From its oiled wood floors, to its woolens and dry goods, not much has changed at Lahout’s Country Clothing and Ski Shop, America’s oldest ski outfitter, in Littleton, New Hampshire. Since 1920, four generations of Lahouts have run the iconic store, but it was 93-year-old local legend Joe Lahout—he stopped skiing at 90—who tossed in some modest snowsports equipment in the 1940’s and gave life to the burgeoning ski community. The unblemished, country-store charm has united decades of Interstate 93 skiers ever since.
Over the last year, Lahout’s grandson Anthony teamed up with Teton Gravity Research to produce a short film about Joe “A lot of people's parents would remember seeing my grandfather Joe when they were little kids,” says Anthony, who spent a winter living in his car and skiing throughout the West, where he met a lot of people who had connections to Lahout’s. “It was his life and the memorable interaction they had with him that made that ski shop stand out."
Photo: 93-year-old Joe Lahout. “Put on the damn skis, and go like hell,” Lahout likes to say. “That’s the way it was in those days.” As a teenager, Lahout would train after school at Remich Park and hike his skis to the top of the hill to gain enough speed to make it down the mile of unplowed road toward his home.
Joe Lahout Sr. carving at Cannon Mountain in 1947. Lahout, who started skiing when he was eight years old, perfected his skills at Cannon using the Arlberg technique that Austrian ski instructor Hannes Schneider brought to the U.S. during WWII. “I took right to it,” Lahout says.
The hill at Remick Park in Littleton, New Hampshire, 1927, where Lahout first learned to ski. "We had to walk up from the bottom to the top, ski down, and put our skis on our shoulders and walk up again,” Lahout remembers. “That's how we developed our technique. You walked up and skied down."
Herbert Lahout’s General Store, converted from an old 19th century grange hall, in the 1920s. Lahout remembers his father Herbert, who died when Lahout was 12, as a shadowy figure who left for months at a time peddling the store’s dry goods and woolens on a horse and buggy, sleeping in farmers’ barns along his big loop route during the Depression.
A typical ski day with Joe Lahout in the late 1940s. "My grandfather would constantly take not only his family but other neighborhood kids to ski, to get them out there and have fun," Anthony says. “He had to ski.”
Lahout (middle) and friends at the base of Tuckerman Ravine in the late 1940s. The glacial cirque on the southeast face of Mt. Washington is an iconic place for any New England skier.
The tramway at Cannon, where Lahout became known for his athleticism, jumping, turning, and speed on the slopes and where he won the Golden-Cannon Medal in 1947 on the Cannon Mountain downhill. The resort’s original passenger tramway, constructed in 1938, was the first in North America.
Lahout’s Country Clothing and Ski Shop today. Joe Lahout Sr. stands on the balcony of his home above the store where he’s lived his whole life. “It’s an old, established business that he never changed,” says Lahout’s youngest son Herb. “He kept it the way it was, and people like coming in because sometimes people don't like change."
Lahout on the porch above the store, where he sits to relax, read, or ride the stationary bike in the background. "It's a very iconic spot," Anthony says. "A lot of my friends who have never met my grandfather know him as the white-haired guy on the porch. That's his meditation zone."
The room over the shop where Lahout was born in 1922, raised his four kids, and continues to live today.
Lahout ready to greet customers in the ski shop, which sells and repairs equipment alongside woolens, dry goods, beer, cigarettes, and penny candy. “He kept it old because he didn’t have the money to modernize, but he used that to his advantage,” Herb remembers. “We'd have to oil the floors because the wood was so old. Every time you step in the store, it creaks.”
Lahout holds a leather ski boot from another era, one of the many pieces of ski memorabilia that fill the shop from the old days. It’s a bit like shopping at a bazaar.
Photos line the walls inside the ski shop. “All the stuff in the background—the beer bottles, the Bode Miller picture, the leather ski boots—that's all just there,” Anthony says. “The story kind of told itself once we turned on the camera."
The shop’s old register, which remained the primary one in use through the 80’s. Lahout was always adamant about contributing to the community and making the store affordable to working-class New Englanders. “He was the original discounter of goods,” Herb says. “Everything in that store was priced to sell.”
The shop’s front door is plastered with photos and signatures from Olympians like Bode Miller, Red Sox players, and other local heroes.
A string of old bindings from decades past, from leather to modern styles, cover more than 10 planks along the wall.
Lahout behind the original ski repair bench holding a set of wooden planks he used to turn on. His first skis were seven-feet long with leather-strap bindings and no metal edges. “It was natural ski country, and there was plenty of snow,” Lahout remembers. “We didn’t have much equipment, but we took advantage of it.”
Joe Lahout Sr with his three sons, who run the business today. His youngest son, Herb, who owns the business real estate, stands on the left. His middle son, Ron, on Lahout’s immediate right, and oldest son Joe Jr. on the far right, own and operate the retail store. Lahout's daughter, Nina, works for the United Nations.
The Lahout men stand in front of the shop where they all grew up. “You get to know other people's family almost as well as your own," Anthony says. That family spirit was always part of what attracted people to the store. “[My father] felt that you always had to treat customers right because you wanted them to come back,” Joe Jr. says. “You had to be honest with people."