Veterans Memorial ski area in Franklin a blast from the past

  • Skiers at the Veterans Memorial Ski Area in Franklin on Thursday evening, February 14, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Thomas Hickey-Pfaefflin, 10, flashes the victory sign as he stays up on his snowboard at the Veterans Memorial Ski Area on Thursday evening, February 14, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Thomas Hickey-Pfaefflin, 10, rides his snowboard at the Veterans Memorial Ski Area in Franklin on Thursday evening.

  • Skiers and snowboarders make their way downhill at the Veterans Memorial Recreation Ski Area in Franklin on Thursday evening. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Skiers and boarders at the Veterans Memorial Recreation Ski Area in Franklin hit the slopes and rope tow Thursday evening. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Josiah Ahlgren and his 2-year-old son Wesley get ready for an evening of skiing.

Monitor staff
Published: 2/15/2019 6:17:13 PM

Five-year-old Brennan Loucks’s eyes were wide with excitement as he looked around the small, cozy ski lodge Thursday night.

His gaze moved from the dozens of faded ski posters on the wall, to the kitchen full of volunteers making burgers and hot dogs, to the row of golden trophies sitting above the fireplace.

“We’re trying to get our little guy into skiing, and this is the natural place to come,” said Brennan’s father, Jeremy Loucks, as he buckled his son’s ski boots.

The Louckses, from New Hampton, are new to the Veterans Memorial Recreation Ski Area in Franklin this season. Jeremy said he and his wife have brought Brennan to larger New Hampshire ski areas, too, but they’ve found something special at the community-oriented 10-trail hill where tickets are a fraction of the price.

Built in 1961 as a living memorial to the city’s veteran community, Veterans Memorial used to be one of hundreds of local ski areas in the state. Now, it’s one of a handful that have survived.

“There were rope tows all over, and now it’s just gone,” Jeremy said, sitting on one of the lodge’s wooden picnic tables. “This place is still here and it’s an anachronism, it’s a throwback. You feel like, all of a sudden you’re in the ’60s or ’70s skiing.”

The ski area has managed to stay open with the help of volunteers with the Franklin Outing Club. Lift attendants are the only paid workers at Veterans Memorial; groomers, ski patrollers, cooks and housekeepers all offer their time for free.

The ski area isn’t able to make snow, so its hours depend on the weather. It’s open for skiing on Thursday nights, Saturdays and Sundays.

They host multiple free ski weekends a year, and when they do charge people, the cost ranges from $7.50 to $15 for kids and $10 to $20 for adults, said Kathy Fuller, whose father was one of the founding members of the ski area and the first-ever Franklin Outing Club president. Veterans always ski for free.

The ski area has a donation room where they outfit outing club members with ski gear to take home for free. Outing club memberships cost $15 a year for individuals and $25 for families.

As skiing has become more expensive, organizers say they hope the ski area remains a place where everyone can be included, regardless of income or resources.

“It’s just a happy place with a lot of families. You feel welcome,” Fuller said. “It doesn’t matter that you’ve got the latest ski outfit or you don’t. Kids around here don’t look at their skis and decide they’re not good. People count on hand-me-downs – whatever is comfortable.”

History

The land the ski area was built on is city-owned land that was put into the Outing Club’s care in 1961, Fuller said. The city council leased the land to the club for $1 for 99 years.

Fuller said she remembers spending her weekends in middle school coming to the ski area with her mother, father and three siblings as it was being built. Her father would work with other World War II veterans, many of whom worked in Franklin’s old mill buildings, clearing trees in the Great Gains Forest.

At the end of the day, all the workers and their families would have a big bonfire and eat barbecue, Fuller said.

She said that even in the 1950s and ’60s, skiing was expensive for big families. Before the Veterans Memorial existed, her family would travel to Waterville Valley.

“That was quite an investment, even back then, for working-class families,” she said.

Once it was built, it became a community hub for people, Fuller said.

“This was a great place to socialize; many families didn’t have TVs, you didn’t have cellphones, extra activities like sports weren’t as intense,” she said. “We spent all of our time here.”

