Where did you learn to ski? No, I didn’t mean that as a critique, I meant “At what ski area did you learn to ski?” And I’m interested in where you actually learned to ski, not the first area you ever skied.

For most Retro-Skiers who learned in the 1950s, or 60s, or even 70s, the answer wouldn’t be a major ski area such as Stowe, but some small, lesser known area. Typically the area would have unimpressive vertical, surface lifts (rope tows, T-bars, Pomas), and low prices! And there’s better than a 50-50 chance that the area is no longer in operation. In my case that area was Intervale which allowed me to get the repetitions I needed to make the breakthrough to parallel skiing.

According to the New England Lost Ski Area Project (nelsap.org), Vermont had over 120 small ski areas that would fit the description I provided and almost all of them are no longer in operation. However there are at least 4 such small areas available to the public still operating in Vermont: Cochran’s, Hard’Ack (Saint Albans), Lyndon Outing Club, and Northeast Slopes(Corinth). This week’s column will be about Cochran’s Ski Area as they celebrate their 60th anniversary!

In 1960, Mickey Cochran moved his family to the Burlington area to take a job as a mechanical engineer at GE. The family consisted of his wife Ginny and their four kids: Marilyn, Barbara Ann, Bob, and Lindy. In looking for a place to live, Mickey had some specific criteria. He was looking for property on a hillside that could make a backyard ski slope for his kids. The Cochran family had previously lived in the Windsor, Vermont, where Mickey taught at the high school and the family all skied at Ascutney.

The Cochrans found a 190 acre farm on the Winooski River in Richmond that met the criteria. Using some of his mechanical engineering knowledge, Mickey was able to construct a 400 foot rope tow on the slope above the house in 1961. While it was meant for the use of his kids, he also let local kids use it for free. Cochran’s Ski Area was born.

In 1965 Mickey purchased an adjacent 140 acres which allowed then to extend the skiable area. Ginny helped organize after school programs to teach as may kids as possible to ski. The success of the Cochran kids on the International ski racing circuit helped fuel the popularity of the little area. In 1971 Mickey built a warming hut which included a snack bar. Up until that time the Cochran house had served as a base lodge!

In 1979 Mickey added a T-Bar. He also used his engineering knowledge to design and construct his own snowmaking system. In 1984 he constructed a new base lodge. Ginny developed the Ski Tots program with daughter Lindy which helped parents learn how to teach their children to ski.

Mickey Cochran died in 1998. This prompted the creation of Cochran’s Ski Area, Inc. as a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation. The corporation signed a 49 year lease with the Cochran family for the ski area land. Cochran’s was the first ski area in the United States to become a non-profit.

Tom Hubbs had the answer to last week’s trivia and named Cochran’s as the first to achieve that status.

Becoming a non-profit has opened up new support options for Cochran’s. Sugarbush, Berkshire East and other areas have been generous with some of their old equipment. HKD Snowmakers helped with the new snowmaking system added in 2007. And yes, donations from people like you and me even help!

Jimmy Cochran, Bob’s son, is now the general manager. Like his grandfather, he’s a mechanical engineer with a strong work ethic. He puts in the long hours needed year-round to run a ski area. Also like his grandfather he says “You need to make it work so the kids can come skiing.”

I went to Cochran’s for a day of skiing last season and I highly recommend a visit! I got reacquainted with riding a T-Bar and it was so great to see the little kids zipping by you on the rope tow! Adult lift tickets are $19 a day and that’s the holiday rate! “Kids” 72 years or older ski for free!