“Industrious & Inventive Vermonter”
Rupert Lewis was a quintessential Vermonter - hard-working, pragmatic, and enterprising. He was raised on his family’s 104-acre farm in Prosper, a small hamlet in Woodstock that is located halfway between Woodstock Village and Barnard. The farm had been in his family for three previous generations - his great grandfather, Lyman Cobb, having purchased it upon his return from the California Gold Rush of 1849 with the money he had earned.
Rupert’s family owned thirty Jerseys, five to six hundred hens, a hundred or so sheep, and they maintained a garden that was over three acres. During the spring, they sugared, and on alternating years, on their tillage land, they grew forty acres of oats, wheat, or corn.
In the fall, Rupert kept busy helping other farmers with their threshing and siloing. Rupert was never one to sit idle, and he was always looking for a better way to do things. On his farm, he experimented with different breeds of cattle, switching from Jerseys to shorthorns. With crops, he experimented with different field locations, moving his potato fields to a higher elevation where they would get a couple more hours of sun each day.
Given his interest in new ideas and innovation, it is not surprising that when he saw the ski tow that appeared on Gilbert’s Hill in late January of 1934 that he became interested in setting up his own tow.
He explained, “I thought of it as a winter crop... A winter income that I could get off the farm.” After seeking the advice of Otto Schniebs, a downhill skier and intercollegiate ski coach, Rupert set to work.
He states: “I built a power line, dug holes and set the poles myself... The first tow was electrically powered to the top of the hill. John McDill was up here one day when I was building the tow... said, ‘Who’s your engineer?’ and that shocked me. Said I never thought of an engineer. I didn’t have one. ‘Oh,’ says John, ‘you should have an engineer. These things are tricky. You should have an engineer.’ But I figured out in my own mind how to put it [the rope tow] up, and it worked very well. Gave me very little trouble.”
He opened Prosper Ski Hill in 1937.
The original main tow was 1200 feet long and several years later a shorter tow was added. Finally, in order to gain the very top of the area’s 1600-foot elevation, a third tow was added. This last provided access to the ski jump. Woodstock High School scheduled meets here; distances of up to 70 feet were recorded at these interscholastic meets. The ski cabin at the base of the main tow served as warming hut, ticket office and lunchroom. It had a fireplace and small kitchen where Rupert’s wife Ruth served soups and sandwiches. On an ideal day there would be up to 60 people on the hill while maximum crowds of 150, particularly when jumping events were held, would throng to watch and ski. The daily rate was 1$.
The daily rate was $1. A fifty-cent afternoon fee was added when it became known that full-day ticket holders were selling their stubs to afternoon skiers. The ski area closed in 1952, when it became necessary to build larger and more elaborate tows to attract skiers.