Ramapo Mt. Ski Club had its official beginning as a ski club at a meeting in the Old Suffern High School on January 22, 1947--only 13 years after the first USA uphill rope tow transportation had been installed in Woodstock, Vermont.
Alpine skiing was still in its infancy and at that time alpine had been included in only one Olympic games, those held in Garmisch in 1936. The war years were thin years for skiing and the 1940 and ‘44 Olympics had been cancelled.
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In The Beginning...
To fully appreciate the history of Ramapo, one must also appreciate the transportation and equipment era it lived through in its early days. It is probably inconceivable to the skier of today as he stands atop the hill in his weather resistant clothes and monocoque or parabolic skis that there existed a time when skis were made of stiff maple, pine or hickory and had no steel edges. You scratched and slid around a turn as best able and should you be on boilerplate or ice you simply continued on the same course as when you first hit the icy stretch. Woolen mittens were quite the rage and it was amazing how little balls of snow could collect on the minute fibers of the wool. This resulted invariably in one thing only--either your hands froze from the snow caked on the wool or it melted leaving the wool wet and your hands frozen anyway in wet mittens. At the same time, it was miraculous how quickly the palm could either wear out or burn out of the right mitten from tightening up too fast on the rope tow. And since wood is an absorbent material, all too often your skis would become waterlogged from the wax having worn off and when you finally did tighten up on the rope tow your body might go flying forward only to leave your skis sticking to the tract where you had been standing.
Release bindings were unknown and everyone skied in what was then known as bear traps with either cable heel bindings or long thongs. The latter were leather straps which were pulled as taut as a banjo string several times around your boot and ankle and guaranteed but one thing--the only way you’ld lose your ski was if your foot broke off several inches above your ankle. But perhaps the most exquisite agony of all in yesteryear was deciding whether or not you absolutely had to go the the area outhouse to relieve yourself. The beginning skier of today can’t imagine the sensation experienced or the language generated by putting your bare fanny down on the carved pine seat only to have a north wind blow a minus ten degree blast up at you. On all too many occasions whatever intentions you might have had were blown clear out of your mind. This gave rise to a malady often described as “blue bottom.” Today the outhouse is a relic of the past and the club lodge contains more bathrooms than entire ski areas had in the early days of the club. Fifty years ago it took longer to drive to North Creek than it does today to fly to Zurich. The ski fields of Europe were only for the pre-war rich and places such as Aspen, Alta, Mt. Snow, Killington, Glen Ellen, Stratton and Sugarbush were yet to be established.
It is through this era that Ramapo was founded and has progressed; to appreciate either one has to know the other. Nothing is ever brought forth fully formed. There is always a period when an idea is nebulous and an extending time while it takes shape and form. Gil Jones was probably the originator of Ramapo and he came from the Schenectady area during World War II to Sloatsburg to teach school. He and his wife Janet had been previously skiing with the Schenectady Winter Sports Club. Skiing alone has never been much fun--it is something akin to the sound of one hand clapping--and thus it was that Gil and his wife began to shop around for new people to ski with. They did find a few and on November 1, 1946 an informal meeting was held and all of six people attended. A decision was made to run an announcement in the paper that a formal organizational meeting would be held at the Suffern High School on January 22, 1947 to create a ski club for the area. Jones presided at the first meeting where a two reel color film on Big Bromley was shown. A yellowed clipping from the Journal News notes that the following officers were elected at that meeting. John Stewart was named president, Gil Jones became vice president, Doris Carlson secretary, and Dave Hartwell Treasurer.
After brief discussion, it was decided that a geographical name might better tie the club to an area. Such names as Rockland Ski Club and Suffern Ski Club were discarded in favor of the Ramapo Mt. Ski Club. True there is no one specific mountain with the name Ramapo but rather it refers to that entire cluster which is separated from the Catskills and lies largely in Rockland, Bergen and Orange Counties. Meetings were held at various places during those early years, among which were the Old Eureka House in Suffern, the Villa Lafayette near Spring Valley and still later, about 1952 it met at Swiss Trudies in Nanuet. In the fall of 1953 it alighted at Kruckers and currently meets at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Ramsey, Nj. From an original membership of 36, we are now a club of roughly 300.
