Vermont Academy
Saxtons River,VT

1950's-Mid 1990's

Bob Campbell has an excellent write up and memory of this ski area which was started by Coach Warren Chivers. It was basically the training hill for the Vermont Academy and was a classic rope tow ski area. Following this is another history by John Tobin.

My formative years were spent on this hill from elementary school through high school. I went on to the University of Denver, taught skiing at Arapaho Basin, and have taught at Bromley Mtn. for the past thirty-three years. For two years I was headmaster at Stratton Mountain School. My roots are deeply imbedded in this ski area.

I grew up in Saxtons River and first skied here in 1952 at the age of six. The area was across town from Vermont Academy about a mile away. It was on farmland loaned and eventually given to the school by the Barnes family. The hill was packed by skis and the students walked from school to the area. The walk was considered character building. The tow was open to the community on weekends. The single rope tow was reputed to be the fastest in New England. When I was eight years old my poplin Slalom Skiware parka wrapped around the rope and I went over the top. I rode upside down nine feet off the ground for two towers down the hill, before my parka ripped and dropped me to the ground. The wind was knocked out of me and I had bruised ribs but no major injuries. But I did get two days off from school. After this it was decided that a safety gate might be a good idea. 

Here is the Terraserver Image of Vermont Academy's ski slopes:

I skied to elementary school every day and skied with the VA students after school at every opportunity. In 1960-1965, as a student at the school, I competed on the ski slope. As the pasture land overgrew several actual trails were cut. One was called Devil's Dip, a narrow downhill trail. The speed record was set by senior Sam Bartow who skied between two trees so narrow that he had to turn his upper body sideways to squeeze through. Our coach, 1936 Olympian and ski hall of famer, Warren Chivers cut the trees down the next week but the record was never beaten.

In the late sixties and early seventies poor snow limited the use of the area and the demand of students for better conditions, Bromley and Okemo became near daily trips. The area was finally retired in the mid nineties. In 2002 the whole system was dismantled by Harry Brown and his son Chris, both Vermont Academy graduates, and hauled off to Colorado where Chris lives. Over the years many Olympians competed on the hill, some VA students others from the likes of Kimball Union Academy, Deerfield, and 
Holderness and Putney School. Two years ago a ski park was built on the campus with three ski jumps, a practice hill for alpine skiing and snowboarding, snowmaking and a poma lift. This was a great addition for the school, but the real memories will be with the high speed rope tow that would rip you off the ground if you grabbed on too quick, the gloves and mittens that wore out, the occasional tangled clothing, and the incredibly heavy rope when waterlogged from damp spring snow. The entire history of the old hill was
possible because of the work of Warren Chivers, and his assistant coaches, Bob Rock, Gus Black,Nat Niles and others who worked in conjunction with the Vermont Academy Outing Club through the years. Warren has just turned 90 and still lives in Saxtons River and has close ties with Vermont Academy. 

Remembering the Vermont Academy Ski Area and Warren Chivers

John C. Tobin Jr., VA class of ’72

The Vermont Academy ski area had an unusually large role in my high school years, and I recall this little slope with fondness. When I arrived at VA in the fall of 1968 as a freshman, the existing rope tow had fallen into disuse. The old tow served a modest cone-shaped slope with a vertical of about 150’. The ski team was now using a newer trail with about twice the vertical drop, just to the south of the original slope. That winter, we’d pack the trail by sidestepping up, set gates, get in a few runs, climbing back up after each run, then call it a day.

This was back in the days of four-event competition, so I was also duly instructed in cross country skiing and jumping. I vividly recall the fluid, elegant cross country skills of the late Warren Chivers as he demonstrated proper diagonal stride technique. The cross country trails were laboriously groomed with snowshoes and then carefully skied to set the tracks. Like my father, who skied for Dartmouth (class of ’42) I was primarily an alpine skier, proved to be a passable cross country skier, and a terrible jumper. VA had three jumps, a small training jump, a somewhat rickety JV jump, and the much more impressive varsity jump. The coaches soon gave up on me as a jumper, as my tracks could always be seen at the top of the landing hill above everyone else’s, and even the JV jump struck fear into my heart.

