After 85 Years, Vermont Rope Tows Stand the Test of Time

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Vermont rope tows

After More than 85 Years, Vermont Rope Tows Stand the Test of Time

In January 1934, the first rope tow in the country began pulling skiers up a hill on Clinton Gilbert’s Farm in Woodstock. Powered by a Model-T truck engine, the tow took five days to build and cost $500. Skiers paid one dollar to ride the tow and ski on Gilbert’s Hill, where the age of alpine skiing was born.

It’s been over 85 years since the first rope tow came to life and revolutionized downhill skiing. Even though ski areas have modernized trail access with four-passenger bubble chairs and high-speed gondolas, Vermont rope tows continue to stand the test of time.

Today, you’ll still find Vermont rope tows operating at places like Cochran’s Ski Area, Ascutney Outdoors, Bolton Valley, Northeast Slopes, local outing clubs and in Vermonter’s backyards.

“There’s a certain mystique to rope tows,” says Glenn Seward, a board member of Ascutney Outdoors, a nonprofit that helped reopen the Brownsville ski area after it had closed in 2010. “It was the original method of getting up the hill to ski. And in this day of 100-dollar lift tickets, it’s still a great way to provide an affordable day of skiing.”

Ascutney’s original rope tow was installed in the 1940s.  As a nod to the mountain’s history and a commitment to keep skiing affordable, Ascutney Outdoors installed a new rope tow at the ski area in 2016.

“The impetus for installing the rope tow was to get downhill skiing back to Ascutney,” says Seward, who started skiing at Ascutney in the 1960s and worked at the mountain until the 1980s.  “In an effort to offer affordable skiing, the rope tow was the only alternative. From the day the rope tow started running in 2016, riding it remains free. Anyone can use the rope tow to ski, and it will stay that way.”

Vermont Rope Tows are Here to Stay

Vermont rope tows
About 20 miles north of Ascutney is the legendary Gilbert’s Hill in Woodstock. Howard Krum and Mary Margaret Sloan purchased the historic, 112-acre property in 2017. Gilbert’s Hill remains highly accessible to the public through conservation and historic preservation easements. The rope tow is gone, but the hill is open for skiing, hiking, and snowshoeing from dawn to dusk every day. There’s also four-car parking area at the end of the couple’s driveway on Route 12 for visitors.

Krum and Sloan plan to re-install a new rope tow on the property eventually.  Poles and pulleys currently mark the original tow footprint, but Krum says they’ll likely opt for a different route for greater access to the hill.

So, what is it about our fascination with rope tows?

“Vermonters are do-it-yourselfers. They like situations where they can make things happen themselves,” Krum says. “It’s a practical, self-reliant sort of thing.”

Back in December 1936, a rope tow was installed at Northeast Slopes in East Corinth, now home to the oldest continuously operating rope tow in the United States. Parts of the original rope tow are still in operation—including the wheels, which are from a Model-A Ford, as well as wooden wheel spokes from 100-year-old Cadillac.

The ski area has a second, smaller rope tow for beginners that was installed in the 1940s and is powered by a 1973 Dodge Dart with a Slant-Six engine. The original rope tow installed in 1936 extends 1,250-feet and is powered by a 1960 Ford farm truck. It’s also considered the world’s fastest rope tow, running at about 15 miles per hour normally but recorded a speed of 27 miles per hour on a world record speed attempt.

But when you go to Northeast Slopes, time slows down in the best possible way. Especially when you’re on the rope tow.

“Nostalgia is an experience people are looking for,” says Wade Pierson, who sits on the ski area’s board of directors and started skiing at Northeast Slopes as a young child in the 1960s. “People want to know what it was like to ski back in the 1930s or 40s. And that’s what we have up here.”

Ascutney Rope Tow/Photo by Nancy Nutile-McMenemy

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History, Outdoors, skiing, Winter
  • Dave Wagner
    Posted at 11:03h, 21 January Reply

    Great read, Erica!

    • Erica
      Posted at 12:38h, 21 January Reply

      Thanks, Dave! Hope all is well!

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    Posted at 22:34h, 14 February Reply

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  • Dan Luneau
    Posted at 07:24h, 14 February Reply

    In St Albans Hardack, our local hill, has a rope tow. I don’t know when it started operation but I started riding it in the mid late 50’s.

  • Sandy Drange Cooke
    Posted at 10:04h, 14 February Reply

    I learned to ski at the Lyndonville Outing Club
    In Lyndonville, Vt. In 1958. We were visiting my grandparents ( Sumner and Alice Stuart)
    For Christmas vacation. My older brother and I took a 3-day beginner ski clinic..we both were hooked!!!!! We both still ski!!

  • Colin McLarty
    Posted at 13:16h, 18 February Reply

    Rope tows…. Only rope with nothing to grasp but the rope!

