With Cannon Mountain, Waterville Valley, Loon Mountain, and Bretton Woods all close by, New Hampshire has become well-known as a ski destination. However, not all of its visitors know about the ski clubs that have become mainstays in the state as well as in nearby Vermont.
Ski clubs have many benefits. For example, they are top choices for people who want to take the next step in their athletic journey without the restrictions of lofty costs and they are also perfect for those who want to belong to a ski and outdoor-focused community.
To learn more, we interviewed Jeffrey Partington to get the inside scoop about the hyper-local and long standing Old Colony Ski Club as well as the details about the place ski clubs have carved out in our state’s rich ski history.
Where It All Began
New Hampshire’s first ski clubs began popping up after ski trails were first cut on Mount Mansfield in Vermont and then Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire. The first in our area was Old Colony. “There are four ski clubs in Lincoln/Woodstock, Old Colony (1938), Lexington (1964), Penguin (1968), and Snow Chasers (1970s),” said Partington.
The Rise of a New Hampshire Sport
The popularity of skiing in New Hampshire grew despite World War II and after its end.
“At least three of the Old Colony founders lost their lives in World War II. Skiing made a resurgence due to the many European emigres who settled in Vermont and New Hampshire during and after the war. In addition, members of the famed 10th Mountain Division began to open ski areas in the western United States. The 10th Mountain Division was assisted by the National Ski Patrol who recruited skiers to be soldiers because they already possessed the skill rather than the army trying to train soldiers to ski,” said Partington.
Partington continued, “After the war, like many other activities, skiing flourished. There were ‘Ski Trains’ that brought skiers to the New Hampshire Mountains (mostly in Conway) from Boston on weekends. This fed the local hotel industry in Conway and helped the creation of many ski clubs in the area. About 15 ski clubs are operating today in North Conway, one in Twin Mountain, and four in Lincoln/Woodstock.”
A Brief History of Old Colony
Though skiing started in the late 1920s and early 1930s it wasn’t at all the formal sport it is today. “Farmers put up tow ropes on their land to make extra money in the off-season. Cannon Mountain had the Taft Slalom Trail cut by the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1933 and that was a major expansion of more difficult terrain and a racing course. In February 1933, the Ski Bulletin described this as a ‘ski run equaled by nothing in the East.’ The Civilian Conservation Corps returned in 1938 to cut new trails and create a parking lot on the property. This mountain expansion gave rise to the sport of skiing in New Hampshire. As this was in the Great Depression, ski clubs began to form to make skiing more affordable and provide social activities based around the sport,” said Partington. Enter Old Colony!
While The Old Colony Ski Club is a New Hampshire-based ski club, it was actually formed in Quincy, Massachusetts. “The name ‘Old Colony’ and our logo comes from the Plymouth Colony formed in 1620, south of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which was referred to as the Old Colony,” he said.
In the beginning, Old Colony had just 10 members. Together, they incorporated the nonprofit club on December 23, 1940. The first club purchase was also a group effort but with a larger group of members. “Our club originally saved up and borrowed money from the membership to purchase a clubhouse in New Hampton, New Hampshire in the late 1940s. At the time they had 100 members in a three bedroom, two bath house and needed a larger clubhouse, preferably closer to ‘the big hill’, Cannon Mountain,” said Partington.
And Old Colony continued to grow! In just under 20 years they would reinvest in a different property to support the goals and membership size. “In 1957 they searched and found our current location which was previously the Daniel Webster Inn and Cottages. The funding again came from member loans or assessments on the membership, and the sale of the New Hampton property. New Hampton was 43 miles from Cannon, our current location is 10 miles from Cannon and has 14 bunk rooms that easily accommodate the membership,” he said.
Nowadays their members can enjoy Cannon and nearby Loon Mountain, which is even closer.
For those who would like further details on the original members and other aspects of the Old Colony Ski Club history, a full account can be accessed here.
The Original Members Versus Today’s Members
When it was founded, Old Colony’s members were generally in their teens and 20s. This has gotten later over the years. “Our demographic is usually recreational skiers, snowboarders, and hikers who enjoy our unbeatable location in the White Mountains year-round.” said Partington. “In addition we try to do our part to support the community with affordable accommodations for someone who works part-time at Loon or Cannon Mountain.”
We asked Partington who the ideal ski club member is today and he explained that it came down to those who wanted to invest significantly in skiing.
The Ideal Member
He said, “A typical person ideal for a ski club is someone who has entered the sport and has taken the leap to try to ski more than 10 times per year. The sport can be prohibitively expensive if the skier is trying to stay in a hotel and does not have a season pass. The passes generally do not pay for themselves unless you go more than 10 times per year. After equipment is purchased the next expense is lodging. That is where ski clubs shine, they provide affordable accommodations and a social atmosphere for fellow enthusiasts to share information and insight.”
A Club for All Seasons
Even with “ski” in the title, members can come to a ski club during all seasons.
Partington said, “In winter there are Ice Castles, snowmobile rentals, snowshoeing, ice skating at RiverWalk outdoors, and wine and cider tastings indoors.”
He continued, “In summer, Loon Mountain has ziplining, gondola rides, caves on top, and other activities. Special events include the New England Brewfest in June, the Highland Games in September, and the White Mountain Octoberfest in October. Last fall saw a fantastic display of Sand Castles on the Ice Castles location, hopefully, they will return. Cannon always offers a great tram ride, and Franconia Notch is second to none for hiking including the Basin and the famous Flume Gorge. Another favorite is the Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves, and on those lazy hot summer afternoons you can rent a kayak or a tube and head down the Pemigewasset River.”
In general, Partington noted that if you’re a hiking enthusiast, Old Colony’s location is unbeatable. He said, “We have access to most of the 48 4,000-footers within a short drive and we are in the middle of the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire.”
A True Community
Ski clubs, Old Colony included, are generally 21+ outfits due to their nature, so there are a lot of fun adult activities to take part in. Some are travel-based and others are simply for socializing and entertainment.
“The club generally does one local trip per year to Burke Mountain. Individual members will also do trips to other local mountains, generally Sunday River and Sugarloaf. We try to do one big organized trip per year. Lately, we have been alternating between West and East for our trips. Since 2016 we have traveled to Jackson Hole, Big Sky Montana, Lake Tahoe, Breckenridge, Utah Canyons, Chamonix, France, and next year we are off to Kitzbuhel, Austria,” said Partington.
Beyond travel, Old Colony offers many social events and has live bands monthly during the winter.
Old Colony is celebrating its 86th season. Would you like it to be your first year as a member? Take a look at their website to learn all about their membership options to get started.
For state-wide information, head to VisitNH.gov.
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