Join our free news email list - cancel anytime

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen chose to commemorate Vermont snowboarding on one of four 2022 American Innovation one-dollar coins, which will be in circulation next year. In addition, two other iconic symbols of Vermont were finalists, the Long Trail and the Rope Tow. 

The Long Trail was passed over because the judges did not see it as innovative, and the rope tow lost out because the first one was built in Canada, even though Woodstock, Vermont, was the first community in the United States to build one.  

News of the rope tow's finalist consideration brought Compass Vermont to dig up a letter written to the town of Northfield by its local dentist at the time, Len Freidman.

Friedman's letter tells the story of building a rope tow at the base of Garvey Hill. It went by the name of Cook's Hill and became a weekend attraction for skiing, jumping, races, cookouts, and a place where many children learned to ski.  

The letter appears in the Fall 1990 edition of The Dog River Crier, which the Northfield Historical Society publishes.

Disclosure: Ron Davis was this writer's father.  

SKIING IN NORTHFIELD, VERMONT IN THE 1950s (from a letter to Maxine McNamara) 

Leonard Friedman D.D.S. 

(Dr. Friedman was a long-time dentist in Northfield. While in Northfield, he took an active interest in community affairs.) 

Your ski article in the last issue of the Dog River Crier was most enjoyable and informative. After finishing it, I commented to Anita that you had not dwelled on the town ski scene during the later 50s and up to the Norwich chair lift building. Please indulge me as I contribute what I remember of those years. 

We were entering our first winter in Vermont when someone brought to my attention that the Northfield Outing Club had, the previous winter, purchased an old rope tow and motor from Mad River Glen. The parts were sitting over at the base of Garvey Hill. 

At a meeting of the Outing Club I volunteered to attempt to head up the effort to get it operating. 

Drs. Ed Hyde and Scott Pedley will be remembered for, among other things, the fracture clinic that they founded and ran over at Mad River Glen. It was through their efforts that the N. O. C. was able to buy the tow. Of interest is the fact that the two doctors wore Badges #1 and #2 of the honorary National Ski Patrol. 

I was informed at the meeting that the club also owed the Northfield Savings Bank the sum of $500 which had been borrowed for the purchase of said tow. As the meeting closed, Ron Davis came over and offered any help I could use. Frankly, without Ron, we would not have gotten very far. He organized the erection of a shed to house the motor, which was an old truck engine. He personally set up the engine. 

The local Telephone Company, through the good offices of Arthur Goodrich, installed a row of poles up the hill to carry the rope. Ron supervised the installation of the rope, and Dr. Pedley did the first splicing job of the rope. 

Many subsequent splicings were done by Ron Davis and also by Dr. Ed Hyde. Quite a few of my boy scouts learned splicing by watching the above-mentioned men do it. 

The tow ran on weekends and as often during the week as someone would have the time to devote to it. The reduction of the debt was high on my agenda, and after some discussion, we decided to charge $5 for a family membership and a $1 for a single membership. 

I will say that the turnout was gratifying. As a matter of fact our treasury became so fat that we ran an outdoor barbecue and ski day and competition on Washington's Birthday. This was so successful that we paid off the bank the first year of operation and at the members request, the Washington Birthday affair became a fixture as long as we operated the tow. 7

Somewhere in Northfield, there is some movie footage of those parties. 

We would set up about a half dozen barbecue grills. Julio Fernandez used to supply us with hamburgers and wieners at his cost, along with chips etc. Clovis Delary created a large hot drink dispenser for me by tapping a milk can. 

From chocolate drink mix and skimmed milk powder and hot water I used to mix up forty quarts. The can and its contents would be set up on a couple of cement blocks in the snow, and a charcoal fire lit beneath it. 

With an occasional stirring, we had a satisfying hot drink that was well received. At the party, we held all kinds of races, including snowshoe, slalom, downhill, sack races, etc. Most of the races had comic overtones, and much hilarity prevailed. 

I remember an exhibition put on by Douglas Hyde and Greg Friedman of that new-fangled "wedelin." It so intrigued me that Anita and I traveled to Jay Peak to take some lessons in the technique of parallel and wedelin skiing from Walter Foeger, who was the foremost advocate and teacher of the new techniques. On many an afternoon I started youngsters in the parallel technique. They picked it up very quickly. 

The Garvey Ski Area also was the site of a winter Boy Scout Jamboree several years in a row. The army sergeants at Norwich were most generous with then" help. They lent us snowshoes, walky-talkies, skis, and even a tracked snow vehicle. We borrowed the slalom poles from the Outing Club. The old milk can gave good service. 

The scouts furnished their own charcoal and grills. The army troops even put up a warm-up tent for us. Troops came from all over the council area. My most active helper was Donald Barnard from Waitsfield. Of course, Ron Davis made sure that the town engine operated satisfactorily. 

We ran the usual ski and snowshoe races along with first aid races, which involved evacuating the patient from the scene by contrivances created on the scene from material at hand, such as skis. The scouts also earned cooking and tracking and first aid merit badges. 

I do not recall any great honors won by the high school students who trained for slalom on Garvey Hill. My memory is faulty, but I do recall the Trombley boys from the greenhouse, Douglas Hyde, Arthur Sears, Robert Morse, Greg Friedman who, along with several whose names I can not recall, strove mightily for Northfield High. 

Much of the 8 jumping and cross country equipment was made from old skis that we obtained from Norwich discards. I recall Doug las and Greg down in my cellar running skis through my table saw to reduce their width to cross country specifications, and these were the skis they used for the cross country races. The mothers of the racers provided transportation to the ski meets. I did accompany the team to a meet at Burke Mountain. 

I will never forget my fright as I watched our team come down an ice-covered downhill course. I thought they were very lucky that no one was hurt. I can still see Arthur Sears creaming himself as he came off the ski jump and landed on his face. We rushed to him, but he slowly raised his head and gave us all a big grin, and assured us that he was O.K. even though he was missing a front tooth. 

Then he fished around in the snow and held up a false tooth that had dropped out. 

With the welcome advent of the opening of the Norwich Chair Lift, the Garvey Hill project closed down. What happened to the equipment I do not know, but I can honestly say that the town was served for some years by it, and a lot of kids learned how to ski there at a mighty low cost due to the cooperation of a lot of people. 

We hope that you will share your early skiing stories as well, rope tow or none, by emailing them to [email protected].