    Great memories

    Wore out the palms of your gloves and under the right arm where the rope ran through as you got a firm grasp on the rope.

    As we got older, on Saturday nights, long after the public had left, we turned on the tow engine, set it to high speed and had a blast. Had to let go of the rope before the top of the hill so as not to become airborne and trip the safety!

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    Posted at 22:55h, 08 November Reply

    […] been more than 85 years since the first rope tow in the United States began pulling skiers up a hill on Clinton Gilbert’s Farm in Woodstock. While gondolas and […]

  • John avery
    Posted at 07:39h, 23 January Reply

    Harrington hill in South Strafford

    • Erica
      Posted at 12:33h, 23 January Reply

      Thanks, John! Sounds like a good one. -Erica

  • Davod Edsall
    Posted at 15:41h, 23 January Reply

    I thought Bunnie Bertrams was the first rope tow on the front side of Suicide 6. or was it the first ski area with some other kind of lift? I skied the rope two at Acustney for years and went through the wall when my mitten got caught as the tow twisted my hand around. and the finger tips got caught between my pal and the tore! no injury the boards were so weak thy broke and my mitten got pulled off. Barbara Billy and Marirylin Cochran were all little kids in the lollypop program. Jane and John (?) RED Eastman were the best skiers. Joh took the ” headwall at Ascutney straight!! That was crazy before the days of long thongs!! ( no long thongs were not underwear! they were bindings to lace your leather boot to the ski. The headwall was above the second rope goin up the hill. You had to climb to the top to do the headway until they put the T bar in. before hate days of long thongs. No long thongs are not underwear!

    • Erica
      Posted at 13:30h, 24 January Reply

      Bunny Bertram installed a rope tow on a hillside at Gilbert’s Farm along Route 12 in Woodstock — there is a historic site marker there today. Sounds like you have great memories at Ascutney! My daughter took her first ski lesson from Barbara Ann Cochran nine years ago in Richmond, but I know the family lived down near Ascutney for a while when all the kids were younger. Such an incredible ski community in Vermont! Thanks for saying hello! -Erica

  • Ann in Topsham ME
    Posted at 16:43h, 23 January Reply

    I learned to ski on a hill in Saxton’s River VT. A home-made rope tow—we packed the slope by side-stepping up it with skis. Wonderful memories!

    • Erica
      Posted at 13:37h, 24 January Reply

      Hi Ann! Was it at the Vermont Academy hill? Such a beautiful part of Vermont — I’m so glad you got to experience that spot. I found this info about the hill if you’re interested: Thanks! -Erica

  • Him
    Posted at 18:40h, 23 January Reply

    I used the Underhill. Rope tow in the 1950’s

  • Warren Smith
    Posted at 11:40h, 24 January Reply

    In the mid to late 40s we lived in Underhill. We would go up the road a short way probably at the base of Mt. Mansfield to a small slope with a tow rope. It was much easier than carrying your skis up the hill. .
    From there we moved to Indiana where people wanted to know what those boards with the bent ends were doing on top of our car. my brother and I were in 7th grade and they thought we talked funny. The would come up in the hall asking us to say words with heavy A and Rs only to laugh when we said them. I thought their soupy Hoosier accent was a little “hillbilly “. You learn to survive. Now living in Michigan I still ski regularly at 81. Many slopes you can ski free if over 70. Now they have carpets to learn on.

    • Erica
      Posted at 13:24h, 24 January Reply

      Hi Warren — Someone else mentioned to me a rope tow in Underhill. Was it the Underhill Ski Bowl? (

      Sounds like you taught folks in Indiana a thing or two. So glad to hear you’re still skiing — that’s wonderful! -Erica

  • Mike Towle
    Posted at 16:52h, 24 January Reply

    We had a rope tow in Richford that the Lions Club operated on Golf Course Road. There would be cars lining both sides of the road stretching almost all the way down to Blue Seal Feeds. Not sure all the years it was in operation, but I would guess late 1950s well into the 1970s.

    Some years we would have night skiing one school night a week. It was awesome. Some of our home movies our dad (Dr. Bill Towle) took included shots from circa 1960-61.

    I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure in the earlier years we actually had two rope tows next to each other, each side with its own hill to ski down.

    • Erica
      Posted at 20:54h, 24 January Reply

      Sounds like a perfect memory! What a special time that must have been for you. I miss those old days of skiing. Thanks for sharing, Mike.

  • Karen Devereux
    Posted at 12:45h, 26 January Reply

    Hi Erica,
    Loved this story, especially since we are “do-it-yourself” Vermonters who have built our own rope tow in the back yard! Wish I knew how to share our latest night ski video with you. So much fun!

    • Erica
      Posted at 14:11h, 28 January Reply

      Hi Karen!

      I love hearing about backyard rope tows! You can always email me the video to [email protected]. If it’s a huge file, try using It’s a free service. Thank you!

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