Winter fun

By John Christie | Dec 15, 2011

Ask most anyone about Camden Hills State Park, and they'll start waxing eloquently about the fabulous variety of hiking trails, the views from Bald Rock and Ocean Lookout, the quick and rewarding climb up Maiden Cliff, the quiet vernal pool near the base of Sky Blue Trail, or the pleasant stroll along Jack Williams under the cliffs on Mt. Megunticook.

 

But there are a few of my generation, not the least of them Camden and Lincolnville natives Sonny Goodwin and Ken Hardy, who'll tell you that their fondest memories of the Park revolve around the Slope Trail and those rare winter days in the middle of the 20th-Century when we'd trudge up an old road from Spring Brook Hill on Route 1 to the original log lodge, built by the CCC boys in the late 1930s, to ski one or two runs from the summit of Megunticook.

 

Those runs were possible because every fall during the early 1950s, Sonny, Ken and my late brother, Mick, would spend weekends cutting brush that had grown up in the trail during the summer so we could ski on the scant natural snow on the easterly exposure of Megunticook. Whether they wanted me to or not, I'd tag along, and after they graduated from Camden High School in 1952, I kept the tradition going for another three years. And I believe 1955 was the last year the trail was brushed out to its full 10 to 20foot width to provide summit to base skiing with a vertical descent similar to the Snow Bowl.

 

If memory serves me, we skied the trail no more than half a dozen times each winter, and a special treat was to spend the night in the ski lodge with its huge fireplace so we could start up the mountain early in the morning. That lodge, lost to a fire years ago, has been superbly replicated thanks to the vision of Park Manager Bill Elliot and the hard work of recently-retired Ranger Pete Carpenter and their crew. Now, cross-country skiers regularly tour the trails around the base of the mountain and enjoy the new facilities. I've even talked with a couple of telemarkers who have skied the entire Slope Trail and they can only imagine what it was like when our little crew kept it clear of brush and foot-packed its entire length.

 

Most of our skiing fun, of course, was at the Snow Bowl with the luxury of hanging onto a wet rope dragging us to the top. Of course those were the days before snow grooming, so side-stepping up the single slope on our skis was the sole way to prepare the snow surface. But to us it was heaven on earth, skiing day and night on a lighted and lift-serviced slope of our own only minutes from town.

 

It was only through the generosity of civic-minded citizens like Harold Corthell, the support of the townspeople who underwrote the operating expenses, and the countless hours that my mother and a large cadre of volunteers spent grilling hamburgers and doling out hot chocolate in the original base lodge on the shore of Hosmer Pond that our winters could be so perfect.

 

Sliding down the rickety original toboggan chute, and skating on the pond where a large section was kept plowed are memories shared by literally thousands of Camden area kids who, back then, thought the only way to really enjoy a long Camden winter was outside!

 

Every time I ride the chair at the Snow Bowl, I'm transported not just to the top of a fabulous recreational resource, but back nearly 60 years to an idyllic time when we couldn't wait for the first snowfall.... and that hasn't changed after all these years.

 

John Christie is a Camden native, outdoor columnist and member of the North American Snowsports Journalists Association, award-winning author of "The Story of Sugarloaf", lifelong entrepreneur, and member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame.

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