'Lost' ski areas subject of talk
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | January 21,2013
Ski Bowl ski area in Rockingham, which operated from 1937 to 1941, is shown. It is one of the lost ski areas that will be the topic of a fireside chat today at the Saxtons River Inn.
Jeremy Davis has been fascinated with history — and old ski areas — since he was 12 years old.
Davis, now 35, has turned his fascination into an all-consuming hobby centered on the “lost” ski areas of New England. In his spare time, (Davis is a meteorologist in his so-called day job) he maintains a voluminous website and has written three books about lost ski areas in southern Vermont, the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the southern Adirondacks. He plans additional books in the future on northern Vermont and the northern Adirondacks.
His most recent count has identified 116 “lost” ski areas in Vermont, 29 in the southern part of the state, 48 in the central mountains, and 39 in the northern part of the state, with close to 600 “lost” ski areas in New England.
Gone are the small community and family-based areas, which operated with a rope tow, or even a T-bar.
Davis will be in Saxtons River on Monday evening as part of a series of historical fireside chats sponsored by the Saxtons River Historical Society and Main Street Arts. Saxtons River had two local ski areas that no longer exist, Davis said in a telephone interview from his home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Those ski areas include one operated by Vermont Academy for its students at the private Saxtons River prep school, and another privately owned area just south of the village, the Ski Bowl.
Fresh from a day of skiing at Bromley Ski Area, Davis said he founded the New England Lost Ski Areas Project while a college student at Lyndon State College.
His interest in old ski areas started much earlier, he said.
Davis, who grew up in Chelmsford, Mass., said his family would often go on ski trips to North Conway, N.H., and he became aware of Mount Whittier in West Ossipee, N.H., a relatively large ski area with a gondola and three or four T-bar lifts. “It was all abandoned,” said Davis. “It just got me interested.”
That interest would get the teenager to have his mother drive him around New England back roads on a treasure hunt of sorts, looking for the dozens of ski areas that had closed, and in most cases were disappearing into the woods that were reclaiming the trails, once painstakingly cut.
“I had good and supportive parents, and they got into it too,” he said.
“It was modern-day archeology,” said Davis, noting that in most cases, all the tell-tale machinery was left in place to rust and rot.
“Some of them are really gone for good, others remain. Southern Vermont has quite a lot,” he said.
Davis said 1970 was the “peak” of ski areas, and it was after 1970 that many small and community ski areas started closing, although obviously some ski areas closed before that.
“In 1970 there were 70 areas in Vermont and after that, it just fell off the cliff,” he said. There are about 25 ski areas still operating in Vermont, Davis said.
They range from the mammoth Killington Ski Area to town-owned Living Memorial Park in Brattleboro, and tiny Northeast Slopes in East Corinth.
One of the ski areas he will be focusing on Monday evening in Saxtons River was open only for a few years and run by the Hogarth family, he said. On a trip a few years ago, Davis wrote on his website, he couldn't find any trace of the Ski Bowl area, which was open from 1937 to 1941. The ski area may have operated briefly after World War II, he said.
But Davis said the Hogarth family has a virtual treasure trove of photographs of the small ski area, which was founded by Robert Hogarth as a way of making money during the slow winter months.
Photographs of the Ski Bowl show an open field, dotted with skiers and an occasional fir tree.
One of his favorite lost areas is one of the most visible — the Hogback Ski Area on Route 9 in Marlboro. The ski area is now owned by the town and managed for a variety of uses.
Some of the trails have grown in, he said, while some of the trails are being maintained for backcountry skiing. Some of the meadows are being kept open for wild life. “High elevation meadows are good for birds and hawks,” he said.
“It's one of the best to explore. There's lots of remnants of the operation; most of the lifts and buildings are still there,” he said.
Hogback was a labor of love of three local families, he said, who found they couldn't compete without snowmaking.
“Snowmaking was a leveler,” he said.
Most ski areas fell prey to a lack of snow and a lack of finances, he said, as well as changing vacation patterns.
“Sometimes it was just bad money management or not enough skiers,” said Davis.
New England ski areas now not only have to compete with each other, but also Disney World or cruises, he said.
There were even small ski areas near Killington and Pico, he said, including the Apple Hill Ski Area, a T-bar with a 169-foot vertical drop near the Mountain Top Inn. “Part of the T-bar is still standing,” he said. Dick's Tow was located near the Killington Access Road. The Retreat, a small rope tow, was located off Route 4 in what was then called Sherburne. “There are no real remnants,” he said.
Green Mountain College in Poultney built its own little ski area, he said. “It was really a mound of dirt with four lifts, where the students could learn to ski.”
Davis' talk will be held at 5:30 p.m. at the Saxtons River Inn, and is the last of three historical fireside chats.
There is no charge for the event, and attendees are encouraged to bring photographs and memorabilia to share in the informal setting. Copies of his books will be available.
Information and updates are available from Main Street Arts at 869-2960.
Davis will also be talking at Okemo Mountain Ski Area on Feb. 22.
For more information about the New England Lost Ski Areas Project, check www.nelsap.org.