Worried about the future of skiing in New England? You’re not alone. There are many signs to point to as reasons for concern.
“Where is winter?” asked one recent headline in The Boston Globe. “New England is warming faster than the rest of the planet, new study finds” another one read.
I also don’t recall a lack of snowmaking weather as a major issue the organizers of the Killington World Cup ski racing event had to deal with, but there it was in November as a talking point within the ski racing community. Killington, of course, came through and received a positive “snow control” notice from FIS, the governing body of ski racing, but people were wondering about whether or not it would happen, which, for sure, was quite unlike previous years.
Beyond that were the bleak snapshots provided by real New England skiers on social media prior to the start of the new year. There were reports of limited open terrain and not enough room on the mountain to spread out the crowds. There were photos of thin cover and bare rocks, and forecasts that were either dry or wet but not snowy. Many reports indicated a willingness to ski or ride only a half-day by those who would usually go the distance.
In September, I booked a ski trip for the second week of January at a destination that is pretty far north with every confidence I would arrive to a fully open mountain. Then I spent all of December fretting because the trail count, ever so slowly, crept upward from six to nine to 13 to 18 by New Year’s Eve.
On Jan. 2, it actually dropped back to 17. That’s out of more than 60.
But then came one of the starkest reminders of the uncertain future of skiing in New England. Jeremy Davis, founder of the terrific New England Lost Ski Area Project (NELSAP) website, posted a callout on Facebook to test the waters regarding his readership‘s willingness to assist him in updating and modernizing the site. By assisting, we mean financially, as Davis’ goal is to hire a professional web developer to bring it up to date.
“If I don’t do something soon for the site, I worry that it will become ‘lost’ too, as the means to update it are now ancient and no longer being supported, and are clumsy and not easy to use compared to more modern web hosting platforms,” Davis, originally from Chelmsford, Mass., wrote on the NELSAP Facebook page.
Imagine that — if the lost ski areas web page became like the hills, ridges and mountains it sought to preserve. Lost.
It makes sense that Davis would go to his audience with this request, as that is somewhat where this started. For as much as it now looks like a caveman-era Internet page, it was ahead of its time in its ability to crowdsource a lot of the material that made it so good. To this day, the basement of Davis’ New York residence is filled with artifacts from lost ski areas or New England ski history that readers have sent him or he has purchased (on eBay!) in the 23 years since he launched the site from his dorm at what was then Lyndon State College in Vermont.
“I’ve got boxes upon boxes upon boxes of archives,” he said, detailing a collection that is considerably larger than the postcards, photos, old trail maps and brochures, and firsthand accounts that make the website such a deep and engaging experience.
“I wanted to share what I had discovered, the bits and pieces which were literally bits and pieces of things … and then I’d share what I knew with the hopes that other people would share what they knew, and that’s exactly what happened.”
There are countless reasons to visit NELSAP and burrow down a pretty deep rabbit hole. I discovered it when, years ago, I drove by the remnants of an old ski area in Vermont called Maple Valley on my way somewhere else. I searched it online when I got home from that trip. Davis’ site came up pretty high in the results page.
It’s also a wonderful trip down memory lane to revisit places you might have gone to as a youth. For me, that is Mount Tom in Holyoke, Mass., or Brodie in New Ashford, Mass., and time spent sifting through the descriptions, photos and other memories shared by Davis’ contributors evokes those same good feelings you get when you talk about the good old days of skiing with the ski companions you went with in the first place.
It’s even a guidebook to visiting the remains of some of the areas, since some live on publicly accessible land.
Sure, there are gaps in the histories of the lost ski areas, and the amount of content varies from area to area. But it has more than 700 pages that only house about 10 to 20 percent of what Davis has collected, including thousands of emails with contributions from readers that Davis has never deleted but also hasn’t necessarily been able to fully use just yet.
That, to me, only adds to the mystique of lost ski areas. There is so much more about them, but it’s scattered across the Northeast and beyond in the old ski bags in basements, in dresser drawers and in scrapbooks, on bedroom walls and in shoe boxes in the closet.
“There’s an unlimited amount of material out there,” Davis said.
NELSAP aims to bring at least some of it together, so the memories can remain and those who hold those memories can experience their own lost ski areas and those of others time and again.
Now it’s time to bring the past to the future. The website, started in an era when it was first becoming possible for tech-savvy types to create their own site and fill it with whatever they wanted, could stand an upgrade.
“It’s becoming time to either modernize it or give up on it, and I don’t quite want to give up on it yet,” said Davis, a meteorologist who turns 44 this month.
Davis’s request struck a chord. New England skiers already face the prospect of dwindling winters, which begets the question of how long some smaller or more southerly places can survive, even with modern snowmaking technology.
I’ve made it a point in recent years to visit as many different New England ski areas while I can. I regret not ever going to a little place called Woodbury Ski & Racquet Club in Connecticut despite living very close to it for a considerable time and being well aware of its existence. It often tried to be the Killington of Connecticut by opening as soon as possible each fall.
Now it is a lost ski area, although not even listed as such on Davis’s website, further proof it’s time for an update. NELSAP also could use responsive design, improved navigation, and an advanced searching/sorting function.
Judging by the comments on his Facebook post, Davis could be on the way to a new and improved NELSAP. There seemed to be real interest in helping his mission.
The only thing it doesn’t need is more ski area listings.
Matt Pepin can be reached at email@example.com.