Friday, February 13, 2015

Local Ski Hills: Goodnow Ski Area in Newcomb

newcomb ski hillIf you’re a skier below a certain age, you may not recognize the sound of an old T-bar lift. Even if you’ve used one before, until you get the hang of it, it’s easy to fall right on your butt. That’s what almost happened my first time in Newcomb. I hadn’t been on a T-bar since high school.

But the T-bar’s the only way to the top here at the Goodnow Ski Area. It’s about 200 vertical feet. There’s a wide main run, and a side woodsy run. And from the top, a beautiful pay-off – a view of the snowy High Peaks from the south.

On this holiday afternoon, the mountains are bathed in golden sunshine, as I stand at the top with my ski partner for the day, Jeremy Davis, who turned me on to this place.

“I try to ski as many ski areas as possible,” says Davis. Goodnow, he believes, is his 113th.

Davis also catalogues the ski areas that didn’t make it. He’s written books on the lost ski hills of the northern and southern Adirondacks. He runs a website called the New England Lost Ski Areas Project.

“These areas are so important for people to learn how to ski and kids to learn how to ski and be able to ski at a place that’s not going to cost you anything in some cases,”marvels Davis.

That’s right. This Newcomb hill is 100% free. And this afternoon, we have it all to ourselves.

I shush off and start skiing down. The slope’s somewhere between beginner and intermediate, and easy “blue square”. There are a couple nice dips. You can pick up some speed.

Some runs I carve turns. Others I just bomb straight down. It takes way less than a minute. Even though it’s small, the exhilaration and adrenaline of downhill skiing is all there.

liftees at Newcomb ski hillSo as I make run after run, I’m thinking, how did this place survive when so many other ski hills didn’t?

To find out, I slip into the lift hut, where lift operator Lynette Chase greets me. Chase and Janice Wright take turns helping skiers onto the T-bar. They both skied here when they were younger, and all of their children learned to ski here, too.

Wright guides me to a washed out snapshot on the wall. It’s of an old man in a black snowsuit and red plaid flannel cap, standing stiffly in front of a snow grooming machine.

This is my answer to how this ski hill survived. It was the labor of love of one guy — Wilbur “Ted” Friend.

“He used to get skis and boots from people and he would have free skis to use and free boots to use,” remembers Wright. “This is where I used to ski, and both of my children learned here.”

Friend had retired from the Tahawus mine, Newcomb’s biggest employer until it closed in the 1980s. He became the town handyman, and as longtime town supervisor George Cannon says, the quiet force behind the ski hill for 25 years.

“He didn’t talk a lot,” Cannon recalls. “Ted was kind of the grandfather for all those kids in the early days, for sure. He was the guiding principle to get those kids up there and learn how to ski.”

tedfriendIt was a different time in Newcomb. There were way more families here when the mine was open. I can imagine walking into the small warming cabin and hearing the sound of children shouting and laughing and bustling as they gear up to head outside.

Wright takes down a bright yellow button from a bunch of them pinned to the lift hut wall. Each has a number and the words “Newcomb Resident – Ski Slope”.

“Years ago, when this first opened, the residents all had one of these. We all had buttons,” says Wright. Those with buttons skied for free; visitors paid $5.

One of those yellow buttons has the number 897. By comparison, the total population of Newcomb, including those who don’t ski, was 436.

Today, the Goodnow Ski Area’s open weekends and holidays. Everyone skies for free; you don’t need a yellow button anymore. The town budgets about $8,000 a year to keep it going. Lynnette Chase says that’s a small price for what it brings the community.

“It gets the kids outside. Relatives come. You can come skiing for the afternoon, no charge. You can only be here a couple hours, go home for lunch, and come back.”

She says a handful of kids were here this morning. Now it’s just Jeremy Davis and I, back at the top, the mountains glowing, a ski hill all to ourselves.

Old newcomb ski hill button“Skiing can be an expensive sport, Davis says. “Having as many of these small areas open can help the sport remain accessible to a lot more people.”

I take my last run of the day. At the bottom, I notice a small brick monument and a plaque at the base of the hill. It’s a tribute to Ted Friend, the man who kept this place out of the lost ski hills book, who quietly preserved a community asset, and a fun – and free – place to ski.

Photos, from above: the view from the top of the main slope; Lynette Chase and Janice Wright, who skied on the hill as children (as have their children), are now lift operators learning to snowboard during slow times; Wilbur “Ted” Friend, a retired mine worker who maintained the Goodnow Ski Area for 25 years, is commemorated by a monument to his service at the base of the hill; and one of the old buttons issued to Newcomb residents. Photos by David Sommerstein.

This story originally aired on North Country Public Radio.

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David Sommerstein is a North Country Public Radio reporter, farm and food blogger at The Dirt, and DJ host of The Beat Authority, airing the best grooves from all over the world every Friday, 3 to 5 pm.

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