“Ski where History was Made”
1925 ~ Ninety years ago this April, a group of town citizens, leaders of the business community and government officials came together to form the Ticonderoga Chamber of Commerce. In recognition of this milestone we write about one of the many community cooperative ventures its members were instrumental in to promote the historical importance of the community, advance the area as a winter sports destination, and to keep the town in a prosperous way during one of this nation’s worst economic crisis – the great Depression. The Venture ~ Ticonderoga Snow Club. It is unfortunate that the lack of snow and the advent of World War II brought about its demise after only several years of operation.
Rupert Wickes, January 1938
“Incited by newspapers’ stories of skiing a young insurance man in 1934 bought skis, bindings and a book. From experiments on open slopes, something called him to the more skiable wood roads in the back-lying town hills. His sister, two brothers and friends were the first converts. Brushing out the likeliest wood road gave them a trail which began on a mountain road over a thousand feet above the valley. To dream of a network of tails utilizing the possibilities of all the other wood roads that cris-crossed those hills, was irresistible. A chance talk about it before a Ticonderoga Kiwanis’ luncheon, and Rupert Wickes found himself in quick succession chairman of a special committee and first president of the Ticonderoga Snow Club with a major construction project ahead. A quiet, soft spoken “skier with ideals,” he persuaded an entire community to see in skiing the beauty and the worth he saw in it. His again, was the judgment that suggested distinctive trail names linked with Ticonderoga’s past.
With quick decisiveness the incorporated village of Ticonderoga (population 3680, 1930 census), in the spring of 1936 put a remarkable weight of resources behind his dream. To a village appropriation of $7,500 was added $3,000 more by public subscription especially from the business community. And over that and above was given countless hours of voluntary labor. Community support was widespread with familiar names of the time taking leadership roles: Charles Ward (town supervisor), Harold Roeseman, William Neddo, Milo King, Frank McDonald, Breed brothers, John Whiteley, Jr., Judson Morehouse, Carney Bartlett, James Badger, Kenneth Shults (Ti Chamber), Grant Johnson, Ruth Wright, Ollie Porter, Walton Huestis, Charles Burgey and Norman Brombley. By the end of the summer nearly thirty miles of trails were cleared, a slalom hill cut, a ski tow and clubhouse was ready. Oliver Perry Smith of Lake Placid, and Winter Olympic champion, designed the trails. All, with the except of a few hours of N.Y.A. labor, no federal or state funds were contributed. The “Winter Sports Dream” had taken off.
In 1937, with growing responsibility of this undertaking, the founders of the Ti Snow Club, now an organization of 500 members, drew heavily upon the business community for leadership and counsel. A new president of the club was elected – A. W. Macauley, owner of Macauley’s Restaurant.
Promotion of skiing was its great objective and the club proceeded on two fronts: first, to teach Ticonderoga to ski — from the toddling youngster to the octogenarian . It was introduced into the schools and about 500 students received professional instruction by Andrew Ransom. Open-to- the public lectures by Otto Schniebs, (head of the famous American Ski School and a leading authority of the sport) illustrated with films, were well attended and his personal involvement supported the professional ski classes for adults. Secondly, was safety. Safety on the slopes was given a high priority and a patrol and rest station was located on the highest level elevation of the Three brothers. This was a shared program between the club’s ski patrol and the local National Guard unit – Co F of 102nd Medical Regiment.
In January 1938 the first “Snow Train” arrived. Nearly 2,000 skiers, were on the slopes in January including a special train that carried about 700 members of the Schenectady Winter Sports Club. In 1939 the first lights were installed to make available night skiing.
The heart of the Ticonderoga ski development was the “Punch Bowl,” a broad valley filled with rolling hills, half a mile wide and three miles long. In the center of the valley was a club house with ample parking. Close by a skating rink and toboggan slide were installed. On the mountains were two slalom hills, the 36 degree Lord Howe Slalom, and the more gentle Pine Run, each 200 feet or more in width and with a vertical descent of 400 feet. Beyond the slalom hills, out of sight in the woods , was Fred Pabst’s (from the Pabst Brewing family) rope tow, with a “change-over” about 2/3 of the way up.
The backbone of the trail system was a west-east ridge trail (Arnold’s Revenge) over a chain of three small hills, Cobble Mt. (1514 ft) and the westerly two of the Three Brothers. Below the summits were numerous lateral descends trails, all with historical names: Black Watch (novice), and three expert trials – Mad Anthony, Arnold’s Revenge, and Campbell’s Ghost. Two intermediate trails – Allen’s Surprise and Abercrombie’s Run were improved wood road runs. There was also two novice trails – Black Watch and Roger’s Glide with gentler grades and curves. The total trail system was just under 30 miles.
So much of a community effort was made over the years to make Ticonderoga a special skiing destination; however, Mother Nature was not forthcoming with the needed ingredient – snow. During mid and late 1930s the area experienced limited snow falls; and, with no artificial means the great expectations were not to be greatly limited the number of skiers using the facilities. In 1941 America’s involvement in World War II began and by 1943 rationing and other restrictions imposed at the home front further advanced the demise of the “Winter Sports Dream.” On the ballot for November, 1945 was the proposition #2: “Shall the Ticonderoga Snow Club project be abandoned by the Town of Ticonderoga and the personal property, including the club house, used in connection with said project, be leased to the Ticonderoga Fish and Game Club? The vote: 680 to 79. Thus ended the Ticonderoga Snow Club and all related skiing operations at the site.
2/16/15 – Today’s view of the Ti Snow Club facilities
To learn more about the Ticonderoga Snow Club and other “Lost Ski Areas” of the Adirondacks our Gift Shop has available two books by Jeremy K. Davis. Look for an up coming “Lost Ski Area” presentation by Mr. Davis at the Hancock House in the near future where he will discussing his new book – “Lost Ski Areas of the Northern Adirondacks.”
Article research credits: Jeremy K. Davis’ book, “Lost Ski Areas of the Southern Adirondacks”, The Ticonderoga Sentinel, Essex County Republican, “The Ski Bulletin” and from THS’s archival collections.
We would like to hear from anyone that has additional information regarding this subject. Donations always welcomed.
2/15/15 – wgd