History ~ Maps ~ Memories
This was a relatively small ski area that operated in Simsbury. It was served by a 900 foot rope tow and had a 190 foot vertical drop. A wide slope was flanked by two narrow trails in the woods. The area was started in 1936 and closed in 1968. After it closed, sledders used the hill until around 1990. Even hangliders used the slope in the 70's! The slopes today are very grown in, and houses have been built on the lower portion of the slope.
Priscilla Smith (Bourgeois) Scheiner whose family owned the land wrote a great article on the area which describes much of its history. All historical images below were provided by her.
My brother, Tom Smith and I lived across the street from the Simsbury Ski Club hill at 30 East Weatogue Street when the ski club was founded and incorporated in 1936. From the window of my bedroom in our farmhouse, I could see the huge floodlights on Talcott Mountain and hear the laughter of the skiers who were old enough to ski at night. I waited impatiently until I could be part of the happy group. The club claimed to be the first ski area in Connecticut and having the first ski tow south of the Berkshires. The original tow, copied from the Whitney Ski slope in Vermont, consisted of a half mile of Otis elevator cable and a Chevrolet motor. A year later the club replaced the tow with a 1931 Buick, purchased for $41 from Duane Clement, who had retrieved the car from the bottom of Lake Congamond.
(Right - Priscilla racing down the hill in 1941. Hartford Times)
|The ski club was
maintained exclusively by voluntary efforts of club members, who took
turns operating the tow car, fetching gas and oil, and stoking the pot
bellied stove in the small shelter nearby. The warming hut was an
abandoned slaughterhouse, with workbenches for waxing skis with a hot
flat iron, a dirt floor and soon held empty beer cans lined up on the
wall. It was definitely “out-of-bounds” for an 11 year old girl. The
ski hill was the property of my dad and our next door neighbor, Harold
Humphrey, divided by a barbed wire fence, which the club carefully
removed each winter so we could ski right down to the street. The ski
area attracted many spectators, filling the side of the road, watching
comfortably from their cars. Of course, we would show off, and try not
to fall, in case all eyes were watching us. The main, open slope was
very steep, with a home-made wooden jump on one side for the daring
young men to dazzle the audience.
(Left - Priscilla's children in a January 14, 1962 Hartford Courant cover. Click on the image for larger version).
There were two trails in the woods, one on either side of the main slope, narrow and thrilling, providing there was an ample supply of snow. The rope tow was a feat in itself and hanging on over the crest of the hill took all my strength. Children would try to hitch a ride behind an adult, who would pull most of the weight. Falling off the tow trail, which was often rutted and icy, was a common experience. If there was no adult available to run the tow car, we would hoist our skis on our shoulders and hike to the top on foot. Members also had the responsibility of “packing the hill” by side-stepping the entire hill side by side.
I eventually grew up and was persuaded to represent the club in the CT state ski championship at Mohawk Mountain in the winter of 1948. I didn’t do very well, but I didn’t come in last. Our membership included several former state champion men racers and the president of the CT Ski Council, Phil Dibble.
These were my wonder years, and I can still recall the awesome sight at night standing in the fresh snow at the top of Talcott Mountain watching the distant twinkling lights of the village of Simsbury.
I believe that the ski club disbanded about 1968, when bigger and better ski areas attracted the local skiers.
My four children all learned to ski at the Simsbury club in the early 60’s, and went on to become fine skiers like my granddaughter. It was a way of life for us, and I have fond memories of many wonderful ski trips.
(Right - The Farmington Valley Herald, Feb 16, 1961 shows the bottom of the lift and the rope tow).
I have finally reached two
"old-time" residents of Simsbury who were involved in the operation of the club
to determine when the club ceased to operate. Ken Meyers is a retired policeman
in Simsbury who helped his father run the tow truck. He said they closed before
1970 which was the date that he became a policeman. He remembers helping his dad
move the tow car to an old barn across the street for storage during the
summers. East Weatogue was a state road at the time, and a neighbor who worked
for the highway department got the snow plowers to widen the road to accommodate
the "spectator autos" who parked on the side of the road to watch the skiers.
