Discovering the Berkshire’s Lost Ski Resorts

By Nicky M. | Arcadia Staff
The Berkshire mountain range in Massachusetts is one of the country’s largest skiing destinations. But over the years, many of the county’s ski resorts have been lost due to any number of reasons. In Lost Ski Areas of the Berkshires, Jeremy K. Davis looks into some of these lost resorts, and what can be found of them today. Read on for an exclusive preview from his new book, out now!

A Brief History of Skiing in the Berkshires

From the early days of trails cut by hand by the Civilian Conservation Corps to the first snow train destinations and the varied resorts of today, skiing has been an integral part of the fabric of the Berkshires since the first part of the twentieth century. These ski areas serve as a place for outdoor enjoyment, exercise and spending time with family and friends. A total of forty-four ski areas have operated in Berkshire County since the 1930s.

The modern ski industry in the Berkshires can be traced to two major events: the creation of the Thunderbolt Ski Trail in 1934 and the first snow trains at Bousquet’s in 1935. The Thunderbolt put the Berkshires on the map for challenging terrain, while the snow trains at Bousquet’s introduced the masses to the new concept of a ski area.

Before long, snow trains were reaching destinations throughout the Berkshires, and new ski areas opened rapidly.
Rope tows (a continuously circulating rope skiers grab hold of and ride to the top) made reaching the summits easier, allowing for many more runs per day—though the lifts could be difficult to ride. The invention of the Bousquet Tow Gripper by Clarence Bousquet made riding the tows easier, and over time, 500,000 were sold.

Many ski clubs were soon organized, with several opening their own ski areas, like the North Adams Ski Club operating Bernard’s in the Notch or the Mount Greylock Ski Club’s Goodell Hollow. These areas were welcoming to all members with their affordable membership fees and learn-to- ski programs.

A map of the Berkshires' lost ski areas,With the advent of World War II, many ski areas closed due to restrictions on fuel and recreational travel, though a few continued to operate, like G-Bar-S Ranch, which featured electric tows. In the immediate aftermath of the war, ski areas reopened, and many new ones like Otis and Jiminy Peak opened their doors for the first time. Tenth Mountain Division veterans (and other veterans) started many ski areas, such as Jacob’s Ladder.

Resorts took off from the 1940s and into the 1970s. All-inclusive resorts,like Oak n’ Spruce, Eastover and Jug End, introduced thousands of new skiers to the sport with small and personable ski areas. Community ski areas like Clapp Park and Osceola provided an introduction to the sport to children at low or no cost. Schools and colleges such as Williams College built their own ski areas to host competitions and for their ski teams to practice.

The 1960s saw the peak in the number of open ski areas. The number of skiers had exploded, thanks to the baby boomers, with whole families often taking weekend trips to their favorite Berkshire areas. Night skiing was growing in popularity, with Brodie Mountain featuring the most extensive lighted terrain. At the same time, the interstate highway system was expanding, as were more northern resorts.

This led to a downturn in the 1970s. Many smaller areas could not compete with their larger counterparts and did not have the resources to fund capital improvements. Non-skiing vacation destinations were growing in popularity. Resorts that had been so popular in the 1960s and parts of the 1970s struggled under these changes and soon closed. Further losses into the 1980s and into the early 2000s resulted in the closure of popular ski areas such as Brodie Mountain.

But the loss has come to a stop. Today’s Berkshire ski areas are active and vibrant places and feature a wide variety of skiing for all levels and tastes. All are historic places, with some like Catamount and the Mount Greylock Ski Club dating to before World War II. Ski areas are innovating for the future, investing in alternative energy sources and energy-efficient snowmaking systems. It is hoped that these ski areas will be here for a long time to come.

What Is a Lost Ski Area?

Although there are many slopes and trails that have been used for skiing over the years, the author has opted for a narrower definition of what constitutes a lost ski area. Essentially, it is a location that formerly had a ski lift in operation of some kind that no longer operates. This can range from rope to surface lifts like handle tows and T-bars and even chairlifts. Sometimes, lift remnants are left behind, while other times, no trace can be found. Other forms of transportation to the top of a trail or slope, including hiking or being dropped off from a car, do not count—otherwise, there would be hundreds or even thousands of former ski areas.

Only ski areas in Berkshire County were included in this book. Some lost ski areas like Berkshire Snow Basin in West Cummington were not located in the county, despite the name of the ski area. Petersburg Pass, located along the New York–Massachusetts border was entirely in New York, and thus is not included.

A map of proposed ski areas in the Berkshires.Ski jumps are a different entity altogether. If a ski jump was part of a lift served ski area that no longer operates, it is included. However, there were a few free-standing jumps that are not listed in this book, as they were not served by lifts.

The removal of a ski lift does not automatically mean that the ski area is no longer used by outdoor enthusiasts—sometimes, quite the opposite. The Thunderbolt Trail on Mount Greylock is a prime example. Here, a rope tow was installed high up on the trail, far away from the base. It only lasted a few years before being abandoned. The tow was never the main feature of the Thunderbolt but was a small part of its history. Today, the Thunderbolt is actively used and maintained by members of the Thunderbolt Ski Runners and remains vibrant. Other areas are used for hiking or snowshoeing, like at Beartown State Forest.

There is even a hybrid area. The trails and rope tows at G-Bar-S Ranch, a rope-tow ski area that operated for twenty years, were incorporated as part of Ski Butternut. As it was a distinct operation with a four-year interval between operators, it is considered a lost area.

To explore more of the Berkshires, check out the book below!