Thursday, February 15, 2024

Snow Trains of the 1930s

People exit a snow train at the North Creek station

By James M Schaefer, Schenectady Wintersports Club 

This year, 2024 will be the 90th Anniversary of the Snow Trains that took many skiers and winter sports enthusiasts from Schenectady to North Creek in the southern Adirondacks! But that Snow Train had to wait until March 4th, 1934 to make its historic run. A lack of natural snow was the reason!

Following the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid, the Schenectady Wintersports Club was organized to spur efforts to get trains to transport skiers to snowy destinations. My father, Vincent Schaefer and his friends, were leaders of the Club. Their 1932-1933 effort started with getting hundreds of Schenectadians, to sign petitions showing interest in a Snow Train.

They convinced the passenger agent of the Boston & Maine Railroad to run several day-trips from Schenectady to the mountains around Wilmington, Vermont. But Old Man Winter did not cooperate!


After weeks and weeks of postponements the Club was forced to cancel – not enough snow. No one envied the ladies of the Club that had to address hundreds of penny postcards to the frustrated ticket holders – there were no cell phones or Internet, remember?
Unwilling to give up a good idea, and with lots of local support, the Club expanded its membership, and joined efforts to build downhill trails on Gore Mountain by a like-minded outdoors club in North Creek.

Old photograph of a truck full of skiers

Photo by Ray Galusha. Vincent Schaefers Family Collection.

They agreed to get a Snow Train on the Delaware & Hudson Railroad to take skiers to North Creek and return. Again, much like the previous year there was not enough snow to get trains running to the mountains! Finally, in late February 1934, a huge dump of snow descended on the Adirondacks — the trip was on! 378 skiers and friends boarded that March 4th train in Schenectady. Waiting for them in North Creek were folks with trucks, buses and cars geared to take skiers to the top of Pete Gay and Gore Mountains where the 4-mile downhill trails started. Their “Ride Up and Slide Down” theme became a reality.

The Schenectady Wintersports Club formed a “First Aid Committee” or Ski Patrol – the first in the country (1933) to assist injured skiers. It was headed by nurse Lois Perret (Schaefer), my mother. The committee provided first aid training to competent skiers, prepared kits with splints, bandages and arranged for toboggans to transport the injured. The safety training and materials assembled by the 1933 First Aid Committee provided a prototype for the National Ski Patrol of 1938 under the guidance of Minnie Dole.

North Creek Ski Bowl on the first rope tow in New York installed by Carl Schaefer starting in December of 1935. This rope tow was modeled after the tow in Woodstock, VT that was built in1934. Photo by William Gluesing.

That first Snow Train of ’34 was a huge success! And more Snow Trains followed. In 1935 a rope tow was installed in North Creek by my uncle, Carl Schaefer – another first in New York. And he organized a Ski School with expert instructors. With trains, tows and instructors, North Creek and Gore were on the map! Those 4+ mile long ski trails were a unique draw for skiers in the region.
Few realize that the 1930s Snow Train era in New York started the state’s multi-million dollar winter sports industry.

It is important to remember that outdoor enthusiasts inspired by the 1932 Olympics were key. The North Creek Ski Club and the Schenectady Wintersports Club helped get it all started. The onset of WWII along with better roads and automobiles brought an end to trains as the main way of getting to ski areas.

The 90th Snow Train logo.

Photo Credit: The Gore Mountain Publicity Department.

We are fortunate that man-made snow is available when temperatures are below 30 degrees. So we are no longer totally dependent on natural snow to make winter fun for us all. Local leaders in North Creek and Schenectady have organized a series of events to celebrate the 90th Anniversary of that First Snow Train of March 4th, 1934…..a logo was created, local races held, old time movies shown, historic talks on trains, ski instruction, ski patrols and the 10th Mountain Division have been planned and our own specialty beer Snow Train ’34!

For more information [about the] 90th Anniversary [celebration of the] First Ski Train presented by North Creek Businesses at the Tannery Pond Center, visit: https://www.tannerypond.org/events/90-snow-train

Photo at top: Arrival of the First Snow Train on March 4, 1934 at the North Creek train depot. Photo by Ray Galusha.

All photos provided by the author. 

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at editor@adirondackalmanack.com




2 Responses

  1. Stephen Wilson, '55 says:

    First VT Rope Tow in Woodstock = 1000′ long on steep east-facing meadow called Suicide Six, designed, built & operated by local farmer,
    Bunny Bombard.
    I first skied it in1951as member of the Dartmouth Outing Club’s Winter Sports Division.
    As student Director of Race Commications, I snow-plowed down the side of the race course laying wire for sound-powered telephones, which allowed us to time each competitor’s run.
    Race courses set by Sel Hannah, ’35 & team coach, Walter Prager.

  2. Eric Hancock says:

    This is great history — thanks.

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