The Outing Club eventually expanded to host ice skating, hockey and ice-fishing events. It put on its first winter carnival in 1963 that combined those activities with ski racing.

Fuller said the ski area has relied on donations through the years to expand, especially from other ski areas.

The ski area started with one long rope tow for its initial years. In 1967, it purchased Mount Sunapee’s original tow-bar, which it still uses today.

Inclusive community

Jason Grevior, owner of Grevior Furniture in downtown Franklin, said many of the adults who come to the ski area now are people who came there as children and want their kids to have the same experience.

“I consider this place one of Franklin’s best assets,” he said. “Period.”

The inclusive spirit of Veterans Memorial is a huge part of its draw, said 44-year-old Josiah Ahlgren of Franklin, who said he started coming to the ski area when he was 8 years old.

“People are nice everywhere, but here you really notice it,” Ahlgren said. 

Ahlgren said he likes how safe it is for his three kids – who are all under 10 years old – to go off by themselves.

“It’s so small that no one can really get lost, and everyone looks out for everyone else’s kids,” he said. “A parent can sit on the front deck area and let a child go up the rope tow and watch them come down.”

Jessica Emerson of Franklin said it’s also welcoming to skiers of all levels.

“A lot of the mountains around here have people who come up from down south, and they’re much busier. Especially for people like me, where I’m a very new skier, it’s intimidating,” Emerson said. “Here, I took a couple of runs up the T-bar and fell at the top of the hill, but I didn’t feel as much pressure.”

Emerson started skiing at Veterans Memorial this season with her two daughters and her husband, Craig, who grew up skiing there.

Craig said it looks almost exactly like it did when he learned to ski there 20 years ago. Even the picnic tables and chairs – taken from the original Franklin Opera House in the 1930s – are still there.

“It seemed like when I was a kid, all my friends were up here,” he said. “I remember looking forward to the night skiing and loving it.”

The Emersons said that with everyone having busy schedules these days, it can be hard to find time to do things like come to the ski area. But it’s very important for them to support it, Jessica said.

“Today is a big effort for us. It’s a school day, it’s a work day, we rush to get up here. But we do it because it’s awesome,” she said. “You can’t beat it.”

Keeping it alive

Fuller said she’s starting to see more interest in the ski area in recent years, as Franklin has continued to build on its reputation for outdoor recreation. Construction is set to begin as early as this year on Mill City Park, the city’s whitewater sports park.

Fuller said there can be anywhere from 15 to more than 100 skiers at Veterans Memorial on a ski day.

“Today, I almost see a resurrection happening because it’s so expensive to ski,” she said.

The Outing Club has also tried to expand its offerings as the years go on, Fuller said. They have added hiking trails near the ski area and are hoping to make a small terrain area for next year.

The Outing Club has also been working with students at Colby-Sawyer College to update its social media sites.

They have added events like cardboard sled racing and the annual boat bash – when participants ride kayaks down the hill – to their winter carnival, which is happening now through March 2.

But finding volunteers is a continuous challenge.

“Everybody wants it there, they want to keep it going, but the people who really want to put in the hard work to keep it there, they’re hard to find,” said Joy Jones, a volunteer at the ski area. Her husband, Jim Jones, is Outing Club president.

Jones said there are 15 to 20 people who consistently volunteer at the ski area. They could use a lot more, she said.

Right now, the club’s 1986 groomer isn’t working well. Buying another one is a huge investment.

The club is also hoping to replace the old garage – built in the 1960s – where they store their equipment. Grevior puts on a turkey dinner every year to raise money – and they have raised about $29,000 so far, he said.

There are many people out in the community who want to see the ski area continue to succeed and are willing to support it, Fuller said.

The city council also helped the ski area tremendously when they added the liability insurance policy – $10,000, the lowest you can get it – back to their responsibility in the city budget, Fuller said.

A few local businesses, like the Thrift Clothes Closet, have sponsored local skiing on weekends this year – $750 a weekend, $400 for a day.

“I don’t ever want people to even think about this place ever becoming another lost ski area,” Fuller said. “It won’t happen. People love it here too much.”




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