ski instructor who shows no sign of, or even concern about, slowing.
Maybe Anderson's a metaphor for the region's prospects.