FRANCONIA NOTCH, New Hampshire — The story of the ‘lost’ ski areas of New England mirrors earlier boom and bust cycles of land use in the region, and has left physical traces on the face of the land, as well as nostalgic memories in the minds of many skiers who knew the lost resorts. A fascination with the derelict areas akin to interest in ghost towns of the West became evident with the popularity of a website, www.nelsap.org, that tracks the phenomenon, and now a new exhibit at the New England Ski Museum features the history of a selection of the hundreds of small areas that closed.
An explosive rise in the popularity of downhill skiing in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s fostered a rapid expansion in the number of ski areas. This growth trend slowed, leveled and began to decline by the late 1970s and early 1980s, and many smaller ski resorts closed and were abandoned.
Some of the abandoned ski areas were ambitious attempts to create major resorts, such as Thorn Mountain in Jackson, New Hampshire, which was the first ski area in the region to claim two chairlifts when it opened in 1948. Despite that investment in lifts, its location in one of the original ski towns of America, and a staff that would scatter to become significant in many other ski areas, Thorn did not survive the 1950s, and its slopes became home to a chalet community.
Evergreen Valley in Stoneham, Maine was another development that was envisioned on a large scale, with amenities like golf, boating, horseback riding, tennis, skating all offered in addition to skiing. “It could have been another Lake Placid Club,” noted Woody Woodward, recreation director at Evergreen in the mid 1970s, referring to the posh and all-encompassing resort in the Adirondacks. Evergreen Valley went through several ownership transitions, and closed to skiing in the mid 1980s.
The large majority of the more than 500 ski areas to close in New England, however, were small areas, and the exhibit notes that Green Mountain College in Vermont taught more than 5,000 of its students to ski on a campus hill with a vertical drop of 31 feet, 6 inches. In spite of the less than overwhelming size of the hill, it had three ski tows, a grooming tractor, and a snowmaking system consisting of one snow gun that could cover the hill.
Now, at a time when some of the economic factors of strain from the 1970s and 1980s-inflation, rising energy costs, concerns about weather, rising lift ticket prices-seem posed for a cyclic comeback, there is a rediscovery of the small area roots of skiing, coupled with a realization that the atmospherics of large resorts are enhancements to the recreational pursuit of downhill skiing, not essential elements of the sport.
This has led to an increased awareness of some of the smallest ski areas the sport’s formative years, like Northeast Slopes in East Corinth, Vermont, where skiers can ride a rope tow designed and built in 1936 by David Dodd, builder of the very first rope tow in the U.S.
Meanwhile, the hundreds of lost New England ski areas that will never be revived continue their slow decay, but remain alive in the memories of those who valued them as important parts of their lives. The exhibit at the New England Ski Museum will remain on display until the end of March, 2009.
About the New England Ski Museum
Located in Franconia Notch next to the Cannon Mountain Tramway, NH, the New England Ski Museum is a non-profit, member-supported museum dedicated to collecting, preserving and exhibiting aspects of ski history. The Museum is open from 10 AM to 5 PM seven days a week from Memorial Day through the end of March. Admission is free. For more information call 800-639-4181 or visit www.skimuseum.org.