Camden Snow Bowl closed for the season on Sunday, putting an end to another winter of skiing, riding, tubing and tobogganing. Although it is only 1,300 feet high — small compared to many New England ski mountains — the Snow Bowl has grown into one of the area’s proudest and most used recreational attractions. Every year thousands are attracted to the hill, yet few people know the Snow Bowl’s rich history.

In 1936, the entire nation was struggling through the Great Depression. However, in Camden, a few visionaries looked at this time as an opportunity and decided to build a lodge for ice skaters to warm up in on the shore of Hosmer Pond. In March of that year, volunteers began to donate their time to what would eventually become Camden Snow Bowl. Against all odds, without heavy machinery or a clear access road, these volunteers had to either slide the materials for the original lodge across the ice or float them across the water. Adding to their challenges, the liquid used to make cement came directly from the pond because their were no water pipes to the site. At first, support for the project was limited, but slowly progress picked up. By the end of the year more than 1,500 people had contributed their time to finish the original lodge, a skate shack and a predecessor to the modern toboggan chute.

The completed lodge was nearly 80 feet long and included two large granite fireplaces, several pine tables, a kitchen and an equipment/locker room. Since nearly all of the manual labor had been completed by volunteers, it was deemed fit to donate the new creation back to the town itself. The Works Progress Administration, a federal agency devoted to finding unemployed workers jobs during the depression, was hired to build a road to the lodge and proceeded to clear and groom the initial slopes of Ragged Mountain. This work employed 75 people at a time when jobs were in short supply. Camden Snow Bowl was the pride of all those who had contributed to its formation and instantly became a popular hangout for people of every age to ski, snowshoe, skate and ski jump.

At the same time the lodge was built, an annual tradition of winter carnivals arose. Each year a queen was selected and events such as ski races, skate relay races, bobsledding and wood-sawing took place. Each carnival attracted thousands of people to the mountain, which fueled the Snow Bowl’s early growth.

The popularity all ended when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the U.S. entered into the World War. People had less time to recreate at the hill and the carnivals were cancelled. The Snow Bowl struggled to stay open during these difficult times but found a solution by staying open year round. A horse ring was opened for the summer season and that eventually got the mountain back on track.

During the next 20 years, the Snow Bowl went through several more large changes which shaped the area into its modern state. Skating decreased in popularity over time, so the focus of the mountain switched primarily to skiing. With the help of multiple grants, new trails were cut higher up Ragged Mountain, a chairlift and two t-bars were installed and snowmaking equipment purchased.

In 1967 the original lodge caught fire when a water-heater overheated and an A-frame lodge — the structure that exists today — was built. The Snow Bowl continued to expand its trails and also added a nordic system.

In 1991, the first National Toboggan Championship was hosted. This event has attracted the most attention at the mountain since the early winter carnivals and continues to grow each year. More than 300 teams compete in each championship. In 2004, the “Nationals” were even featured in Sports Illustrated magazine.

In recent years the Snow Bowl has continued to upgrade to make each experience safer, more fun and consistent. New grooming machines, which can make nearly any type of snow skiable, are used. The mountain management cut glades to provide harder terrain and attract more advanced skiers. More efficient snowblowers were purchased to increase the amount of snow at less cost.

Intricate mountain biking trails on Ragged Mountain have contributed to the success of the Camden Hills mountain biking program. The top of Mussel Ridge — the steepest ski run at the Snow Bowl — was cleared in order for races of all levels to be more challenging.

In the near future, the Snow Bowl plans to go through a major renovation. A total of $4.5 million from private donations and $2 million from a town bond are needed. A new four-season lodge — larger in size and closer to the location of the original lodge — is the focus of the plan. Additionally, a longer and faster chairlift will be installed, access and parking at the mountain will be altered, and the mountain itself will be improved.

Adam Throne is a student at Camden Hills Regional High School. Historical information included in this article came, in part, from Jack Williams' book as well as Camden Snow Bowl.