In the mid-fifties, Ramapo started to come of age as an organization and chartered buses to either the White Horse Dude Ranch in North Creek, NY or to Bennington, Vermont, where the group skied at Mt. Snow. This package deal included all expenses: lift tickets, hotel, meals and transportation. From these original “Ski Trips” came trips to Woodstock, Vermont, skiing Suicide Six or Mt. Tom, or to the Killington area, skiing Pico. Then came the Johnstown trips, skiing Mt. Royal and Big A. Later, we skied the Poconos. Members of the club were at Mt. Snow the day it opened in 1953. Among remembrances was the 1957 weekend the club trip was snowbound at the Putnam Hotel in Bennington, Vermont. When the club met on Friday nights, the club Weatherman’s latest snow reports often determined the site of the following day’s club skiing. The more adventuresome of the club trekked to Grey Rocks, Mt. Tremblant, Chalet Cochand and Ste. Adele in Canada. Later came trips to Sun Valley, Aspen, Jackson Hole and many other areas in our own beautiful west.
Then Ramapo started skiing around the world. We organized charter flights to Europe in 1959 for the benefit of our members, and ran 16 successful flights. Surely every major area in Europe has been skied by a member of Ramapo. We have skied as far away as New Zealand--and you can’t go much further. From those sojourns we have developed an association with the Aorangi Ski Club of New Zealand and the Kandahar Ski Club of Murren, Switzerland. Ramapo and Aorangi have a trophy exchange, the Aorangi Award being Ramapo’s most prestigious. Ramapo, in 1990, saw one of its own inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame. Red Carruthers, among his many achievements, was chairman of the USSA National Historical Committee for fourteen years and chairman of the USSA Selection Committee for the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame for three years. In 1989, he was awarded the Julius Blegen Award by the United States Ski Association, its most prestigious, another Ramapo first. Sadly, Red, one of our most illustrious members died in 1992. He was the personification of Ramapo, its elder statesman, kingmaker and behind the scenes mover and shaker. Allen Adler, another Ramapo member, picked up the chairmanship of those two national committees in 1989 until his death in 2015.
Our instruction program is the best, bar none. At present we have a considerable number of club instructors, with instruction given at many areas, any weekend. All a member has to do is ask--and they shall receive. Along with teaching people how to ski, we foster safety. Right from the inception of the club this was of major importance. We started our Ski Patrol the second year of organization with six patrolmen. We donated a toboggan to Mad River Glen, our home base, to stress safety. Two of our patrolmen ran the Ski Patrol System for the North American Championship Races held at Mad River Glen and Glen Ellen (now Sugarbush North), in 1970. Many top quality racers have come from our junior program. We spawned junior skiing in four high schools in Rockland County, as well as teaching our own club kids. The club follows the Eastern Division of the USSA program for “Uniform Testing” of basic and standard skiers. The Bronze (basic) test has been given every weekend that a member expressed a desire to take the test. When two or three people are eligible to take the Silver (standard) test, the slalom is set up and the test is given. Of course, both of these tests are held on our Instruction Weekends as well. Each year, since the inception of the testing programs, we pass an average of 40 basic skiers and 7 standard skiers. Our testing program has very high standards and one must “know his stuff” in order to pass these tests. Passing the Bronze test within two years is a requirement for membership. For the truly advanced skier, Ramapo also gives the Gold (advanced) test.
The lodge at Mad River went up in 1967 as our home away from home. Since then it has been lovingly cared for, undergoing a number of renovations. An outside vestibule was constructed, the kitchen/bar area was completely redone and the water supply system updated. A narrow strip of property was added, enabling us to enlarge the parking area. And, finally, the retaining wall which continually threatened disaster was, at last, replaced, encompassing the recently acquired strip. In more recent years,the lodge was repainted to its current color.
With about thirty committees covering such disparate activities as, not only skiing and snowboarding, but a comprehensive junior program, hiking, camping, car rallies, cycling, softball, barbeques, golf, tennis, white water canoeing, and just plain social gatherings, among others, Ramapo has a program of well-rounded membership services. And last but surely not least, Ramapo has been, down the years, the nurturing environment for many a romance and marriage...