Canton Ski Club/Sweetheart Hill
Collinsville, CT

1948-1975

The Canton Ski Club operated a ski tow on Sweetheart Hill in Collinsville from 1948-1975. The land is now owned by the Canton Land Conservation Trust, Inc., and can be explored by anyone.

Amy Goedecke Gavalis  provided us with this great article about the Ski Club. The article was written by Phil Griggs and appeared in December, 2000 in Canton Life. It tells the complete story of the ski area.

The photos accompanying the story were taken by Woodcore in April, 2005, and show various aspects of the remains of the ski area.

The Canton Ski Club

The Canton Ski Club was organized by a group of skiers shortly after World War II.  Among them were Richard Lewis, Fred Swan, Stuart Gillespie, Herman Bristol, Dick Miner, Lloyd Hinman, Wesley Barns, Dick Barlow, Norm Wheeler, and someone named Elliot. The first ski hill was an unimproved trail near Slaymakerís house across the street from the apartment house on Rt. 179 in Canton Center.  Later they moved to a larger hill in Collinsville called Dunnís Hill on the west side of the Farmington River. It was named after the Dunn family who owned the land.  

The winter of 1947-1948 was one of the snowiest on record. The ground was covered with snow from mid December until mid March. At one point there was three feet of snow on the ground. It was shortly after this winter that the first tow was installed. This was an old car, jacked up in order to allow the rear wheel to drive the rope tow. A wooden trestle was built to make the grade more uniform on the steeper part of the hill, a small wooden ski jump was built on the extreme left side of the hill, and at least two trails had been cut. The Dunns were paid $1 per year for the use of their land and the club was off to a good start.  


A trail map of the area today, showing the hiking trails and some of the former ski trails.


Lower rope tow gear.

The club grew slowly through the Ď50ís. Stuart Gillespie, Herm Bristol, Dick Lewis, and Fred Swan formed the nucleus of a ski patrol for the club. Some lights were installed during this time and the tow engine set up was improved. All work was done on a volunteer basis with the exception of professional mechanics that were called sometimes to work on the tow engine.

The next major change occurred around 1960 when Mrs. Dunn died.  Her house and all the land were offered for sale.  A group of investors bought the house and land and sold to the Canton Ski Club approximately 20 acres and access to the property for $5000. To raise the $5000, shares of $50 were sold to each adult member.   

 

A new tow house with a steel frame supporting steel sheaves for gearing the rope tow was built. Mark Goedecke, a mechanical engineer, and member of the ski club, designed the equipment. The steel firm of Phil Griggs, also a member of the ski club, built the framework. Ernest Henchke did most of the engine work. The old wooden trestle had always been a problem. When someone fell off there, it was very difficult to walk down the trestle. It was decided to regrade that part of the mountain to eliminate the trestle. Mal Chandler, with help from others, surveyed the towline so that cuts and fills could be done to regrade it. Though it was better, it was never perfect. The rope went through this area very close to the ground and young children liked to go behind a strong adult who would hold up the rope for them.  


Looking down the lower tow line from halfway up.


Looking up the lower towline from the same spot as above.

Within a couple of years a second rope tow was constructed near the top of the lower tow. This tow was built similarly to the lower tow and served a gentle slope called Mothersí Meadow.  More lights and trails were built on the mountain. One new trail was called the Ernie Brown Trail after one of the volunteers who designed and worked on it. One place on it had a huge boulder with an over four-foot drop on the downhill side. One day the whole ski patrol jumped off this rock on a dare and it was a wonder that none of them were hurt.  
During the 1960ís the ski club grew and grew. At one point the club had 100 adult members and over 500 children. The ski patrol was expanded around 1960 to include about a dozen members. This was made necessary by the fact that the club operated seven days a week when there was skiable snow.  One year during the Ď60ís the club operated over 50 days in one season.  


Top of the lower tow.


Looking down northerly slope from near top of lower tow.

A large barn was purchased near the bottom of the ski slope. It was renovated into a warming shelter and storage area. A snowmobile and a small tread type of machine were purchased to haul equipment and to help with packing the slope. The packing could never be done well with this equipment. The old method of having members side step down after their first tow ride proved to be the best method.  The parking lot was regraded and graveled to provide a number of off street parking spaces. The access driveway was paved.  
The 60ís and early 70ís were the best years for the club.  However, an unfortunate accident also occurred in the early seventies. A young girl caught her long hair on the rope tow and the safety gate stopped the tow at the top. Due to miscommunication the tow was started up again with the result that the girl lost most of her hair and must always wear a wig. The ski clubís insurance company paid for this accident. This accident did not put the club out of business, but did make things more difficult. A new insurance company had to be obtained and insurance became much more expensive.  


