Prosper Ski Hill
A little to the east and south of Vermont’s geographical center in the foothills of the Green Mountains lies the Prosper Valley. It is here that the Appalachian Trail now passes and four towns meet: Bridgewater, Pomfret, Barnard and Woodstock. And it is here that the Eastern ski industry began.
The first mechanized ski tow in the United States was built here, an event which ushered in the modern era of American downhill skiing. Powered by a Model-T truck engine, the first ski tow was built at a cost of $500 and ready for operation in February of 1934. The capacity was very limited, but it worked, and at one blow it revolutionized the skiing habits of Americans.
Following this 1934 invention on Gilbert’s Hill and the development the following year of the Gully area and Suicide Six, a third rope tow area opened a few miles up the Gulf Road, now Route 12. The Prosper Ski Area was designed by downhill skier and intercollegiate ski coach Otto Schneibs and opened in 1937 by owner Rupert Lewis, a successful farmer. The original main tow was 1200 feet long and several years later a shorter tow was added. Finally, in order to gain the very top of the area’s 1600-foot elevation, a third tow was added. This last provided access to the ski jump. Woodstock High School scheduled meets here; distances of up to 70 feet were recorded at these interscholastic meets. The ski cabin at the base of the main tow served as warming hut, ticket office and lunchroom. It had a fireplace and small kitchen where Rupert’s wife Ruth served soups and sandwiches. On an ideal day there would be up to 60 people on the hill while maximum crowds of 150, particularly when jumping events were held, would throng to watch and ski. The daily rate was 1$.
The ski area closed in1952, but the cabin was rented seasonally to hunters. In the early 70's Rupert’s farm was subdivided into 3 parcels and the land including the former ski area and cabin was sold to Robert Schick who hoped to develop. In1985 Schick sold his property to the US Park Service for the Appalachian Trail.
In 1992 the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places at the National Park Service formally determined that the Prosper ski cabin was eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. The Prosper Ski Cabin was a rare surviving building of the late 1930's era and historically significant for association with Vermont’s ski industry. The cabin was in remarkably good condition given the lack of any maintenance, but something would need to be done to keep it from further deteriorating.
In 2003 University of Vermont graduate student Charles Degener prepared an architectural conservation report of the facility and submitted it to the Vermont State Historic Preservation Office which expressed its desire in seeing the building restored to the Green Mountain National Forest. Although the corridor land upon which the cabin sits lies within the jurisdiction of the GMNF, the cabin itself lies under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Trail and corridor maintenance of this Appalachian Trail land and the incidentally acquired structure falls to the responsibility of the maintaining Green Mountain Club, and in particular its Ottauquechee section. The USFS through a challenge grant provided funding for the first phases of restoring the structure. Volunteers from the “O” section and local boy scouts cleaned and cleared out the cabin. In a second phase long-time shelter builder volunteers Rick and Laurel Tobiason and GMC’s Long Trail Patrol under the direction of Matt Wels set the wall studs, installed floor joists, shored up the roof and secured the building against the elements.
Rupert Lewis wrote that “The northeast slope [where the trail now slabs] held the snow very well. After heavy storms I would level the slopes with a snow shovel. Except for big weekends I and two employees could attend to everything.” We now live in a far more complex time. It is through the cooperation of many people: agency management partners, trail maintaining clubs, volunteers and other interested parties that ensures cultural resources will be restored to their rightful place in the history of a community. The Prosper ski cabin is another link in the cultural history of Prosper Valley. As stewards of the land we have a responsibility to bind the past to the present, to honor a community’s rich history and preserve the story for future generations.