Dutch Hill Ski Area Earns a New Turn in the Backcountry
January 31, 2019
Bill Beattie started skiing at Dutch Hill in the 1950s when he was seven years old.
The Vermont ski area, which opened in 1944, featured a 570-foot vertical drop and was known as having some of the steepest terrain around. Located five miles from the Massachusetts border in the Heartwellville section of Readsboro, Dutch Hill included a T-bar, J-bar, rope tow, and about a dozen trails.
Now, more than 30 years after the ski area closed, Beattie is playing an instrumental part in resurrecting his childhood ski hill into a backcountry recreation area with help from the U.S. Forest Service.
The Rise of Dutch Hill Ski Area
Dutch Hill was scouted in the early 1940s by members of the North Adams Ski Club, including Dutch Hill founder Web Ottman, who envisioned opening a “Little Stowe” in southern Vermont. The mid-size mountain was popular among skiers and was similar to Snow Valley and Hogback ski areas, according to the New England Lost Ski Areas website. Some of the trails, including Windmill and Christiana, were steep and narrow, and the challenging terrain was often compared to trails at Stowe.
Dutch Hill faces north-northwest and is located in southern Vermont’s snow belt—all good attributes for skiing. By the 1960s, when Beattie was a teenager, Dutch Hill’s ski season stretched between 90 to 120 days.
“Dutch Hill was in the vanguard of Vermont skiing,” Beattie says. “Not the first (ski area) but nevertheless early.”
Beattie skied at Dutch Hill until he graduated from high school, and worked at the ski area the following year as a racing coach. One of Beattie’s favorite memories from the mountain is when the former Dutch Hill ski school and ski patrol were staffed with many former 10th Mountain Division ski troops.
“Hundreds if not thousands of my Baby Boomer peers got to ski behind and under the watchful eye of these American heroes—an honor and our good fortune,” Beattie says. “Our large cohort of young skiers also had the opportunity to ski very challenging terrain. The two classic expert trails at Dutch Hill, the Christiana and the Windmill, both featured pitches that were 35 degrees. They weren’t long pitches but the steepness required a young skier to develop sound skiing fundamentals that would transfer to (places like) Mad River or Stowe as we grew older.”
In the 1970s, Dutch Hill fell on hard times like many other small ski areas in Vermont. A combination of poor snow seasons, industry competition and changing skier habits forced Dutch Hill to close its doors in 1985.
Reopening Trails at Dutch Hill Ski Area
Beattie is one of many volunteers with the Dutch Hill Alliance of Skiers and Hikers (DHASH) —a chapter of the Catamount Trail Association—who have cleared some of the overgrown trails to help carve out a winter recreation site for backcountry and cross-country skiing, sledding and snowshoeing. The trails, which are part of the Green Mountain National Forest, have been officially open to the public since 2017.
The trails at Dutch Hill that are accessible this season include the Yankee Doodle, T-Bar Lift Line, Dutch Meadows and the lower Dyke, all of which were part of the historic Dutch Hill trail system.
The trail work continues to be done in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service. In the spring of 2016, the Forest Service issued a Route 9 Integrated Resource Project management plan that covered timber harvesting, wildlife enhancement and recreation goals for thousands of acres of the national forest south of Route 9. As part of that plan, an 83-acre section of Dutch Hill was designated for non-motorized winter recreation.
Once the Route 9 plan was approved, Beattie and a group of backcountry enthusiasts approached the Forest Service about working together on implementing projects. While planning was underway, the Forest Service looked to existing backcountry efforts for guidance.
“We sought out some experience from others who had worked through the Brandon Gap Backcountry Skiing Project along with input from RASTA and the Catamount Trail Association,” says David Francomb, district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service’s Manchester Ranger District. “The result of that effort was the birth of the Dutch Hill Alliance of Skiers and Hikers, spearheaded by Bill Beattie and Diana Todd.”
DHASH and the Manchester Ranger District’s recreation staff meet two or three times a year to review proposed projects, administrative needs and project implementation planning.
“Dutch Hill is becoming part of the growing backcountry skiing scene in Vermont,” Beattie says. “The dedicated volunteers that make up DHASH, as well as the Catamount Trail Association and our partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, all contribute to bring back the name Dutch Hill from the hundreds of small ski areas that have been lost. Most importantly, this is helping put skiers back on Dutch Hill.”
Vermont is home to about 130 lost ski areas. Jeremy Davis, who runs the New England Lost Ski Areas Project website, says it’s possible that more lost ski areas will be given a new lease on life for backcountry skiing and winter recreation.
“For most of these areas to be turned backcountry, they need to be on state or federal land or be donated to it,” Davis says. “Plus, they need to have a dedicated group of skiers available to maintain them and clear them. There is a definite trend though in ‘earn your own turns’ as the cost of tickets continues to rise and skiers seek new adventures. As someone who is enthusiastic about researching and preserving these lost areas, I‘m glad to see the trend of at least a few of these areas coming back and being enjoyed by skiers again.”
DHASH is offering an Introduction to Dutch Hill Tour Series for beginner, intermediate and advanced backcountry skiers this winter. Visit www.DHASH4VT.org/events for more information.
Main photo courtesy of Catamount Trail Association