History ~ Historical Images ~ Memories ~ Recent Photos
We are grateful to Dan Gagnon, who wrote up the following excellent history of the ski history. I have made only a couple of small additions.
The first snow, for many, creates an urgent need to hit the slopes and go skiing. For many years, Methuenites had to go miles away to find a ski hill with a tow to get them to the top of a hill. In the late 1940s Methuen opened its first and only ski hill in the west end of town near what is now the town forest. The owners Attorney Harold Morley, Les Martin and Chip Sheehan named the place the Methuen Ski Hill. It had two hills known only as the “Little Hill” and the “Big Hill.” A Mueller T-Bar on the left side (1200' long, 200' vertical, which ran at 400 feet per minute) of the “Big Hill” and a rope tow serviced the hills for the “Little Hill. A one-story lodge was used for warming the skiers and for rentals.
This 200-foot slope was ideal for both beginners and experienced skiers. It was no accident that this hill was selected. In the 1930s and early 1940s west-enders of Methuen used the hill to ski. According to Methuen native Don Gagnon the hill was only a fire path. “You took risks skiing on the hill with all the trees, and such a narrow path.” By the late 1940s the trees were cleared and it is presumed that a rope tow was the first lift to get skiers to the top.
(Right - the topographic map of Methuen Ski Area off of Hampshire Road)
In 1965 Albert Retelle and his wife Evelyn, along with three others started a ski school there. In addition to the Retelles, Joanne Thwaite Raitt, Skeets Scanlon and John Weir were also Ski instructors. According to Al Retelle, the school was a concession, separate from the business of the Ski Hill. They conducted a popular morning class for housewives and after school programs.
The one story lodge was enlarged in 1972 to a two-story chalet style building. A restaurant was located on the top floor and the rental office and warming lodge was located on the first.
(Left - the expanded lodge in the 1970's. Courtesy City of Methuen Historical Collection, provided by Dan Gagnon)
In 1973 the Retelles purchased the ski hill and ran it for 7 years. They changed the name to the Merrimack Valley Ski Area and eventually expanded the programs to include seven different classes for all ages from tots to adults. In fact the Methuen High School Ski team coach Mike Girardi, learned to ski there in the after-school program. In addition to regular skiing and classes the Merrimack Valley Ski Area hosted many races and tournaments. According to skilifts.org, In 1974, a second Mueller T-bar, this one 1007' long, with a vertical drop of 203'. It could handle 750 skiers per hour, and ran at 500 feet per minute. It was constructed on the right hand side of the Big Slope.
(Right - this mid-late 1970's view shows the second T-bar, which ran a bit faster than the one of the far left. If you look close, you can see a lift tower of the other T-bar in the upper left. Courtesy City of Methuen Historical Collection, provided by Dan Gagnon).
A 1978-79 brochure lists the facility as having three slopes- beginner to expert, 2 Mueller T-bars, 1 rope tow, snowmaking, machine groomed slopes, Ski School directed by PSIA Director with 20 trained instructors, ski rentals, National Ski Patrol, Night Skiing with good lighting, snack bar with warming lodge and a Buddy Werner Ski Team ages 5-15.
Some of the more popular events to take place included the Town of Methuen Winter Carnival sponsored by the Retelles and the Town’s Recreation Department, High School ski team races and the Al Retelle Challenge. This last event started as a dare and became more popular each year. Contestants had to hike up the 200-foot face of the hill carrying their ski equipment. At the top they had to buckle on the skis (no quick set bindings at that time) and ski down the hill. The first one down won. Al was often kidded about whether he could finish the race because of his “age.” He was in his forties- hardly an old man.
Above - Albert Retelle in front the lodge. You can also see the original T-bar base in the upper right. Courtesy City of Methuen Historical Collection, provided by Dan Gagnon.
Sometime between 1975 and 1977 the restaurant portion of the building burned, but according to Al Retelle,” the building was so well constructed the first floor could still be used for the rental office.”
During the Blizzard of ‘78, during the height of the storm when a state of emergency was declared the ski hill was opened by 1 PM on the second day of the storm. Skiers couldn’t ask for better ski conditions.
In 1979 the Retelles decided to sell the ski hill. It had never been a moneymaker. Rising insurance costs, uncertain seasons and changes to regulations governing ski facilities made it difficult to continue. The town of Methuen was able to secure a recreation grant from the State to purchase the hill. By the winter of 1980 the town ran the area. After couple of years of poor snow conditions and the town’s inability to find a concessionaire to run the place the ski hill was closed down. A fire in the ski lodge in the late 1980s ended all discussion of reopening.
Many from the area have fond memories of the hill. It was a place to learn, practice, experiment and enjoy. In the case of the Methuen High School Ski Coach Mike Girardi, the legacy of the Ski Hill lives on in the students he teaches each year.
|During the 1980's and 1990's, the area grew in considerably. The lodge was burned for firefighter practice, and the T-bars were removed at some point in the 1990's. Today though, the area is conservation land, and is open to the public. It has grown in so much it is hard to believe it was ever a ski area! The left aerial image shows what the ski area looked like in the late 1990's.||
Thanks to The Colorado Skier, we now have these great shots of the area from its 1971/1972 brochure:
|The cover of the brochure of 1971/1972. Notice the lodge, as it was only one story then.||3 shots of of skiing at Methuen. The first shot shows the loading of the T-bar. Notice how its a retractable version. The second shows skiers riding on of the T-bar to the summit, notice the small vertical drop. If you visit the area today, it does not resemble the open slopes at all! The final shot shows the summit station of the T-bar. A gladed, narrower trail is seen on the left.|
|Directions to Methuen Ski Area from the brochure.||
I have visited this area several times, and its a fun one to explore. Some of the photos below are from myself in November, 2002, the others, from Joe Sciacca from April of 2008. There are not a lot of big changes between the 2 visits. For each set, click on the image for the larger version.
View of the Slopes
|The former ski area from a distance, April, 2008.||Close-up of the slopes, April, 2008|
|The foundations for the lodge are shown here in 2008.|
|A 2008 view looking up the very over grown Big Hill slope.||All that is left of a basic snowmaking system, 2002.||Grooming implement found near the old rope tow, 2002.|
|Lower tower for the rope tow, 2008.||Beginner rope tow, 2002.||Looking up the beginner lift line, 2008.|
|Top of the rope tow, 2002.||Close up of drive for rope tow (top), 2002.|
T-bar (Left Side, Original)
|Foundations for the original T-bar, base, 2008.||Last framework of the original T-bar, 2008.||Midway up liftline, 2002.|
T-bar (Right Side, Newest)
|Looking up the liftline, 2008.||Midway on the liftline, 2008.||Light tower, 2008.|
|My dad on the liftline, 2008.||Foundations at the top.||More foundations at the top.|
|Top of the slope, 2008.||More on the top, 2008.|
Last updated: January 7, 2008
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