Tom Ross: Canada’s 1st rope tow was copied outside Woodstock, Vt.
November 10, 2012
Steamboat Springs — The prospects for Steamboat Ski Area's centennial season are looking better and better. Wet snow is the best kind of snow there is in early November, and that's just what Steamboat got Saturday.
What's so great about a dose of white cement? With the frigid overnight temperatures expected early this week, that natural snow has a chance to armor the ski slopes at ground level, just before the Boat's army of snowmakers gets down to business.
While you're waiting for Nov. 21 and the beginning of an historic ski season, I've got a book recommendation that will enrich your appreciation of how Steamboat fits into the post World War II rise of the great North American ski resorts. The book is longtime SKI Magazine editor John Fry's "The Story of Modern Skiing."
It's sprinkled with references to prominent ski figures in Steamboat, but you already know much of that ski history.
What you may not know is how North American skiing first took hold in the modest Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. In the 1920s, the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railways ferried more than 11,000 skiers north from Montreal to the Laurentians.
The first Americans to catch onto skiing rode trains right past the Adirondacks and the White Mountains of New England to arrive in the Laurentians. It was there, in 1931 that a ski jumper named Alex Foster devised the first rope tow powered by an old Dodge automobile, according to Fry.
He wrote about how the first U.S. rope tow was modeled after Foster's lift and built on a slope called Suicide Six outside Woodstock, Vt.
People were attracted by the luxury of being pulled up the hill by a rope rather than having to climb the hill on skis.
A rope tow factored prominently into my first day on skis at a little Wisconsin ski area called Tyrol Basin.
My parents gave me $4 for the bus ride and a lift ticket for an outing with my church youth group. I estimate the year was 1965.
There was fresh snow on the little ski hill and I approached the rope tow with some trepidation after watching friends grab the moving rope too abruptly and suffer the shame of being pulled flat onto their faces.
The trick with rope tows was to let the rope slip through your hands at first, then gradually increase your grip so that your skis accelerated smoothly.
I caught on to riding the rope tow quickly, but by midday I was struggling. The rope was picking up the fresh snow, which was freezing from the friction of our fists gripping it tightly. As both the rope and our mittens became glazed with ice, it grew increasingly difficult to hang on.
At the end of that first ski day, my jeans were frozen stiff and my arms were even more fatigued than were my legs.
But there was something about skiing that took hold of me that day. And after a college ski trip to Aspen Highlands in 1972, I was hooked forever.
I miss some of the simplicity of ski resorts in the 1960s and 1970s. I can't say I want to go back in time to the days of rope tows, brown bag lunches in converted dairy barns and ungroomed snow. But those days are fun to reflect on.
Track down a copy of Fry's wonderful book and get ready to celebrate the historic ski season that lies ahead.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com