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January 18, 2017

Skiing with a rope tow at the country club

When I was growing up in Rutland during the 50s and 60s you didn’t have to leave the city to experience downhill skiing. You simply headed to the Rutland Country Club on Grove Street.  There was a rope tow that brought you to the top of a 525-foot hill.

It offered a safe environment and was an easy drive for parents.

Once you were at the country club, you stayed outside until it was time to go home. There was no place to warm up or get a snack.

There is one section of the country club that offers a fairly steep downhill run. If you are a golfer, you would know that section as the rather precipitous decline from the 14th to the 13th hole. Skiing on icy conditions might even include an unexpected “schuss” over to the 6th hole. Hopefully, the run ends there or you would be in East Creek.

During the winter of 1951-1952 the Rutland Recreation Department installed a rope tow to pull skiers up the hill. The tow came from Milwaukee and cost $544. Children could ski for free and adults paid 50 cents for the day.

If you didn’t know how to ski, you could take lessons on Saturday mornings. Among the instructors back in 1952 and 1953 were some well known local names: Joe and Anne Jones, Stevia Chaffee and George Grant.

In an interview I did a few years ago with 1968 Olympian Suzy Chaffee, she told me that she skied at the country club, which was conveniently located just down the road from her North Grove Street home. She recalls her father encouraging her mother to be an instructor. She also told me that one should never underestimate Rutland Country Club’s ski training!

There is truth in those words since her brother, Rick, along with “Rip” McManus, also spent time skiing at the country club. Rick was part of both the 1968 and 1972 Olympics and “Rip” took part in 1964.

Children were not the only ones who could get lessons. On Thursday afternoons adult lessons were offered by instructor, John Biczko. This was a popular program for housewives. They often stayed well past their lessons to practice what they learned.

The operation of the tow and grooming of the trail was done mainly by Bill Reardon, a full time employee of the Recreation Department. He was assisted by Pat Canty, a Castleton State College student and part time Recreation employee. Reardon remembers transporting the tow’s motor from the Rotary Field House where it was stored to the top of the hill. It was a Volkswagen motor donated by Louie Salebra. Eventually a building was erected so the motor could stay at the country club. The hill was groomed without a machine. It was done on skis before the tow opened for the day.

The only place for the operators to get warm was inside the clubhouse. Employee, Jack Barrett, used to tell them to come in and get warm or use the phone. Of course, there were no cell phones in those days.

The tow had a safety wire at the top. If someone held on too long, the tow shut off. Users recall that the tow wore numerous holes in their mittens and gloves.

The tow had its share of vandalism over the years. One time the head of the local Navy recruiting office came to the rescue using his splicing talent to repair the cut rope. He worked on a freezing cold Friday afternoon to get the tow up and running for the weekend.

I can remember that the skis strapped to our feet were very different from those of today. Many of them were wooden and they could break rather easily. In fact, one day a friend of mine went home from the country club with two broken skis. Fortunately her legs did not have the same fate!

In 1974 the rope tow was removed and from then on if you wanted to ski at the country club you climbed up the hill. Having a ride to the top for over 20 years was certainly a treat while it lasted.

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