Compass

Jan. 28, 1934: Towing device forever changes skiing in the U.S.

Compass

The first ski tow. (Photo: The Woodstock Historical Society)

Before 1934, skiing in the U.S. had to include hiking uphill either in boots or with skis that resembled today’s Telemark skis. That all changed on a small Vermont hill on Jan. 28.

On that day 80 years ago, three New York businessmen inaugurated their newly fashioned rope tow at Woodstock, Vt. The rope tow was made using two pulleys – one attached to a tree at the top of the hill and one attached to the drivewheel of a Ford Model T at the bottom to power the tow. It cost just $500 and was modeled after a similar tow in Canada.

To christen the new device, three local skiers took the inaugural ride, according to The Vermont Standard. It could tow a skier up the 900-foot hill in about a minute and pull five skiers at a time. It was also far more treacherous than our current chairlifts and gondolas. According to The Standard, one woman caught her sweater in the rope and it unraveled as she was pulled to the top. Riding the rope tow cost $1 during the day and 50 cents at night.

It took skiers a while to become accustomed to being pulled along by a rope, but within five years there were over 100 rope tows in North America.

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