In the spring of my freshman year, I decided to get away from competitive sports for the season and join Warren Chivers’ trail crew. My father was not happy about this decision, as he rightly sensed that trail crew was a low-status refuge for unathletic nerds. But I’d had a miserable time playing football in the fall, having conclusively proven that my grandfather’s all American genes had completely passed me by. Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed trail crew. I liked getting out in the woods and working with my hands. And because I was on the ski team, this gave me a stake in the outcome of our work. I suppose this made me a Warren Chivers man through and through, between four years on the ski team, and trail crew at least one season every year.

We had an ambitious project ahead of us that spring—cutting a new line so that the old rope tow could be relocated to serve the longer race trail. We’d do what we could with our axes and bow saws, and then Warren and alpine coach Peter Sargent would periodically make sweeps with chain saws. By the end of the term we had roughed out most of the liftline and made a small start on a new trail just to the south of the tow line.

The next fall, I arrived on campus to find that the line had been fully cleared, bulldozed, graded, seeded, new poles installed, and the drive shed relocated and repainted. A bright yellow tow line replaced the old rope. Warren was concerned that the new line was much longer and would exceed the capacity of the motor, so he did not locate the drive shed quite at the top of the trail. That fall, the trail crew began to work on the new trail in earnest, and roughed out about two thirds of the trail.

The VA ski program took a big leap that year, with the tow relocated to a 300’ vertical racing trail, a second trail partly finished, and the acquisition of an oversized snowmobile for grooming the cross country trails. Warren also used the snowmobile to pack the ski hill, driving it up and down at a brisk clip. I sensed that Warren particularly enjoyed his new toy! The program also acquired an electronic timing system, courtesy of a parent donation.

Although the original slope could still be skied, it required a long traverse to reach and was rarely used once the tow was moved. A short extension above the top of the racing slope was used for GS race starts. A hiking trail above the ski area had been widened enough to make it skiable, but only a few of us ever hiked up to ski it; “earning our turns” wasn’t at the top of our priority list in those days. Warren also pointed out the mostly grown-in remnants of an old downhill trail, dating back to the days when it was still deemed reasonable to ski downhills with long wooden skis on narrow, winding trails.

The new tow was fast and a bit of work to ride. We soon learned that our nice ski gloves were ripped to shreds by the rope, and that rope burn was a very unpleasant experience. So the leather ski gloves were replaced by work gloves from the hardware store.

In the spring of my sophomore year we cleared the rest of the second trail. Once again, by next fall it had been bulldozed and seeded, and was ready for the snow to fly. The new trail was informally known as the JV trail, and the main trail as the varsity trail. In the spring of my junior year we began cutting the third trail, located to the north of the main trail. This was planned to be the recreational skiing trail, and the top half was skiable for my senior year.

During my four years we always had enough snow to ski, although the occasional midwinter thaw would mean training at times on ungroomed boilerplate. But undoubtedly the years ahead would prove challenging for the ski area, like so many other small, natural snow areas that closed or fell into decline after the bad winters of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

After I graduated in 1972, I returned a couple of times in the next few years to ski in the varsity-alumni ski meet. By then, the third trail had been finished, and was used for one of the alumni races. The drive shed was also moved to the top of the hill, as the motor seemed to have plenty of power. The last time I was in the vicinity was in 1990, when I noticed a vintage Tucker Sno Cat in an open shed near the bottom of the area.

It’s only in hindsight that one appreciates the tremendous hard work and dedication by Warren Chivers that made the ski program possible. He had a reputation among the students as extremely frugal, and was once observed around the tow shed picking up old nails to be straightened and reused. But there is little doubt that in fact the program ran on a very tight budget in those days. The ski team van was an aging tan clunker, and the training cross country skis were old downhill skis that had been cut down on a table saw. (We were, of course, expected to buy decent XC racing gear if we made the XC squad.) It was only through Warren’s grunt work that VA was able to have a ski area, three jumps, and a network of cross country trails. Each spring the trail crew would make modest gains with hand tools and then most of the real work would happen in the summer, as Warren and Peter spent much of their vacation wielding chainsaws.

