By Mary Ellen Shaw
Many young people growing up in my era … the ’50s and ’60s … got their first taste of skiing right here in the city of Rutland.
The place to do that was at the Rutland Country Club. The City of Rutland Recreation Department installed a 525’ rope tow there for use during the 1951-1952 winter season. It ran down from the 14th to the 13th hole.
If you didn’t know how to ski you could take lessons. The instructors were some well known “locals” such as: Joe and Anne Jones, Charlotte Fletcher, George Grant and Stevia Chaffee, mother of Olympic skiers Rick and Suzy Chaffee. Not only could kids take lessons but there was also a weekday afternoon class for housewives. That was the era when most of them were “stay-at-home moms.”
For me it meant one of my parents picking up a couple of my friends and dropping us off at the country club. There were no cell phones in those days so we couldn’t call home when we had enough skiing. Instead we got strict orders to be back at the parking lot at a certain time.
One of the most consistent memories among my friends was how the rope tow wore out our mittens rather quickly.
Nearby Pico and Killington had “groomers” but the country club relied on rope tow operators to take runs down the hill in a manner that smoothed out the snow.
The motor that ran the tow was stored at the Rotary Field House which was a few streets away on North Street. City of Rutland Recreation employee Bill Reardon was the one who usually brought it over to the hill every time the tow was to be operated. The motor, by the way, was a Volkswagen motor donated by Louie Salebra.
The rope tow was removed in 1974 bringing that era to an end.
Another small-time ski experience became available in 1962. It was located to the west of Rutland, totally in the opposite direction of Pico or Killington. This ski area was called Birdseye and was located in Castleton. The mountain offered a rope tow on the beginner slope. There were also Stabil Disc Lifts, built by locals Bill Jenkins and Stan Whitney. They were considered a safer option than a Pomalift. Two of the trails allowed for a longer run than at the Country Club with one being 600 feet and the other 750 feet.
During the beginning years there was snowmaking on the west facing trail which had the 750 feet slope. Research shows that it was rarely needed as there was sufficient snowfall back then. By 1965 Birdseye had six ski trails and also a 1,300 feet T-bar. According to the Birdseye Mountain webpage this expensive addition did not work out well as there was no snowmaking on the T-bar trail and not every winter was as snowy as in the beginning years.
One of the most fun features at Birdseye was night skiing. That was a “big deal” for me and my friends on a Friday or Saturday night. For a teenager back then doing anything at night was a big deal!
Birdseye felt like one of the larger areas as there was a lodge with a restaurant and a ski shop with rentals.
Some time during the 1970s the ski area cased operation and a summer camping area was built that included a pool.
High Pond Ski Area in Hubbardton was another popular spot to ski if you were looking for a small ski slope experience. It was named for the pond which is located on the Brandon-Hubbardton town line.
The Boston Globe advertised it as a new ski area for the 1950-1951 ski season. It offered a Platter pull lift with a 330 foot vertical drop. During the 1960s, the lift was replaced with a T-Bar. There was a snowmaking system in place the first few years but that discontinued by the mid-50s.
The high cost of liability insurance is given as the reason for the ski area closing at the end of the 1977-1978 season. The Lost Ski Areas of Southern Vermont reports that High Pond did open again to the public for a few years in the mid-80s. After that it operated as a private area into the 90s.
On a personal note, I skied at all of the above areas in my teens and 20s. I sometimes had trouble getting on or off those simple lifts as coordination is not one of my strong suits! However, at High Pond an “après ski experience” caused me some embarrassment. On the way to the car I noticed a couple of very cute donkeys in the parking lot. My cousin, Betty, stopped to pat them and I “followed suit”. Apparently one of them didn’t care for me and bit me in the derriere! No tetanus shot required as my many layers of clothing were all the donkey got to chew on!