Bottom of the top tow.


Machinery for the base of the summit tow.

The end of the ski club was caused by the very successful operation of Ski Sundown in New Hartford.  They could make good snow and operate over 100 days a year - twice the record of the Canton Ski Club. The sixties were good snow years- the seventies were not.  For the above reasons, 1975 was the last year that the club operated. Today the Canton Land Trust owns the land and walking trails have been made. There are still remnants of the old tow shacks and lift and light poles.  

In looking back on the years that the club ran, I think it did a great service for the town.  Many children as well as adults learned to ski there. Families had a great skiing experience and the opportunity to make new friends. This was possible with little cost because the members volunteered to do the required work.  

Phil Griggs -Feb. 21, 2000  

 


A random light fixture is left from night skiing.

Some more memories.....

Amy also shared her memories with us: This is a great site.  I've wandered through lots of old favorites like Hogback and King Ridge from childhood, Mt. Tom from college and Jericho from only 10 years ago where we taught our kids to ski.  However, I've got lots of new information for you from my "formative" years at the Canton Ski Hill, now Sweetheart Mountain, in CT.

My dad, Mark Goedecke, died in 1999 at 86 and he was the guy who taught me how to ski at Canton in the late 50's and throughout the 60's. 

Canton Ski Club was a great  deal for families.  For a small area, it offered lots of variety in terrain.  Mothers' Meadow was gentle and sunny, the North Side of the main hill was moderate to gentle and the South Side was steep, tough and had THE JUMP!  Hickory had trees as obstacles and Dunn Run had a tough pitch too.  The rope tow would zip along on fast, cool days and nights and slog endlessly on those wet, hot days where your chopper mittens soaked to the skin and the rope tow "fuzz smell" clung to wet sweaters and parkas.  Nothing in this world has ever seemed as heavy as a wet rope tow to a little kid. I remember long ski lessons on Saturday mornings with willing dads/patrolmen, lots of sidestepping and herringboning to pack the slope, wiggling through lift lines, crashing into snow fences, and smoke rising up off leather lace ups in the warming hut."

Tom Quinlan 
Canton Ski Club was on Sweetheart Mtn. in Collinsville. I have some club patches at home, heart shaped. Two rope tows, even night skiing. The steepest hill was the Headwall.  There were some rock jumps
the kids went off, very scary at night since all that you could see below were the lights down in Collinsville. I now live in Canton and the hill is just about all grown in. I have some video from the 60's of the hill. Lack of snow and an accident were main reasons the club went under.

Thanks to The Colorado Skier, we have this reference for Canton Ski Hill:

CANTON SKI HILL   (Collinsville),  [obscure],  This area closed around 1974 according to one of TCS's readers.
Vertical Drop (est.):  400 ft        Lifts:  2 rope tows

Visiting the area: (From http://www.cantonlandtrust.org/)

SWEETHEART MOUNTAIN TRAILS

Distance: three trails totaling 1 1/4 miles

Time: 1 1/2 hours but can be shortened

Difficulty: moderate to difficult - stairs are provided at steep sites.

Special features: signs of an old downhill ski operation, views of Collinsville.

Location: The preserve is reached by crossing the Farmington River on Route 179 in Collinsville. Travel straight up the hill onto Bridge Street, then turn right on Dunne Avenue (one-way). The parking area for the preserve is reached by turning left into the fourth driveway (a sign at 84-98 Dunne Ave. marks the trail) and continues to the end of the pavement.

Three Trails: The Hickory Trail, Hickory Loop Trail, and Mother's Meadow Trail; have been developed on the Sweetheart Mountain Preserve off Dunne Avenue. Signs of the old downhill ski operation are evident throughout the property. Light poles and wires are still standing, as are the remains of the upper tow house that housed the lift engine that once pulled skiers up the slope. Please use care to avoid these artifacts as you enjoy the trails.

Anybody else remember this one?

Head back to Lost Connecticut Ski Areas

Head back to the Main Page