The club tried to get the town to buy the lower part of the slope, with no
success. There are now two very large homes on this property, and the hill
behind is covered with trees and brush.
My other contact was Jean Hunt in Simsbury, whose husband, Stan, used to operate the ski tow and was very active in the ski club. He is deceased, but she recalls that the club closed about 1968. People went off to bigger and better slopes for skiing. We did, also.
John Lappen wrote us another great article on the hill, describing his memories:
I grew up in Simsbury, CT and learned to ski at the Simsbury Ski Hill. I began skiing there when I was about 9 years old which would have made it about 1958. It was a very small hill which was kept operating by a few local adults who were avid skiers and outdoorsmen. One whose name I recall was a Dr. Downs who I think lived in one of the houses near the base of the hill. It has already been operating as a ski hill for some period before I began skiing so at least a few years earlier than your date.
The hill was serviced by a single rope tow which was powered by what seemed to me at the time to be an “ancient” old car or truck - probably early thirties-vintage – with the frame and some pieces of the cab and body still intact. The tow was powered off of the axle through an arrangement of pulleys. It was fairly long and the rope quite heavy. The hill crowned and then leveled off near the top. In that transition, small children would often be pulled to the ground trying to hold up the rope. I can remember having my hand caught in the snow groove under the rope and having difficulty pulling it out with my mitten.
There were only two ways down the hill. On the left was an open slope that was perhaps 150 yards in length. To the right was what passed for a “glade” – a narrower slope with some trees growing on it.
There was a small warming hut at the base of the hill which was in serious disrepair. Some of the windows were broken, and the few odd chairs had broken seats and stuffing exposed. This was still the era of lace leather boots, cable “safety bindings”, and wood skis with segmented metal edges (exposed screws). There were a few older models hung on the wall. The hut smelled of burning wood and paraffin. A vintage electric iron had been donated from someone’s kitchen for melting wax onto the bottoms of skis.
As I mentioned, those who kept the place running were a loose confederation of enthusiasts. Even in those early days of skiing, I think the club knew its diminutive place in the galaxy of alpine skiing. At the beginning of every season, I think there may have been a short letter telling members it was time to ante up for the season. I don’t think there was ever anything as glitzy as a brochure. (I could be wrong about this as my parents supported what quickly became my passion, but I’m fairly sure this was the case.). Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the hill in operation.
It was already rather overgrown by the early 80's. I recall driving by it in the early 80’s on visits home to my parents’ home and seeing sadly that the hills were brush-covered and scarred by dirt bike tracks.
|The topo map of the area, showing the open slope as well.||
|The aerial shot from 1992. Note the overgrown trails, it is hard to make them out.|
Michael Bernstein: This old area is not too far from my house. It is located in the Weatogue section of Simsbury, CT. It sat on a northwest facing knoll of the generally North-South running Talcott (avon) Mountain below Penwood State Park. I never skied there, but from what one of my babysitters told me and what I could see as I drove by it, there used to be a rope tow with perhaps as many as 3-4 distinct ways down. The area has not completely grown in yet. It may still be worthwhile to see up close.
The Colorado Skier: SIMSBURY SKI CLUB HILL (Simsbury), [closed], Located just off Weatogue St which is off Rte 185. Private. Probably closed in the early 80's. Reported by MERRITT (MA). Vertical Drop (est.): 300 ft, Lifts: one rope tow
John Coughlin: I
lived in simsbury from 1953 to 1994. I was a member of the Simsbury Ski club
for a number of years from about age 10 or to 15. It was a great place to
learn to ski. It had a rope tow that was run by an old car. The car had a
broken radiator so every time they used the tow they had to fill the radiator
and then drain it when they closed down. They had one slope which was very
steep on the left looking up and a trail on the other side that was fairly
narrow. They had lights for night skiing. and a little shack with a wood stove
to get warm. When it snowed everyone would go up the tow and side step down the
slope to pack it down.
