The Ultimate Lost Ski Area!!!
Now why, you say, would this small rope tow area be the ultimate lost ski area? Certainly not for its size or vertical drop. No, the reason why is that it was the FIRST lift served area in the United States!
The best way to sum this all up is from an article in Vermont Life Magazine, Winter 1983, entitled "The Ski Tow Turns Fifty", by Millyn Moore. Sections not dealing directly with the area have been dropped. Here's the article:
Fifty years ago this January, the first ski tow in the United States pulled its first skier to the top of a hillside pasture two miles north of Woodstock. In sophistication, it was nothing like the chairlifts and gondolas carrying skiers to mountain summits today. Powered by a Model-T Ford, this ski tow was little more than 1800 feet of rope spliced into a loop stretching from the bottom to the top of the hill and returning along a series of pulleys. Skiers grabbed a hold of the circulating rope and were hauled up the hill. It was simple, effective and revolutionary.
The White Cupboard Inn just across the village green took in winter guests, including the few hardly souls enthusiastic about skiing. A few days after New Year's Day, 1934, 3 skiers from NY were talking over lunch with innkeepers Robert and Elizabeth Royce. They complained of spending $40 each for a skiing weekend in VT during which they were able to climb the hills for a mere dozen brief runs. What they needed, they argued, was something to carry skiers uphill, something cheaper and better suited to New England than the elaborate aerial tramways of the Alps.
Rumors had been circulating about such a device operating in Shawbridge, Quebec. The Royces obtained a diagram and called in David Dodd of South Newbury to supervise construction. Working from only verbal descriptions and the Royce diagrams, Dodd lost little time in applying his engineering training and natural Yankee inventiveness to buidling the machine. He finished in under 2 weeks for under $500 dollars.
The Royces meanwhile paid local farmer Clinton Gilbert for the right to erect and operate the "White Cupboard Ski Way" on his hillside pasture that winter. On Jan. 18, Robert Bourdon, a Woodstock native and local ski instructor was the first person to ride up the hill.
Word that something was happening up in Woodstock spread quickly. 70 members of a Boston Ski Club arrived the following weekend.
The tow easily hauled each of these skiers and more up the 900 foot slope in about a minute, pulling as many as 5 skiers at a time. Although it was a rousing skiing success, the new tow broke down frequently and was even dangerous.
The first tow kept burning out because they hadn't rigged it right, diagnosed local instructor Wallace "Bunny" Bertram. He almost got injured on the tow that year due to his sweater getting caught in the tow line.
Before the Royces could renew their agreement, the enterprising Bertram acquired the rights to operate the tow in Gilbert's pasture. He renamed the area Woodstock Ski Tow and opened on Christmas Day, 1934. He charged $1 per day.
This is what is being celebrated. Although the original Woodstock Ski Tow has disappeared, an antique tow used in the village in the 1930's was discovered last summer in a local barn. The old tow has been restored to operational condition and re-erected. It will be used to reenact the inauguration of tow service.
I visited this area in August of 1999. That tow is still standing, a monument to that era. Look for more photos to come online soon.
The following are additional resources on this area.
(Ski Trails in the East and How to Find Them)
The tow at Woodstock Hill is reached by taking VT 12, which turns left at Pine Tree Fork. Woodstock Hill is located on a huge hillside basin. Two tows, one above the other on different levels, offer all kinds of skiing terrain over a large area of land. Lunches and free parking available.
(Vermont Life Article-Ski Vermont!)
Gilbert's Hill was still in operation.
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