As skiers return to Suicide Six in Pomfret for the 2016-2017 ski season, they’ll be riding a newly installed Leitner-Poma chairlift to the top. The new lift went in this past fall, replacing a classic chairlift whose chairs sold out in a matter of minutes last fall. Suicide Six, which celebrated its 80th anniversary this past year, holds a place in history as the first place in America to offer lift-served skiing.
On Monday, longtime skiers and resort management gathered to cut a ribbon on the new lift and take the inaugural ride for the first turns of the season..
At a cost of $1.5 million, the new lift is part of a number of improvements including snow making and food service. Leitner-Poma of America, Inc., of Grand Junction, Colo., installed the new quad chairlift this fall with funding provided through a grant from the Laurance S. Rockefeller Fund. The ski resort is owned by the luxury hotel the Rockefeller family once owned as well, the Woodstock Inn and Resort.
The upgrade doubles the capacity of the previous Borvig chair, and provides a more comfortable and rapid ascent to the summit.
Though it ony has a vertical drop of 650 feet and 100 skiable acres, one of Vermont’s smallest ski areas has a rich history. The area opened in 1934 with an improvised rope tow that was said to be the first ski lift in the Eastern United States. Suicide Six is also home to the Fisk Trophy Race, which started in 1937 and is the longest-running ski race in America. The name Suicide Six is reported to have come from founder Bunny Bertram’s comment that it would be “suicide” to ski the steep face of hill #6 as it was marked on early topo maps. (See The First Ski Resort.)
“This is the heart of skiing,” Gary Thulander, president of the Woodstock Inn and Resort said, gesturing to the walls of the lodge that still show historic maps of the area’s earliest days. “This is where it all started. You can’t find this anywhere else.”
After opening for pass holders on Tuesday, the ski area kicked off the season on Wednesday with all 24 of its trails open.
At 88, Doris Brettell first started skiing at Suicide Six in Pomfret in 1951, an era when skiers had to take two rope tows to the top. “We didn’t have down jackets,” she said. “We skied in wool and denim because the rope would tear up your clothes.”
All six of her children used to ski every day after school and continued their season into the spring.
“We still skied where there were more grass than moguls,” she said. “We used to say it was the fastest grass in the east.”
On Monday, Brettell was among the first to have a seat on the newest lift.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “I think it will last a long time.”