Conway — March 7, 2008 — It may be hard to imagine for skiers and riders, but there were actually more ski areas a half century ago than there are today. An exploration of those no longer operating and in some cases nearly forgotten ski areas will be the focus of a talk at the Eastern Slope Inn Sunday morning, March 9, as part of the New England Ski Museum’s 12th annual Hannes Schneider Meister Cup Weekend.
Schneider Cup Weekend also included a Friday night reception at the Eating House, and on Sunday, opening ceremonies will be at 9:30 a.m., followed by a two-run giant slalom recreational race, a vintage ski attire contest, ice sculptures and a silent auction and awards ceremony, all at Cranmore.
New England Ski Museum board member Jeremy Davis, of New York, will present the talk beginning at 9 a.m. Sunday in the Legends Room of the historic 1926-built inn. Davis is the founder of the Web site, www.nelsap.org, which is the Web site for the New England Lost Ski Areas Project. The response to the Web site has been strong, and Davis is now working on a New England Lost Ski Areas book for the History Press.
“We’re under a tight deadline, as the publishers have asked us to turn in our text and vintage photos by March 31. So, we have been asking people to contact us with whatever photos and information they may have so we can scan them and digitally transmit the images,” said Davis in an interview this week.
The site was organized 10 years ago by Davis, a then 20-year-old former Mount Washington Observatory intern (summer 1999) and Lyndon State College graduate who now works in the meteorology field in Glens Falls, N.Y. The seeds for the endeavor were planted when Davis, at age 14, took a family ski trip from Chelmsford, Mass., to Mount Washington Valley to ski at Cranmore and Black Mountain in 1991. During that trip, he remembers driving past the former Mount Whittier ski area in Ossipee, and it got him to wondering about how many other old ski areas might there be out there?
“Then I saw the old ski trails of Tyrol when I was skiing at Black in Jackson. I wondered what I could find out about that one, and others. I started looking for stuff — old guidebooks and maps in antique stores and used book shops — but there really wasn’t much information out there at all. Then I read [longtime former New England Ski Museum president] Glenn Parkinson’s book in the early 1990s, First Tracks, about Maine’s early ski trails, and that got me really interested. I started the Web site as a hobby in 1998, and it has taken off from there, so now it’s somewhere between a hobby and a job, although I don’t get paid for it,” said Davis in a recent phone interview.
Starting out with histories of a few areas, the site has mushroomed, and now lists 659 areas, including 588 in New England, along with three in New York state, two in Quebec and even — for good topicality — one in Afghanistan. (The latter is an area known as Sari Pul, located 10 miles south of Kabul; it closed when the Soviets invaded the country in 1979, according to a meteorologist friend of Davis who works for USA Today).
With his assistants, Chris Bradford of Sanford, Maine, and Betsy McDonough Brown of Boston, Mass., along with others such as Jeremy Clark and John Gallup, Davis handles the time-consuming task of updating information, all working out of their respective apartments. The beauty of the Web site approach is that it is a two-way street, explained Davis.
“It’s amazing how many people have visited the site. Well over 100,000 visits. I get 10 to 15 e-mails a day from people, saying how they used to ski at a particular area that isn’t here anymore. And people respond with their own information, e-mailing us photos, which we then put on the site. It’s a never ending process — there is so much stuff out there. What I feel good about is that all of this is digitalized information — once it’s on the Web site, it’s preserved, and that is really important to me, because in 20 or 30 years, who is going to remember this stuff?” he said.
The Web site lists New Hampshire areas by region, noting that there are at last count 161 former areas listed throughout the state (Connecticut has 60, Rhode Island, four; Massachusetts, 172; Maine, 74, and Vermont, 113.) Of the Granite State areas, 61 were in southern New Hampshire, 70 are listed in central New Hampshire, and 37 formerly operated in northern New Hampshire.
Among those in central New Hampshire is the former Mount Whittier in West Ossipee, which operated, Davis writes, from “before 1949 to 1985,” near the present site of Watson’s store. Davis notes that Whittier “was truly a unique area. Many skiers today pass by it on the way to North Conway. The area was truly unique in that it never operated any chairlifts, just a gondola and several T-bars for the majority of its life.”
The area was founded around 1948. In 1949, three rope tows operated, with lengths of 1,200, 1,000, and 300 feet. The 1,200-foot tow served intermediate and expert trails 1,000 feet long, a 400-foot novice slope and 2,000-foot open slope for all classes. A new slope was cut in 1949, served by the 1,000-foot tow that connected to the then existing slopes and trails. Davis says that in 1950, a 2,000-foot platter pull lift, one of the first in the country, was installed at Mount Whittier. It served three trails and slopes that included 1.2 miles of skiing on 80 acres. By 1957, all of the former rope tows were removed, save for one 800-foot tow. In that year, he continues, “Whittier only operated on 30 skiing days, most likely due to a lack of snow.”
His Web site notes that around 1963, one of the first, if not the first, four-passenger Mueller gondolas in the country was installed at Whittier, significantly increasing its vertical to 1,100 feet. A unique feature of this gondola, Davis says, was the fact that it crossed Route 16, picking up skiers at a mid-station. (You may see the old gondola building today near the McDonald’s in West Ossipee — it was retrofitted as a post office and gift shop approximately 10 to 12 years ago.) Several trails cascaded down from the gondola summit, leading to either the T-bar area or back to the gondola.
