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Abenaki Ski Area Celebrates 75th Anniversary

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - January 25, 2011

When a group of outdoor lovers decided to form an outing club in the 1930s they were interested in promoting winter sports in the Wolfeboro area. They were convinced alpine skiing was the wave of the future and that if Wolfeboro had a ski area the town would benefit economically.

“The group,” says Ethan Hipple, director of Parks and Recreation for the town of Wolfeboro, “centered on getting a ski area going and also they got youth and adult hockey leagues and summer programs started. Due to their efforts, we today enjoy Abenaki Ski Area.”

Hipple adds that some of the family members of that original group are still alive and living in the area. “We have one man who skis all the time at Abenaki. He was about 12 years old when the group first started and he helped cut some of the original ski trails.”

Turns out the group was pretty farsighted; today their dream child, the Abenaki Ski Area, welcomes town residents, skiers from around the area and even out-of-staters who summer here and love it so much they are drawn back for winter skiing. In 2011, the area is celebrating its 75th anniversary.

Historically, trails for skiing were first cut and used during the winter of 1936 by the Abenaki Outing Club. The property owners, the Hersey family, allowed skiers to use their hill; by 1940 a rope tow was installed and a base lodge built with a beautiful stone fireplace.

The club made constant upgrades to the area with fun events such as a winter carnival, night skiing under lighted areas and such down-home touches as hotdogs and cocoa being sold to feed hungry and cold skiers just in from the slopes.

When World War II arrived, the area, like much of the country, was quiet. Such activities as skiing were a luxury few could afford, especially with many husbands and fathers off fighting overseas. After the war years, things picked up again at Abenaki and the ski area greatly helped the winter economy in an otherwise sleepy New England town in the off season.

Upgrades continued and in the 1960s the ski area saw Brewster Academy and Kingswood Regional High School sending students to learn to ski at the area. Ski teams were welcomed at Abenaki as well. To accommodate these groups, the rope tow was extended and trails were widened. Ahead of its time, the ski area continued to offer night skiing, which was very popular.

Wolfeboro Parks and Playgrounds Commission eventually took over the management and upkeep of the area and the Hersey family sold the property to the town of Wolfeboro.

The Kingswood Ski Team made use of the new Carroll F. Hersey Memorial Ski Jump in the 1970s. By the 1990s, the slope was open sporadically due to aging equipment; low snow amounts plagued the area as well.

The Friends of Abenaki formed in 2005 to bring the area back to its former glory. Upgrades were definitely in order; snow-grooming equipment was purchased with donated funds. The newer snowmaking has helped bring the ski area up-to-date as has newer rope tows in the winter of 2006-2007.

By September of 2009, the town of Wolfeboro got authorization to withdraw water from the pond at the base of the ski area. This allowed construction for permanent snowmaking on the hill. Installation is expensive – $300,000 – but fundraising is now underway.

Today, Abenaki continues to offer a lot for skiers. There are beginner snowboard and ski lessons and in February, a school vacation week ski and snowboard camp offers a place for youngsters to learn a new sport as well as being a safe place while parents are at work.

“The lodge is a great place for people to gather after skiing,” Hipple continues. “We have hotdogs on the grill on the deck and hot cocoa. People love to sit around the fire after being out on the slopes.”

Not much has altered in the lodge since it was built in the 1930s and that may change after some other improvements are completed. “The lodge is definitely rustic,” laughs Hipple. “Eventually we hope to build a new lodge.”

Before that happens, another project is slated to be completed. “We have a big project to increase the snowmaking at Abenaki. All the water for snowmaking comes from Abenaki Pond. We have two guns and temporary hoses and it’s quite labor intensive. We are raising money right now to install permanent snowmaking pipes and 13 snow guns, which will allows us to cover the slopes faster,” explains Hipple.

The budget for the project is about $160,000 and over $102,000 has been raised thus far in private donations. “People have been generous because they are emotional about this place,” Hipple continues. They think back to their childhood and remember learning to ski here. There are not a lot of places around nowadays where you can ski for such a low price; we are open to the public and the ticket price is low. Out-of-town day ski passes are just $9 a day and weekends it’s $10 a day. Residents of the town pay a bit less.”

Future plans include adding to the lift capacity. The current rope tow system will remain in place but another lift will be added to meet the increased slope usage.

“We definitely need more space and lift capacity. We are open after school three nights a week now and we run a winter school vacation ski camp,” Hipple adds.

The group of hearty outdoorsmen and women who joined together to start skiing in Wolfeboro so many years ago would surely be proud of the work Hipple and others have done to further their dream. Generation after generation of locals has learned how to strap on skis, push off and fly down the slopes at Abenaki. They wanted everyone who wished to ski to have that opportunity. With low-ticket prices and lots of programs, the dream lives on at Abenaki Ski Area in Wolfeboro. 

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