It was shortly after I graduated that four event skiing competition was abandoned. This certainly pained Warren, who was a staunch traditionalist and a big advocate of all around skiing. I can understand why four events were abandoned in an era of specialization and increasing skill levels. But I also appreciate the utopian ideal of learning all those different snow disciplines, and I’ve stayed with cross country skiing all my life. I’ve also remained a dedicated ‘trail crew’ enthusiast, expanding and maintaining a network of trails on our family property in Vermont.

Warren Chivers was one of the truly original, memorable people I’ve known in my life. The ski area he created is now disappearing into the Vermont woods, but the lessons of hard work, dedication and teamwork that he instilled in so many of us live on and will be passed down through the generations.


Other Memories:

A. Tilden:

"I believe that Vermont academy had a ski area which they used in Saxtons River in the 1960's.  It was located up the road near what at that time was Kurn Hattin Homes Girls Department. I don't recall lots about it but think they used it for meets and pretty sure it had some type of lift. I  recall many of these smaller areas although I was not a skier at that time - wish my kids had the opportunity to be able to go to a small area without gold plated prices."  

Tab Julius also remember this area:" I do remember the Vermont Academy ski area. I attended Vermont Academy (VA) from 1976 to 1980, and the ski area was operational even then. It had "5" trails, but it was really two major trails (well, as major as they get on a tiny hill), a third smaller trail, and two connectors. 

It had a rope tow there, and we all had to have jackets and gloves that were wrapped with athletic tape, because otherwise the rope tow would burn through the gloves (friction from moving), and possibly too the side of your jacket. 

The mountain was cut and maintained by the Outdoors Club (or wilderness club or whatever it was called), mainly spearheaded by Warren Chivers, who I believe was a former Olympic skier and ran the ski program at VA for many years. He recently retired. I don't know anything about the status of the mountain after 1980, but my guess is that Mr. Chivers would have kept it running right up until his retirement.

Vermont Academy also had a 15-meter ski jump, on the campus overlooking the Lacrosse fields, and it was actively used by long jumpers during the time that I was there (conditions allowing). I'm not aware of too many schools sporting their own ski jump. I would be surprised if that was still standing, though, unless it's been rebuilt. (Jeremy note-the jump is still being used today)."

Ryan McNamara:

I attended VA from the fall of 1990 through graduation in 1994.  While never open to the public during my time there, I used the ski area every year 
while there.  The hill only opened with natural snow, however the nordic ski \jumping facilities on the main campus that I enjoyed at VA had 
snowmaking thanks to coach Sprague, an Olympic Judge, my Math Teacher, my Football  Coach and my Dorm Parent for two years - thanks buddy.
Ever year though, the rope tow was fired up at some point and we ran gates on Monday's & Fridays - full days of school that we didn't travel 
to Okemo for afternoon race practice.
The hill was serviced by a rope tow.  Also of note is that there is some fantastic hiking on the hill that leads to the top where Crystal Rock awaits
and one of the finest views in this part of Vt. The view stretches east across the Connecticut River Valley to Fall Mountain, NH and beyond. 
From here one can view an excellent sunrise, the best of which I watched the morning of the day before my graduation. I viewed many sunrises 
from Crystal Rock, many during my junior year (1992-1993) when we had a fantastic snow year and my roommate and I would sneak from our
dorm room at 4:30 am and make the one hour hike up the mountain. After taking in the beauty of Vermont's colors, we'd ski down the trail, 
through the center of town and back to our dorm Campbell House.

Jeremy and Betsy visited this area during the spring of 2000. Very hard to get too...its on private property, and behind a fence, so we just viewed it from the road and old parking lot at the Kurn Hattin Home. The trails are still clear.

Does anyone remember this one? If so, email us!

Last updated: March 6, 2014

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