The Lyndon Outing Club’s 433-vertical-foot ski hill rises like a stage backdrop to the village of Lyndonville, in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Five minutes from my childhood home, it’s where I learned to ski and hang on to a rope tow, tried to impress boys, and gossiped during T-bar rides. When it was cold, we stopped in the warming hut for 50-cent hot chocolate, served by my friend Susie’s dad.
That was 35 years ago, but the LOC hasn’t changed much. The nine trails are still served by the T-bar and one small rope tow. The old mitten-shredding, arm-wrenching rope tow up the Face was dismantled in the 1980s, as was the rickety 40-meter ski jump across the road. Hot chocolate, though, is now 75 cents, and lift tickets have also gotten pricier: Last year, a day pass cost $12 on weekends.
The LOC has opened at least once every year since it was founded in 1937, but enthusiasm for community skiing isn’t what it once was. “If we had 50 people last winter, we thought that was a busy day,” says Rob Poulin, the club’s president. “Years ago, it was more like 150.” Season-pass sales are down too. Despite costing $120, only about 75 sold last year. In good years, 200 locals bought season passes.
Like other community ski hills—Cochran’s in Richmond, Vermont, and Northeast Slopes in East Corinth come to mind—the LOC competes against the trappings of big resorts: high-speed lifts, greater vertical, and extensive snowmaking. For the LOC, the competition is Burke Mountain, 15 minutes up the road, with 45 trails, 2,011 vertical feet, and meticulous grooming. And, starting last winter, $17 half-day tickets on Sunday. (“It’s hard to compete with that,” says Poulin.)
Big resorts might offer more, but community hills like the LOC get kids out regularly, and keep us tied to our sport at its most basic level. At the LOC, skiing is something you do with your friends after school on a Wednesday or Friday evening—a great alternative to PlayStation or the school dance.
Maybe the struggling economy, with its downturn in jobs and rocketing fuel prices, might work in the LOC’s favor. After all, it has kept the lifts spinning through a world war and the ’70s energy crisis—and the two lift operators are the only guys on the payroll. The moms and dads flipping burgers and selling Devil Dogs, and the high school kids teaching wedge turns, are all volunteers.
I’ve chased boyfriends down Vail’s Back Bowls and stumbled my way back to Zermatt after too much glühwein. But just as fondly, I remember the Friday night when I was 14, a high school freshman bedeviled by glasses, braces, and lousy dodgeball skills. My friend Tina and I rode the LOC’s T-bar up through the dark pines and poled out onto the Face, lit by stadium lights. There on the steepest pitch stood half the boys on the ski team. I pointed my Rossi ROCs down the pitch and made what I thought were perfect turns. The boys turned their heads. Skiing, I realized, is a far better way to impress guys than dancing.
-SKIING MAGAZINE, November 2008