We had a couple of races every year and I still have a trophy for second place in a race in 1961. I recall a number of members names. Some still live in the area. Ken Myers who was a simsbury policeman when I left in 1994 was a member, Tom Sorgio, who now owns a garage in Tariffville, Peter Holmes who graduated from Simsbury High school in 1967 and Don Yost who was older than I was.
Back then the closest ski area was probably Otis, so local clubs were where everyone learned to ski. If you were lucky you would get to some of the larger ski areas a few times per year.
I live in Simsbury, I'm only 16 but I remember going sledding there back
in the late 80's and it was overgrown and abandoned.
There was a small shack that was for ticket sales and a rope tow going up
a pretty steep single trail up the side of the hill.
There were a few other trails in the woods, really narrow though and I doubt they were open often. I
talked to a few older people who skied it and they told me
Steve Chase: I grew up in Simsbury and remember the Simsbury Ski Club operating in the sixties, and although I never skied there, some of my friends did. in the early seventies I remember going up to the ski hill a few times in the summer to watch very early hang gliders launching down the slope. Tons of people would show up, hike up the slopes and sit and watch these guys fly. This was the prelude to Talcott Mountain becoming a big hang gliding site.
Fred: During the late fifties I lived at Folly Farm located at the base of Talcott Mt. Today the farm is operated as a horse farm. During its heyday, Folly Farm was one of the premier Jersey farms on the east coast. Owned by John S. Ellsworth, who later gave a majority to the state of Ct., it was a show place. Forgive me for I got sidetracked
Paula Hanson: From what I know and remember, you had to be a member to ski it. There was a rope tow and a little shed to the right when you pulled in the lot. You were responsible for turning the tow lift on and off yourself. There were chairs and a wood stove in the shed. There were 2 or 3 trails. I don't remember how long or anything but I do remember them being pretty well overgrown and woodsy. It was a great place to learn to ski on and at the time there were about 10 of us in my neighborhood whose families all were members. This was back about 25-30 years ago. I wondered often if it was still there. I'm a little sketchy in my mind as to where approximately it was located since I left the area about 20 years ago.
Charles Mitchell: I was skiing at the Simsbury ski club hill in the mid 50's till about 1960 when we moved away. Looking at the hill, the rope tow, model A powered, ran a rope right up the middle through the trees. The glades were towards the right with one or two narrow trails, and a big open slope on the left. There was a little club house to get warm and maybe have some hot chocolate. The camaraderie was great and the place was always well used. Very fond memories, great family place to learn. I think my father was the president for a year. It was open before I started so I don't know really how old it was. The second ski hill mentioned in Simsbury seems to fit the same description. I only remember one ski place for such a small town.
Tony Goodwin: The Simsbury Ski Club started quite early – perhaps even in the late 30’s as one old Simsbury resident remembers that skiing was such a novelty then that there would be cars lining the road just to watch the skiers ride the tow and ski down.
Bryan Davis: I actually grew up on Terry's Plain Road, (which turns into East Weatogue St) about a mile away from the Simsbury Ski Club hill. My father still lives in that house. I have very vague memories of him going there to ski on winter afternoons when I was young. East Weatogue Street will eventually bring you over towards the old Weatogue post office. During my high school years (fall '83 through spring '87) it was commonly used by many of us as a great toboggan area. It was also the premier site for our backcountry snowboarding forays on the early wooden boards. We also used it for early downhill runs on rigid, non suspension mountain bikes.
There used to be a small deer trail that we used as a connector from one of the blue blaze trails that led into Penwood State Park to the top of the ski hill. The upper sections above the top of the rope tow were really steep! After my last visit to see my dad there this spring, I noticed that the trails are completely overgrown. You would never know that the area existed and the developments of modern housing at the base of the hill have eliminated the old rope tow hut. Too bad!
Anybody else remember this one, or have more photos? Let us know.
Last updated: March 5, 2007
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