There’s History In These Here Hills

Oak Hill in 1947

Oak Hill’s J-bar As It Appeared In 1947 (Photo By Adrian Bouchard)

by Dick Nelson [in 1975?]

Though most people don’t realize it, the Upper Valley is the birthplace of modern skiing in the United States.

Sure, the biggest areas in New England now are in central Vermont or north central New Hampshire.  And the biggest areas of all are out in the Rockies.  But it all started here.

To wit:

– The first ski tow of any kind in the United States was installed in Woodstock, Vermont, near the present site of the Mt. Tom and Suicide Six ski area, in January, 1934.

– The original ski “lift” in the country was built at Hanover’s Oak Hill in the fall of 1935.  That J-bar, which is still in operation, was the first device constructed in the United States which “lifted” skiers with power from the rear instead of traction from the front as provided by rope tows.

– Although one of the first chair lifts in the country was built (and is still operating) at the Gunstock Ski Area in Gilford, N.H., parts of that lift were purchased by Ernie Dion for his Snowcrest Ski Area in Enfield and are still being used in the lift in what is now Whaleback.

Yep, there’s a lot of skiing history in the Upper Valley.

In Woodstock, the era of the rope tow is being left far behind these days.  The name of the two areas has been updated this year to Woodstock’s Tom and Six and a spanking new chair lift installed at what was Suicide Six.

But a reminder of skiing’s past still remains in the form of his historic site marker presented in 1964 by Vermont Gov. Philip Hoff to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the tow’s installation.

The marker sits at the foot of Clinton Gilbert’s pasture on Rt. 12 in Woodstock, midway between the two areas. It reads:

“In January 1934, on this pasture hill of Clinton Gilbert’s farm, an endless rope tow powered by a Model T Ford engine hauled skiers uphill for the first time.  This ingenious contraption launched a new era in winter sports.”

Banana Hauler?

The J-bar at Oak Hill is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month and its still getting people up the hill just like it did back during that first winter, when more than 40,000 skiers rode uphill on it.  But to indicate how times have changed, the construction price of that original left was only $3,300 – or about enough to buy one chair on today’s lifts.  In addition, the surroundings of the J-bar have altered over time.

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