The Early Days of Skiing and Trails at Stowe
February 10, 2024
When it comes to Vermont ski history, 1934 was a big year.
Ninety years ago, the first rope tow in the country opened in Woodstock. In 1934, the Mt. Mansfield Ski Patrol at Stowe Mountain Resort became incorporated, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the first purpose-cut ski trail on Mount Mansfield.
Vermont Ski History: Cutting Trails in Stowe in the 1930s
-Charlie Lord, in the black sweater, with his CCC crew cutting the Bruce Trail on Mt. Mansfield in the winter of 1933/34. The Bruce Trail was the first ski trail cut on Mt. Mansfield. Paul Barquin of White River Junction, second from left, was the first to ski the trail. Photo courtesy of Brian Lindner.
At the beginning of the 20th century, skiing was not a common activity in New England. But eventually, skiing in Vermont took shape.
Vermont State Forester Perry Merrill learned skiing as a child and honed his skills while studying at the Royal College of Forestry in Stockholm, Sweden, in the 1920s. He utilized the CCC to create trails on Mount Mansfield.
According to the Vermont Historical Society, Merrill directed workers from a nearby CCC sub-camp to cut Vermont’s first trails specifically for skiing and to construct a parking site and warming shelter at Mount Mansfield’s Smuggler’s Notch area.
In February 1934, The Bruce Trail, cut by the CCC on Mount Mansfield, became Vermont’s first purpose-cut ski trail. It was first skied by Paul Barquin. That same month, The Bruce Trail was the location of the first ski race in Vermont.
The Start of the Mt. Mansfield Ski Patrol
-The Mt. Mansfield Ski Club was legally incorporated on January 8, 1934, “to promote safety in all aspects of skiing,” which led members to formalize a patrol. Courtesy of Stowe Mountain Resort.
With trails being built and skiing becoming more popular in the 1930s, safety needed to be considered. The Mt. Mansfield Ski Patrol, the longest-operating ski patrol in the United States, was legally incorporated on Jan. 8, 1934.
Waterbury resident Brian Lindner, a historian and Mount Mansfield Ski Patrol member, says an injured skier on the Toll Road prompted the ski patrol to be established to promote safety.
“There were two written accounts of a rescue on the Toll Road, where a person had injured their leg late in the day and needed to be rescued,” he says. “And there was nobody to do it.”
In the winter of 1933-34, Lindner says a male was rescued using a piece of corrugated tin roofing as a makeshift toboggan to drag him down the mountain in the darkness.
“And that’s really the beginning of people saying that if we’re going to promote skiing here on Mount Mansfield and Stowe, we need to think about safety also,” he says.
-A snowy view of Camel’s Hump, where a World War II plane crashed in 1944.
A Passion for Local History
Lindner, whose father was a state forester—a job that came with housing at the Stowe Base Lodge—has long been interested in history.
While hiking on Camel’s Hump when he was a boy in the 1960s, Lindner stumbled upon World War II plane wreckage. Years later while hiking Camel’s Hump on July 4, 1976, he came across the remains of the same plane’s co-pilot seat. The experience sparked his lifelong interest in history.
“Being a historian, for me, is making the discovery,” he says. “It’s like going into an old mine and finding a nugget of gold.”
-Ski patroller and historian Brian Lindner on the slopes at Stowe. Courtesy photo.
Happy Vermont Podcast Episode
In this Happy Vermont podcast episode, Lindner talks about Vermont ski history in Stowe, the story of a war plane that crashed into Camel’s Hump, old ski areas in Waterbury, and more. Listen to the episode
-Main photo: Trails at Stowe/istock.