One major problem existed: The slopes were too steep for most novices, and were so wide the sun tended to melt the snow. Unfortunately, snowmaking was never installed. The area dwindled during the late ’70s and into the early ’80s, losing T-bars as they wore out. By the time it closed in 1985, only the gondola, one T-bar, and a few rope tows were left. The owners tried to add summer business, including an alpine slide, water park, and bumper boats, but these failed to save the area. It closed in 1985,” notes Davis.
Since that time, like many of the forgotten ski areas of New Hampshire, the area has really fallen into decay. Trails have become overgrown almost completely. Lifts have degraded to the point that they could never operate again.
“Despite all this,” writes Davis, “the cable remains on the gondola, and all the towers are still standing, including one in the McDonald’s parking lot!”
Among the 37 ski areas that formerly operated in northern New Hampshire, local residents with not-so-distant memories will want to read about the former Tyrol Ski Area, which operated in Jackson from 1963 to 1981, and the old Intervale Ski Area, which operated from the mid 1930s until 1976. Like Whittier, Tyrol and the Intervale ski slope suffered from competition from their bigger neighbors.
The Web site carries information provided by ski historian Jim Clarke, who wrote his master’s thesis on New England ski history. Notes Clarke, “While Tyrol had a substantial vertical drop of 1,000 feet and a variety of terrain consisting of four novice trails, six intermediate trails, and four expert trails, Tyrol’s location proved to be its downfall. According to Tim and John Bailey, former owners and operators, factors such as the area’s distance from the highway, and the steep entrance road were detriments that likely led some patrons to favor nearby Black and Cranmore mountain. Critical to Tyrol’s failure was its lack of access to a suitable and stable water supply for snowmaking.”
Tyrol’s lack of snowmaking proved a devastating liability during the 1973-74 gas crisis and snow drought, allowing it to open for only a few days. It made up in events and activities what it lacked in terrain, however, as Tyrol was renowned among the valley’s partying skiing crowd as the place to have fun. Faced with mounting debts, Tyrol closed for good following the winter of 1980-’81.
The Intervale Ski Slope ski area changed a lot during its history, notes Davis’ team of historians. First, it had a J-bar, one of the earliest ever installed by the famous Fred Pabst. Then, Pabst removed the J-bar in 1947 and installed it at Bromley, his home ski area. Although the J-bar was removed, the area changed ownership in 1947 and became the property of the late Dick Stimpson. A rope tow then replaced the J-bar, but according to Stimpson, who died in 1998, it “wasn’t very popular” (Ski magazine, December, 1956).
So, to combat the bad rope tow, an 1,800-foot long and 400-foot vertical pomalift was installed. It carried 700 skiers per hour and was financed by $500 notes. Five thousand skiers per year visited the area, which featured only three trails.
“But the times were not kind to Intervale. Growing skiing areas such as Cranmore, Attitash, Wildcat and Black Mountain virtually sucked the life out of this area,” writes Davis on his Web site. “A lack of room to expand also contributed to its failing. It closed around 1976. Rust took over the lift. Saplings grew in the trees. But, in 1986, Mr. Landry of Landry’s Ski Slope, took out the poma and prepared it for use at his area. But it was not to be used, as Landry’s closed the following year.”
Still not done yet, parts of the poma worked their way over to Locke’s Ski Tows and Atlantic Forest, in Amesbury, Mass. Today, Intervale has almost completely grown in. The old base lodge formerly served as the home of Stimpson’s widow, the late Priscilla Stimpson. Son Rich and his wife Pam Stimpson are renovating the old lodge and plan to move into it to make it their home this summer. Susan May, daughter of Jonnie May and the late Wildcat publicist Dick May of Jackson, recently donated old photographs from when Dick worked at the former Thorn Mountain Ski Area in Jackson. Davis notes he was able to scan those photos.
Another old local area is the former Iron Mountain House in Jackson, which had a rope tow. It was located behind the Iron Mountain House, now the site of today’s Red Fox Pub and Grille off Route 16.
“When I was an intern atop Mount Washington in 1999, I was able to stop by the Iron Mountain House and meet with the late Jack Butler Sr. He gave me a brochure, which we have scanned. Unfortunately,” notes Davis, underscoring the value of the work he and others are doing in preserving ski history, “the photos from the area burned in the Iron Mountain House fire. So, it just shows how important it is to get this stuff scanned and preserved.”
Those are just some of the stories that ski history enthusiasts can glean from the Web site. Gone, but thanks to New England Lost Ski Areas Project, not forgotten. To contact Davis, call him on his cell phone at (518) 321-3155 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New England Lost Ski Areas Project
If you have information you would like to bring to light and share with New England Lost Ski Areas Project and other ski enthusiasts, check out nelsap.org. New England Lost Ski Areas Project also keeps track of areas that have re-opened. There is information online that spans the entire state. Below are just some of the areas depicted on the Web site in the northern section of New Hampshire:
Ballentine’s Pasture Tow (pre-1938 to at least 1941)
Iron Mountain Slope (1939 to 1975)
Guptill Pastures (pre-1941)
Oak Lee Ski Slope (before 1949)
Omer Gile’s Ropetow (before 1947)
Spruce Mountain (1930s to 1949)
Thorn Mountain (1939 to late 1950s)
White Mountain Inn (before 1949 to 1960)
Stanton’s Slope (pre-1938 to late 1940s)
Dundee, South Conway (late 1960s to after 1973)
Hillside Farm Tow (pre-1938 to around 1950)
Oak Hill (before 1938 to early 1940s)
Eaton Center Area
Rockhouse Mountain Slope (1951 to 1953)
Intervale Ski Area (mid-1930s to 1976)
Russell’s Cottages (1930s to 1940s)